Furniture restoration has recently seen an increase in popularity in part due to do-it-yourself shows and shows that help determine the value of antiques, like the Antique Road Show on PBS and programs similar to it. With the holiday season in full swing, many people find themselves looking to buy old furniture and restore it to give as a gift to loved ones. Some of you are just looking around your home and thinking you’ve got some furniture restoration projects you wouldn’t mind taking on yourself. Depending on the level of difficulty, sometimes that is much easier said than done!
Some furniture restoration projects are fairly simple and straightforward. Others are much more challenging and you may end up needing more assistance than you originally thought. For example, getting rid of waxy build-up on an antique table or roll top desk is a project that may be different and much more difficult than what it was originally anticipated to be. What you thought was just build-up may actually be deterioration of the item’s finish.
However, before immediately going to furniture refinishing, there are steps you can take to make sure you are doing the job right. In some cases by removing the build-up, you can see that the project may be as simple as cleaning the surface with a soft rag and mineral spirits. In other cases, refinishing furniture is the only way you can fix the problem; this is often the case when the surface finish has been softened and cleaning it leaves exposed wood.
Rather than stripping the finish of many wood tables, cabinets and desks, the weekend do-it-yourself project doer often looks at the possibility of refinishing furniture by painting over the existing finish. Before taking on this method of furniture refinishing, you should make sure the original finish does not have cracks within it, otherwise, those cracks may show even after your furniture refinishing project has been completed.
How to Restore Old Furniture
If the finish is bad, removing it should be the first step you should always undertake in your furniture restoration project. If the finish is fine, you’ll be able to move straight into preparing the surface for refinishing. By wiping down the surface of furniture you are working with, you can remove skin oils and furniture polishes you’ve used while cleaning or even traces of food or drink that have been left on the surface of the furniture.
Once you know the surface is clean, the next step in your furniture refinishing project will be to sand the surface; this makes it easier for a coat of paint to stick. After sanding, be sure to wipe off any dust that may be on the surface with a damp rag. Let the furniture dry and apply your first coat of paint, cleaning up after you’re done.
Of course, your furniture-refinishing project’s goal may be to remove color from the table, desk or cabinet – not to add a new layer to it. In this case, you’ll need to strip the wood and possibly bleach out a previous stain that may have been darker than you would have preferred it.
Unless you know the difference between white carpenters’ glue and Elmer’s glue your kids use in school, you should avoid trying to glue furniture as a step in the furniture restoration or repair process. The truth is that unless you are experienced with furniture restoration, you should avoid many of the do-it-yourself repairs you might encounter in your project. In other words, avoid trying to make any connections that you think will require a hammer or a nail gun as well as those requiring a screw and a screwdriver.
When Furniture Restoration Becomes too Much to Handle
Unfortunately, when it comes to furniture restoration, some jobs will be bigger than you can handle during a weekend, perhaps even bigger than you can handle on your own. In these cases, your idea of a simple furniture restoration project may be something that would be better left to an interior design professional. This is often the case if you are working with furniture that needs to be repaired or furniture that has value as an antique.
Although you may feel at the beginning of a project that you can handle it, you don’t want to end up midway through your project and realize you should have taken it to someone else in the beginning. There is simply nothing worse than realizing that one has gotten in over their heads or made an irreparable mistake.
While there are some furniture refinishing projects that are easy to do on your own at home, restoring an antique table and chairs might not be one of them – especially if you might want to sell them down the road. The same is true for antique-dish cabinets, old roll top desks, dovetailed bureaus, and other furniture. If you are looking at furniture restoration as a means to a sale, it may be best to consult with a professional before trying to do-it-yourself.