How do I Restore Furniture?

Miranda Fine

There are several ways to restore furniture. Before beginning a project, it is important to evaluate the piece in question in terms of age, value, materials and how you wish to use it. The answers to these questions will point to the best techniques for your furniture and situation. In general, techniques to restore furniture range from less to more intensive in how they permanently alter the furniture.

When restoring antique furniture, try to use compounds and joints that would have been available when the piece was made.
When restoring antique furniture, try to use compounds and joints that would have been available when the piece was made.

The first step in restoring furniture is to determine the value and significance of a particular piece. The techniques used to restore a 25 year old mass-produced wooden bureau will be different from what you will do with a one-of-a-kind piece that is more than 200 years old. When working with antique wooden furniture, it is important to remember that less is often more. Interventions such as painting, sloppy glue jobs, alteration or refinishing can significantly devalue an antique.

Good-quality wood finish is useful when restoring furniture.
Good-quality wood finish is useful when restoring furniture.

The simplest treatments to restore structurally sound wooden antiques are to apply a good quality paste wax, and to clean, repair or replace hardware. A good quality paste wax, found at your local hardware store, can work wonders on a damaged wood finish. Over the years, the knobs and pulls may become corroded, damaged or mismatched. Removing them for cleaning or using period appropriate replacements will help.

When antique wooden furniture needs structural repair, evaluation by an expert may be necessary. Keep in mind, however, that the cost of expert restoration is expensive and in terms of sheer monetary value, only worthwhile for very old furniture. Although most people think of refinishing first, this is not always the best option for retaining the character and value of an antique.

If you choose to restore furniture yourself, perform a thorough check of all joints and supports. In order to preserve the value of antiques you should try to use materials similar to those used on the furniture originally. For example, if you need to re-glue something, do not use super-glue. Instead, seek out an adhesive specifically designed for antiques, or the glue that was commonly used on furniture when your piece was made.

To restore other furniture, more drastic techniques may be useful. If the primary goal is to render a piece usable, or to change its look, then structural repair plus painting is likely the way to go. Another technique to restore furniture is alteration. For example, you might want to lower a bed frame or table by cutting off the legs. Re-upholstering and replacing the foam padding can be an excellent way to restore an old chair or sofa and give it a completely new look.

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Discussion Comments


With antique furniture restoration, you should learn as much as possible before hand about the piece of furniture you are working on. You want to know what makes it valuable and what things you can do to enhance the value, and what things to avoid doing so you don't end up with a piece of worthless furniture.

Contrary to what many people think, sanding a piece of furniture is not always a good thing.


@Feryll - With all do respect to your girlfriend, I think it is tacky to paint good wooden furniture. I know there are plenty of people who agree with you that painted furniture is pretty and just as good and maybe even better than the original wood, but I am not one of those people. If you are going to restore wood furniture the last thing you want to do is hide the wood because it is the wood that makes the furniture special.


My girlfriend restores furniture, and what I have learned from her is that paint can cover up a lot of different types of damage quickly, and in a way so that the furniture looks good when it is completed. I know the article mentions that painting a really expensive old piece of furniture can ruin it as a collector's piece, but most of the old furniture my girlfriend works with is not expensive.

She restores the furniture because she likes the pieces and she likes bringing them back to life, so they can be used again and appreciated. She is always looking for different little secrets and tips to help her with her hobby.

A lot of what she does know about furniture and restoring and finishing furniture she learned by taking classes and taking part in one-day workshops.

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