Caring For Antique Furniture

Caring For Your Antique Furniture

Below is our guide to look after your antique furniture correctly and we highly recommend you study this carefully to fully understand the correct conditions to preserve and protect your pieces so you can pass them down to your future generations in the best possible condition.

The patina on the surface of antique furniture builds up over many years (sometimes it takes hundreds of years) and even with old marks and damage; it is part of the character and charm, so adds to the value of a piece of furniture and should be preserved at all costs.

Waxing antique furniture with a good quality natural beeswax (not modern spray polishes as these can damage the surface over time), is the best way to protect the original finish as this brings out the colour and grain of the wood and provides protection. Put a small amount of bees wax polish on a soft clean lint free cloth and rub the piece in the direction of the grain until the wax on the surface shines. This will burnish the surface and evaporate any solvent and clean the original finish in the process. If possible apply the wax at night and allow it to nourish the wood over night and polish in the following morning. If the wood has become very dry, the wax will soak in rapidly and so should be applied several times until a good patina has developed. Normally wax polish need not be used more than once every few months as too much wax will cause dullness and absorb dust. However, frequent dusting is important between waxing using a clean, dry, soft duster. This will encourage a hard wax skin to form which enhances the patina and protect the surface further.

furniture wax

Brass mounts and handles should not be polished with metal cleaners as this will damage the wood that surrounds them and will also take away the character built up over years. A light waxing using very fine wire wool (0000 grade) will gently clean if needed. Regular dusting should be enough to keep them bright but not over shiny. The gold finish on ormolu or gilded bronze (often seen on antique furniture) is very delicate and should not be polished too vigorously. It should be handled as little as possible, as the acid in fingertips can damage gilding, but it is best to be dusted gently a soft brush and can be cleaned using wax if done very carefully.

Upholstery should be vacuumed regularly to guard against a build-up of dust and pests and if stubborn hairs are in the fabric use cello tape to lift them off the upholstery, then vacuum (this can work wonders).

Environmental Conditions That Can Affect Your Antique Furniture.

Many things can affect the condition of antique furniture including some things you may not think off. Sunlight and humidity as well as central heating and pollutants in the air can affect organic materials like wood, fabric and leather used in the construction of antique furniture. It essential to think about the environment in which furniture is kept and it is always best to check your pieces every few weeks to ensure it is not being damaged in any way.

Do not to keep fine antique furniture in strong sunlight as this will fade its colour and if sun light is only covering part of the piece it can make an uneven colour, so completely ruining the item. The heat from sunlight can also crack furniture and lift veneers off of pieces. Roller sun blinds or voiles cut out rays of the sun without darkening a room, or curtains can be drawn on very bright day or when the room is not being used. You can also find a special window film that does not take away the light but stops the harmful rays.

Fluctuations in temperature and humidity can damage furniture also, especially on inlaid or veneered furniture. Central heating dries the air and dries the wood, so the moisture needs replacing in a room. Humidifiers can be easily bought, from simple clip on radiator models to sophisticated electric models. The other alternative would be to place small cups of water under or near pieces of furniture. Damp rooms can also cause problems which can be avoided by using an electric dehumidifier. The ideal humidity level is around 50 to 55 per cent and this can be checked with humidity indicator cards, or a garden hygrometer. The room temperature should be kept as constant as possible, with central heating left on low at night so it does not go too cold. Rooms should be kept well ventilated and not too stuffy. If in spite of all precautions being taken and your furniture starts to warp or split, do catch the problem early and contact a professional restorer immediately for advice as if left too long it can end up being very expensive and sometimes irreversible.

Moving and Handling Antique Furniture With Care

Antique furniture should be treated with care and respect. One of the first and most basic rules of handling antique furniture is being very careful. This may seem like a very simple rule to follow, but you will be surprised how many pieces get damaged from rough handling.

Moving furniture can be very strenuous so it is always best to have two people to move a piece rather than to drag the item around as this can chip the base. Use glides under furniture and this will protect the base. Never tilt back on antique chair back legs as this can damage the joints and make the chair wobbly. Over time the chair will become un-usable and will need repair, sometimes this can also break the backs of the chairs making them loose all their value. Chairs should always be picked up from under the seat and never the top of the chair rail as it is liable to pull off, or loosen the dowels or joints.

Do not lift a table from the top surface but from the lowest part of the main frame or the legs as the tops are usually screwed in, and the weight of the top can pull the screws out of the base (this can cause a real mess to the wood and make fixing very difficult).

Always open a drawer using both handles, never only use one handle as this will open the drawer on an angle and can damage the runners and joints.

