Modern Finishing Products

By John Tope

Many antique stores will try to sell you various items that have lemon oil, orange oil, this oil or that oil.  This magic formula or that magic formula to rejuvenate, feed or restore the finish.  There are little differences in any of these products or polishes.  Some of these products do make the antique look good.  But what is in it, and does the antique need it?  What is it actually doing to the finish of the antique?  Is it historically correct with its’ ingredients or formula?  No they are not.  They all work the same.  Typically, they are a mixture of an agent, such as an acid or chemical solvent that breaks down and dissolves a layer of the original finish.  A synthetic pigment and/or dye is included in the formula to add color to the finish.  Finally, oil is added in the product to give a shiny effect to make the piece look good.  

An entire industry has been built around the mystique about how to care for furniture.  They develop many of these concoctions as a quick and easy fix.  Initially they may appear as an amazing product, but they really do nothing to help the original finish.  Avoid the use of furniture polishes and hand cleaners on furniture.  They have no benefit to the finish and may do permanent damage to an antique finish.

All of the products that I have been mentioned, are not used in museums.  I have access to the same resources museum conservators use to obtain their restoration and conservation materials.  I have not seen any of these products offered or sold by the museum sources.  Companies have created a whole line of these products and an industry around these false notions.  Unfortunately, to a great extent, they have succeeded.  So the campaign of misinformation continues.