Removing Hardware

Removing hardware from antique furniture can be somewhat daunting.

Here are some ideas and tips to help you do this as smoothly as possible.

If you are just cleaning a piece of furniture, it is probably best to leave antique furniture hardware on. Remember part of the patina is the build up of grime found around handles and knobs etc.

If you have an expensive piece of antique furniture - I really don't recommend taking the fittings off. If you do then don't remove all the build up around the area.

Patina around a bolt on baroque chest

Old screws and modern screwdrivers don't always work. Old screws often have very narrow slits which the modern screwdrivers just won't fit into.

The width of the screwdriver should be the same as the slit in the screw. I use an old screwdriver and file it down until the blade fits into the slit in the screw.

Clean the slit in the screw first using a nail or fine file, so your screwdriver fits nicely in the space and can't slip out.

It is often a good idea to place a piece of cardboard around were you are working to protect the wood should the implement you are using slip.

Antique Bail handle from cherry chest

Old handles - bail handles - are easier to remove in that they are fixed from the back of the drawer. Here it is a case of just undoing the nuts using a small spanner or pliers.

Beware though, that you don't damage the bolts. Put some tape around them first if using pliers so no teeth marks are left behind.

Undo both bolts and gently tap the pins through - doing both at the same time so there is no tension on the back-plate and pins at the front of the drawer.

removing hardware from antique furniture
Removing escutcheons

held with nails or pins need careful handling. Here you might have to gently prize the escutcheon away from the wood using a thin blade of a knife or better a scraper.

Make sure that the edges are smooth and won't leave any scratches behind. Once you have lifted the escutcheon a little the nails or pins can be pulled out using pliers.

Take the stress out of Removing Hardware...

Locks and handles

are best removed after doors are off their hinges. Lying them down makes things much easier and one has more control.

If you are stripping furniture then removing hardware is very important.

Bag and mark everything so you know where it came from.

Be careful you don't get the screws mixed up - Putting a long screw in where a short one belonged can result in damage - especially if it comes out on the other side!

Remember handmade screws are not all the same and the holes in old locks and escutcheons are not always the same either- so when removing hardware from antique furniture, I can't stress enough how important it is to know where everything belongs.

Using masking tape to tape the screws to the escutcheons or locks and writing on the masking tape which drawer or door they came from i.e. 1, 2, 4, or left, right, middle, etc., is very helpful.

With piano-hinges (the long ones found on cupboards after 1900) it is well to mark which is top as well - believe me, they may look the same but you will save yourself an enormous amount of work by taking the trouble to mark where they came from.

Wooden knobs can be difficult to remove - if they prove very stubborn it is best to leave alone.

I have found injecting alcohol in the back sometimes helps - this helps break down the animal glue. Mostly though, they break somewhere, or as you tap from the back they break the wood away from the front.

If it is a pine piece you are having stripped, then sometimes the glue is soft enough that one can remove them without too much trouble.

Remember that many wooden Victorian knobs screw in - so tapping from the back won't help you either.

Well that's about all I can think of for the moment to help you remove hardware from antique furniture.

So have fun and good luck!

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