For the last 25 years, my wife and I have collected all types of antique furniture from many different countries which include: clocks, musical boxes and phonographs. Many of these items are waiting for some type of repair, restoration or conservation. Finishes on furniture are applied for protection and beautification of the wood surface. The original finishes on old antiques have special quality and beauty. Antique furniture left unattended will certainly deteriorate over time. Some conservation is necessary to preserve these fine antiques for their history and beauty.
Finishes on furniture are applied for protection and beautification of the wood surface. The original finishes on old antiques have special quality and beauty. Antique furniture left unattended will certainly deteriorate over time. Some conservation need be done to preserve these fine antiques for their history and beauty.
Antique restoration is making necessary and restorative repairs. These include repairs to the structure, non-structural parts, repairs to the coating or finish which is necessary to continue protecting the wood. Applying protectants to the existing finish is to help prevent the negative effects of environmental factors.
Since theses items are still in use within your home, not roped off or contained within an environmentally controlled display, some steps are a necessity to preserve, repair and protect your antique furnishings. You must minimize future deterioration. Only period finishing materials can be used that are historically accurate to repair or restore an antique.
Museums, collectors and conservators appreciate the long acquired patina, the aging of the finish and the look of a finely aged piece. The more original the piece, the far greater the value and desirability. An original finish on an antique is more valuable because of its’ accurate historical representation of itself.
Localized or superficial damage to a finish can easily be corrected to continue protecting the piece, keep it functional and prolong its’ life to be enjoyed by future generations. Some small scratches, dents and minor imperfections in the finish add to the character and the feeling of age. Unfortunately, there are still people out there who think they are conservators, and still do a complete refinishing, or over restorations to the point of looking new. The terribly sad part, is that I have seen them do this to very valuable pieces.
The first rule of antique furniture restoration and conservation is: Whatever you do to an object, it must be reversible. Because at some future date it will need attention as it does now. At this future date, the piece would not be able to be properly conserved or restored if the materials used were not reversible and therefore have permanently altered the object. Someone in the future who is more knowledgeable can correct the mistake without sacrificing the object in any way.
Using modern finishing products can’t duplicate the look of an original finish. Most of these products are not reversible and permanently alter the finish. Astute collectors will not buy antiques that have been treated or repaired using modern materials. Modern materials are very different than the old period materials. Many of these products contain synthetics and plastics and other additives that will permanently affect the finish or structure of the antique. The fastest way for your antiques to lose significant value is to use any modern materials.
The goal is to learn how finishes work so you can make informed decisions on your own projects.
In these courses, the greatest emphasis will be the period between 1830’s until about 1940. There are many books to be found in libraries and book stores on the subject of antiques, but most of these books contain museum pieces and do not relate to the masses who collect antiques. In most cases, they provide very little information for later pieces or the proper care for these pieces.
Your antique’s environment will have much to do with its’ stability and deterioration. Light, the heat from light, lengthy exposure to fluctuations in humidity, environmental temperature and ultraviolet radiation will break down a finish and bleach the finish, including fading the color of the wood and surface coatings. It can take many years to notice a change since in most cases the changes are gradual. All these processes not only cause the obvious changes that can be observed, but also can cause chemical changes on the surface and mechanical failure of the structure. Some of this deterioration can be further accelerated by inappropriate cleaning, treatments and maintenance. Many of the numerous modern products used for cleaning and dusting furniture were not made for antiques. They work best on modern finishes.
Other than people, the second greatest problem faced by wood furniture after exposure to light is the ever-changing conditions of moisture and dryness. These changes cause stress to the finish that is trying to protect the wood. Because of modern forced air central heating and air conditioning, this can negatively affect your antiques. It is likely that the antique was made in a time where central heat and air did not exist. Although you may be comfortable in your home, you have this antique in an environment that can actually be detrimental to it. You don’t want wide fluctuation from 20% to 70% relative humidity. If at all possible, maintaining a humidity level of 40% to 50%. This is an optimal range. Wide fluctuations in humidity not only causes wood to shrink and swell, but the joints become loose, cracks appear in the wood and cracks in the finish. A deteriorated or damaged finish will no longer be an effective barrier. In this case, restorative steps to the finish would be necessary.
You can learn how to use commonly found items that can be used in the restoration of wood furniture. Many of these items can be found at your local hardware store. Some items are not commonly found. Most of the restoration work taught uses commonly available items that you may already have in your home. The idea is to try to keep it as simple as possible so the average person can perform restorative work with professional results. We can do almost all of this without specialized equipment and extensive tools, since such tools and equipment were non-existent at the time the furniture was made.