How do I Restore Antique Furniture?

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  • Written By: Kay Paddock
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2019
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Someone who wants to restore antique furniture will usually have to follow several steps to make sure the piece turns out looking wonderful. Many people find they can do the furniture refinishing on their own. Others opt to pay a professional to handle the restoration to ensure that the furniture is not damaged. Highly valuable antique furniture should usually only be restored and refinished by professionals to retain the integrity and worth of the piece. Those who want to restore antiques on their own will need to look for and fix any damage, and then carefully refinish the wood.

Any loose joints or unsteadiness in the furniture should be repaired before the piece is refinished. Professionals generally restore antique furniture with the goal of historical preservation in mind. Refinishing antique furniture with compounds and joints that would not have been used in the era in which the piece was created can lower its value. When there is structural damage and serious repairs to be made, qualified antique furniture restoration is usually the best choice.


Damage to antique furniture can also come in many other forms. Elements such as woven seats and chair backs might show signs of wear and tear. There may also be more serious problems like holes in the weave or holes where panels are missing entirely. Whether the woven parts of the furniture are loose cane weavings, basketweave, rush or wicker, skill is usually necessary to redo them to look authentic. A simple cane seat can take several hours for an experienced weaver to restore, so a professional may be necessary.

To restore antique furniture with damaged wood, the first step is to remove any splits, gouges, scratches and water spots. This is typically done by sanding. In some cases, especially in bargain finds that turn out to be antiques, wood might be painted over and will need to be stripped. It may be easy to accidentally damage the wood while trying to remove the paint, so care is necessary. Old layers of finish should also be stripped away. This allows the wood to be sanded more thoroughly to help get rid of scratches, gouges and cracks as much as possible.

Basic furniture refinishing is typically all that is needed to restore antique furniture that is sturdy and undamaged. Careful sanding, dust removal, cleaning and staining are the basic steps in furniture refinishing. In some cases, however, stain should probably not be used. Instead, thin layers of shellac, special waxes or other finishes may be called for, depending on what was used when the piece was created. Anyone unsure of the proper method that should be used to restore antique furniture should probably at least consult a professional before starting the project.


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