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A DIY Guide to Antique Restoration

Posted April 25th, 2018 and filed under IACF News & Other Interesting Stuff

There are few things more satisfying than breathing new life into a piece of antique furniture - and the good news is you can do it yourself at home.

Where to source antique furniture

Hunting for antiques can be an enjoyable pursuit in itself, and nothing beats the feeling of uncovering a gem.

Car boot sales, flea markets, charity shops, antique dealers’ shops and antique centres are all great places to look.

Antique fairs are always worth a visit for the sheer amount of choice. There are lots of different fairs held regularly all over the country, some with a huge number of dealers.

Some notable fairs include Newark in Nottinghamshire, which is the largest in Europe, Ardingly in West Sussex and Shepton Mallet in Somerset.

Examining your find

Before you do anything, examine your piece thoroughly, taking notes and photos for reference.

Work out what era it was made in, and identify the materials and finish (the seller may be able to help you with this).

It’s important to know this, as it will determine the restoration methods you use later on.

Preserving the patina

Wooden antiques have a patina - a natural darkening of the wood that develops over time - and removing it can reduce the piece’s value.

Stripping and sanding can easily remove it, so you should only do this if it’s absolutely necessary.

A good clean and polish can transform a piece of furniture, and may be all it needs to restore it to its former glory.

However, if the finish is extremely worn or has developed a bubbled texture, you’ll need to strip it down, sand the surface and refinish it.

Preparing your piece

Check over the whole piece, removing any dust and cobwebs as you go.

  • If it has drawers, take them out.
  • Note any bits that are broken or missing.
  • Remove all the hardware (handles, knobs, latches etc.), being careful not to damage the fixings or scratch the wood.
  • Repair any minor damage using wood glue. It’s a good idea to do this before cleaning, as it makes the repairs less obvious.
  • Fill in any holes, chips or deep scratches with wax or shellac stick. If there are any larger cracks, you can use matching wood from broken furniture to repair them.

Give it a good clean

Even the finest antiques build up a layer of dirt, grime and old polish over the years. Luckily, it’s easy to restore them to their former lustre with a good clean.

Use wood-cleaner or soap and water, and start by applying the solution to a small, discreet area with a lint-free cloth.

It’s very important to do a patch test of any restoration methods first to help prevent any unwanted mishaps.

Make sure you don’t rub too hard or use too much water!

Leave the solution on for a few minutes, wipe off, then repeat. If all is well and it hasn’t lifted the finish, carry on cleaning the rest of the piece in the same way.

Polishing it up

The finish will probably look a little dull after cleaning, but giving it a polish when it’s dry will bring back its sheen.

Try to match the products you use to the original finish for the most authentic effect.

Does it need refinishing?

If the surface is badly damaged or worn, it may need refinishing.

If the piece is French polished (coated in shellac) you’ll need to sand the surface down then apply a thin layer of polish with a polishing rubber.

When it’s dry, apply another layer. You can get ready-made French polishing kits to make things easier.

If it’s lacquered or painted you may need to use a chemical stripper.

The type of product you use will depend on the finish, so make sure you’ve chosen the right one.

You’ll probably need a metal scraper and steel wool to get the last of the finish off. Once you’ve stripped it, refinish it with a stain or lacquer to match the original finish.

DIY antique restoration - good luck!

With a bit of know-how, the right supplies and some good old-fashioned elbow grease, you can transform a tired old antique into a beautiful piece you can enjoy for years to come.

Now it’s time to hit the antique fairs and find your restoration project. Happy hunting!

This blog was written by antique fireplace experts Westland London.


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