There are few things more valuable than a family heirloom, unless it’s one that looks new thanks to old furniture restoration techniques. Giving a piece of furniture new life is not a quick process, but it is worth it when you have a beautiful piece of furniture to enjoy for years to come. Although restoring antique furniture takes time, it doesn’t have to be complicated as long as you follow the step-by-step process. The right tools and products will make the task much easier and infinitely rewarding. These six steps to restoring old furniture will bring those antique pieces back into fashion.
Restoring old furniture requires chemicals and tools that can be hazardous to your health if certain precautions are not taken. Firstly, always use the right tools for the job; not only to make your job easier, but also to keep you and your family safe. Wear protective equipment such as rubber gloves, long sleeves and goggles to avoid chemical splashes. Work in a well-ventilated area – preferably outdoors – to avoid inhaling harmful fumes. Store oily rags according to the instructions on the packaging of the solvent you are using to protect your home from burning and fumes. Finally, beware of older paint that may contain lead. If you suspect that lead-based paint is on your furniture, use an appropriate blower to strip the material or send it to a professional for stripping.
Identifying an old finish
Before you can restore old furniture, determine the current finish of the wood.
Natural finishes such as shellac, varnish and lacquer are difficult to identify by sight alone and may require some experimentation. First, test the surface by applying denatured alcohol to an inconspicuous area. If the finish comes off with the alcohol, it is a shellac coating. If you need lacquer thinner to remove the finish, it’s lacquer, and if none of these products work, you are probably dealing with a varnish. Pigmented finishes such as paint or enamel are much easier to identify. Other finishes such as oil, wax or a penetrating sealer can be determined by the lack of shine on the surface.
Sometimes restoring old furniture can be as simple as cleaning a room well. The methods described here can be used to clean wooden, rattan or wicker surfaces. First, use a commercial oil-based wood cleaner to cut away layers of dirt and wax from the surface of your piece. If wood cleaner alone does not restore the furniture to its original shine, switch to a solution of warm water and liquid detergent. Apply the mixture with a cloth, taking care not to leave the wood too wet. Rinse the area thoroughly and dry with a soft, clean cloth to avoid water damage to the wood. If none of these methods clean the furniture to your satisfaction, you may need to use solvent cleaning to restore old furniture.
This solvent can be mineral spirits, turpentine or denatured alcohol. If possible, work with these substances outdoors or at least in a well-ventilated area. Use a rough cloth such as an old towel or jute bag to apply the substance and another to wipe it off immediately. After a thorough cleaning, apply a commercial cleaner to the surface of your room and lightly buff the wood with another clean cloth.