Cleaning antique furniture, although slow work, can be great fun - especially when you end up with a deep rich patina that brings the piece back to life.
Here we are talking about cleaning really dirty - left in the barn for years - type of antique furniture.
Everyday cleaning or dusting is another matter and that we shall go into later on in this section.
With all furniture I buy - I start with a duster, a vacuum cleaner with a brush fitting and a long haired brush.
Get rid of all the loose dust and cobwebs and do everything - the back and underneath, take the drawers out and do inside and under and behind the drawers themselves and in the carcass itself.
This way you will get to know your furniture and what is missing or where it needs repairing etc.
If you haven't already been able to, then go here to help identify the finish. (coming soon)
The next thing to do is to take off the fittings but only if it is easy to do so - the last thing you want here are broken handles or scratches from a slipped screwdriver.
In some cases it is best not to remove the hardware when cleaning antique furniture.
your antique furniture, it's now time to look at any furniture repair that needs done like:
sticking down any loose veneer using a reversible glue - animal glue or a wood glue - do not use any permanent glues as if it goes wrong you are "stuck"!
Feet and moldings can be repaired at the same time - bearing in mind that if moldings are off it might be easier to polish your antique furniture first before putting them back on again.
Any deep scratches or chips can be filled with shellac stick or wax stick in the matching colour.
Doing these things before cleaning antique furniture is helpful in that the repairs merge in better afterwards - also you don't want water going in under the veneer.
I find that soap is about the best thing you can use for cleaning antique furniture - wood soap or wood floor soap is good. Mix a little in warm water and get a froth up.
Start on a part of the furniture where it won't be seen and using an old piece of wet, wrung out linen rub some froth on a small patch of wood and leave for a minute or so and then using clean water and clean wet cloth, wrung well out, wipe off the soap.
Repeat with clean water and dry off with a clean soft cloth - old cotton t-shirt is good.
Do not use too much water - Do not rub too hard - Be careful with veneer.
If this has the desired result and doesn't take the finish off - then carry on and clean the whole piece.
If the dirt is really stubborn you can add a little turpentine or vinegar which will help get the grease off - but test first.
Now you have antique chest or whatever looking rather dull and in places probably an uneven finish. Don't despair we are not yet finished!
Now you can either use a good polish, wax or a rubber of shellac (french polish) to give your antique furniture back its lustre.
You must decide what is best - and of course it depends on what the finish is. If your antique furniture was oiled then you could just buff up with a thin coating of oil.
Perhaps it was waxed in the case of oak - then use a wax - put on thinly and buff up when dry.
Shellac will probably be patchy - especially on top if a chest or sideboard and where the sun has broken the finish down.
Before coating with a new wad of shellac - sand down with a good quality fine sandpaper (600) being very careful not to go back to the wood. When you have an even surface free of dust, then go over with a rubber of shellac.
You can buy ready-made shellac in your hardware store.
TIP: They say ready-made shellac doesn't go off - but I can assure you I have experienced that it does and you only find out later when you put something heavy like a vase on the table and it leaves an impression!
So check the use-by date.
If you haven't used shellac before - then don't use a brush to put it on. Rather take a look at the small description here on how to polish an existing surface.