Restoration of Antique Furniture

If your item of antique furniture needs some restoration then we always recommend sympathetic restoration and still to keep the item as original as possible. However, it should only be done by a reputable professional antiques restorer who will use the correct traditional materials and not the modern day techniques like spay finishes. If your veneer is chipped or lifted off the furniture you should have it repaired quickly as it is easy to lose small pieces of veneer and then it is very hard to find matching veneers in the same wood. Water soluble wood glue should be used for minor repairs undertaken at home rather than superglue. Small chips of wood, veneer etc. can be held in place with masking tape (not cello tape as this can damage the finish) while glue is setting or prior to professional restoration. Drawers and doors which stick can be eased by rubbing candle wax on the sides or even by using a soft polishing wax if a candle is not available. Dry, cracked leather on desk-tops can be revitalised with beeswax or a leather wax but it is always best to spot test a small area first to ensure it does not stain or look odd to the rest of the surface. Clear neutral shoe cream or leather cream can also be used on desk leathers as they come ready coloured.

It is always best not to strip the old original finish, but instead try to revive the original finish by waxing. French polishing can also be used to revive polished surfaced but this should not be attempted by an amateur, only a professional can do this.

french polishing

If you need more advice then you can contact us direct as we have a selection of restoration products available or if you want to buy quality antiques ready restored then here at Driscolls antiques ltd on antiques world, we beautifully restore all our furniture and deliver them into your house using a two man fully insured professional delivery team who will carefully handle and assemble your antique furniture.

18 thoughts on “Caring For Antique Furniture

  1. Good morning, this page is useful, but I have a specific question please: how can a central heating caused split in a wooden tray be rectified?
    We live near Perth (Scottish one), if appropriate could you recommend a locally based repair specialist?

    1. Hi
      The only way is really to have it professionally restored. it will probably need to be taken apart and then glued and clamped shut, then re assembled. unfortunately i can not recommend anyone in your area but I would check the BADA or LAPADA websites for good antiques restorers.
      Kind regards
      James

  2. Dear sir I have some antique futnitures wooden . I, am,going out for six month .how can I keep it healthy if I wil dump ot for,six months.can I,use anything in the hall.so it stays better.
    regards
    akee

    1. Hi
      I would recommend placing a small bowl of water on radiators to keep some humidity in the room and waxing the furniture will also protect it.
      Kind regards
      James

    1. Hi
      I have seen furniture left next to radiators that have been so dried out they have become very light in weight and split very badly. radiators also dry out the old glue on furniture making the joints loose and come away. The heat from the radiator will dry out the wood and shrink it. Also from my own experience when we fitted oak floor boarding into our house, after fitting the radiators, it dried out the house so much the floor boarding shrank and I had to re fit them.

    1. Hi
      You would need to check with the manufacturer of TECCARE but I would imagine it would damage the finish
      Kind regards
      James

  3. Hello,
    Could you tell me the best way to remove a recent heat mark ring (careless guest with a coffee mug) from the waxed surface of a very old coffer, please? The coffer surface has been built up over several centuries and stripping it back would destroy an otherwise glorious patina. Any advice would be gratefully received! Many thanks.

  4. Hi, it turns out an old table has dry rot and we have used the same polish on it and another. Is there anything we can put on the other one to prevent it from developing rot? I have read about borax but don’t want to damage the table trying to save it! Any help would be gratefully received!

    1. Hi
      Im not sure on dry rot, we tend to stay away from pieces with this, but in the past we have treated the timber with a dry rot treatment and then used a wood hardener on the areas that are not polished.
      Thanks
      James

    1. Hi
      I would just use a good quality bees wax like the wax we supply on our website. this will nourish and protect the wood
      Kind regards
      James

  5. Good morning! I have a question about fixing some old wooden folding chairs that sway from side to side. These chairs are about 100 years old but are still functional; but we have kids who use them and the metal hardware that acts as a hinge is looser than I would like. It’s basically one solid metal rod that extends through the back of the seat and into the intersection of the legs and side support. It’s wobbly, but there are no bolts or screws to tighten, but rather something that looks more like a rivet cap on each end. It’s hard to describe, but I was wondering if you had any knowledge on how to repair the side wobble/sway on these types of chairs. Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi
      Its probably something my restorer would have to look at, so if you are local you are welcome to bring them to us and we can advise further
      Thanks
      James

  6. Hi I recently bought a Victorian Walnut writing slope. That needs a good clean and a wax what would you recommend to use so I don’t damage the wood? Do I need to use clear wax?

    There is also a few brass parts what would you recommend to clean these?

    Thanks Tony

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