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Thoughts and information on furniture restoration

When what you love needs a facelift”

This article is dedicated to the art of furniture repair and restoration.

Those of us who collect antiques or have been given family heirlooms understand the love for owning and cherishing something that was used by someone else. We like that it is old, used, and has character. Sometimes the “character” of a piece extends beyond the distinctive qualities a piece of furniture has taken on over the years. Your furniture needs repair and is often a must when you own older furniture.

A trained furniture repair professional can usually repair and fix any chair, table, sofa or dresser that you own. Their valued expertise is spent on restoration and renovation. Their skills involve removing and/or repairing aging, water marks, gouges, stains, scuff marks or dents from wood furniture. Furniture restorers can offer an affordable alternative to replacing home furnishings that may be valued, precious or priceless to you.

Rather than spend money on new furniture, have the old pieces restored.  You will have the pieces you love for many more years to come. And when you think about it restoring old pieces is a green practice and it can feel good to restore something rather than throwing it away. Renovating gives new life to furniture.

So what exactly is furniture restoration?

I would like to introduce you to this area of professional expertise. Here are some basics to help educate and enlighten you.

  • Furniture restoration can be a simple task or it can be quite complicated.
  • It is a process of redoing old pieces of furniture to make them useful again and beautiful. And it is about restoring something to its original quality.
  • It may be that your piece needs only to be cleaned and waxed, that is pretty simple.
  • A bit more involved is the repair that a piece of furniture might need. Maybe there are broken legs or parts on a piece and this will involve gluing and clamping. Some technical ability is needed here along with the right tools. Having some education in woodworking is essential to complete a proper repair job. We must remember that furniture is meant to be functional and t be used, it must support weight, open and close and be used every day. Repairs must be able to standup to the use a piece of furniture will receive.
  • Refinishing may be needed and this includes stripping off the old paint or varnish, and then removing blemishes and stains.
  • With furniture that is veneers that have been damaged it may be necessary to replace the entire veneer or parts of veneered surfaces. The old veneer will have to be carefully removed and the old glue cleaned away. This must be done carefully because you do not want to damage the surface on which the new veneer will be glued back onto. It is important to have a smooth, even, flat surface for veneer. The new veneer must match the color, thickness and grain of the old veneer. And this applied to the stain and final finish as well. I think this is some of the more challenging areas of furniture restoration and must be done carefully and with expertise.

Some considerations:

Before restoring a piece of furniture it should be evaluated to decide whether it is worth saving. There are several things to consider:

  • the condition of the piece of furniture
  • the style
  • will it cost more money to restore it than to replace it with new furniture
  • consider the value of the piece and if there is any question as to the value get the piece appraised before having any restoration done to it
  • furniture can increase in value with restoration but restoration can also decrease the value of a great antique piece of furniture

A professional furniture restorer can assist with these decisions.

Furniture refinishing glossary of techniques and terms:

Stain: A stain gives color to wood and enhances the beauty of the grain. They can be water based or oil based and come in a variety of colors walnut, mahogany, cherry, ebony, oak and maple. Many of these come in different shades from light to dark.

Varnish: Varnish is a transparent, protective finish used in wood finishing. Varnish is traditionally a combination of a drying oil, a resin, and a thinner or solvent. These finishes come in glossy, semi-gloss or satin.

Lacquer: Lacquer is a wood finish that dries by solvent evaporation. It is also often a curing process as well that produces a hard, durable finish. This finish can be a sheen level from ultra-matte to high gloss, and it can be further polished as required. This finish is usually best applied with a sprayer.

French Polish: French polishing is a technique that results in a very high gloss surface. It can have a very deep color. French polishing consists of applying many thin coats of shellac dissolved in alcohol using a rubbing pad made of cotton or wool and is lubricated with oil. French polish is a process, it is not a material; the material is shellac. The finish is fragile and is one of the most beautiful ways to finish highly figured wood. It is softer than varnish and lacquer and is particularly sensitive to spills of water or alcohol which often produce white cloudy marks. However, it is also simpler to repair than a damaged varnish finish, as patch repairs to French polish may be easily blended into an existing finish.

Some final thoughts:

There are many ideas about furniture restoration, for example some people may feel that stripping off an old finish takes away the character and history of a piece of furniture. But when furniture no longer has its original finish due to years of oxidation, wear, tear, damage or neglect it really isn’t worth much or worth keeping if not restored. At this point there is no option but to remove the remaining old finish and apply a new finish in a way that matches the piece of furniture. Some people may be concerned that a piece will lose its value and generally this is not so for pieces that newer than 100 years old. Many pieces will appreciate in value when they are restored back to their original beauty. If you are ever in doubt – consult a professional.

This article was written by Ann, owner of Ann’s Furniture Restoration, a professional furniture restorer.











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