Helpful Tips When Restoring Antique Furniture

Helpful Tips When Restoring Antique Furniture

Below are some handy hints and tips on how to restore antique furniture. Some of these methods are used by our restorers when cleaning our quality pieces before they go up for sale.

The correct method to apply Wax on Antique Furniture

Antique furniture should always have the original finish preserved and the best way to do this is by using a wax finish as it is very easy to apply, it will clean any old dirt and keep the finish on your antique furniture looking attractive. There can be very bad streaks, smudging and dullness if applied incorrectly so below is how to correctly apply the wax to your furniture.

Before you start ensure the surface is clean and dry. The old fashioned way to clean the surface would be to use a moist cloth, sometimes adding a tiny amount of vinegar to the water (but ensure it is very diluted), this will remove some of the dirt and dust that has built up over the years. This can cause problems if done incorrectly, so the safest and most effective way is to clean using a polish reviver.  To get the dust out of the nooks and crannies try using a soft bristled dusting brush or even a tooth brush. The furniture wax will also act as a cleaner as it removes some grease and dirt. The biggest mistake when applying furniture wax, is applying too much at once, as this will make it difficult to buff up and if not buffed up correctly it will act as a dust collector leaving your finish dull. The correct way to apply antique furniture wax is to use a soft, clean cotton or lint free cloth and apply the furniture wax by dipping the cloth into the can of wax and rub the wax on in a small circular motion over the entire wood surface sparingly. Rub the wax in vigorously but thinly and then finish by applying the wax in the direction of the grain. Once applied i would recommend to wait for around 30 – 60 minutes to ensure it is dry and it has soaked into your wood surface, before buffing up. To get the desired finish buff the wax up by using a clean cloth (preferably an old piece of towelling) and buff the surface in the direction of the grain. The more buffing you do the higher the sheen you get and the more thin applications you apply using the same method the better the finish you will achieve. I would use this process around once every three months as not only will it keep your furniture looking fine but it will also protect the wood and ensure your furniture will last for hundreds more years, so can be passed down through the generations of your family.

Different ways to Clean and Revive Antique Furniture

If it is simply just to revive the dullness then firstly try waxing the piece with a good finishing wax (available on our website) but if the surface is dirty and has a slightly cloudy surface, it will need to be cleaned using a polish revive applied with very fine wire wool.

Another old fashioned way was to mix four parts white spirit to one part boiled linseed oil and put onto a clean linen cloth and rub into the finish in the direction of the grain and if the muck is really dirty try some very fine 0000 wire wool with the solution. Only test a small section first. As the cloth gets dirty use a fresh cloth otherwise you will be rubbing the dirt back in. To finish off wipe the surface with white spirit on a clean cloth in the direction of the grain and once dry, give the piece of antique furniture a very good wax (if you use a coloured wax this will hide some old dents and scratches). The only problem with this method is it can still leave the furniture dull on certain finishes so if you want a simple modern alternative, buy a bottle of polish reviver from our website as this is a ready mixed formula and works extremely well.

How to disguise a scratch on furniture.  

To disguise a scratch on furniture, you can try the following methods. It depends on how deep the scratch is, if it is deep then you can use a wax stick repair kit, use the most suitable colour or blend in different colours together to match the wood colour.

For light scratches, you can try several things. Firstly try Polish revive as this can work extremely well to remove scratches and then finish with a suitable coloured bees wax.

Liberon offer some touch up pens, each has three different shades, so ideal and easy to blend in the marks. Again always finish with a wax.

You can also try Rustins scratch cover, it works extremely well on certain finishes but if you furniture has a high sheen level then you may be better off with the touch up pens and wax or you may be best to seek advise from your local antiques restorer, as they can polish your scratch out with a light tone of French polish.

How to treat antique furniture with woodworm

Most people panic on the sight of woodworm holes, but if there are holes this does not necessarily mean the woodworm is alive or it is spreading throughout your home. Most people can easily treat their antique furniture themselves unless the furniture is so badly infested, it is structurally weakened. If this is the case then always seek professional advice from a good antiques restorer.

If the woodworm damage is slight and there are the usual small holes then the best thing to do is to purchase a commercial woodworm killing fluid as these are very effective due to modern liquids. Usually you need to paint it over the areas or inject direct into the hole. Some bottles come with an injecting nozzle and these are usually the best as you simply Insert the nozzle into the holes and squirt the liquid. Treat the entire affected area where holes can be seen and as a precaution maybe re treat after a few days. We also recommend to, brush the liquid over all the area as well to be on the safe side. Please also wear gloves as it is quite nasty stuff and you do not want it on your skin. Once dry fill the holes with a hard wax filling kit. 

Restoring holes and cracks 

Antique furniture often has wear and tear due to age and use and it is quite common to see small holes from old woodworm or use and cracks from shrinkage due to temperature variations. This can sometimes be fixed very easily by using some of our repair king wax sticks. They come in different colours so get the closest to the colour of the wood and if it is not quite right try to mix two together by warming the wax in your hand first. Before applying the wax stick, warm it in your hand and use the plastic spatula provided. Scrape some of the wax off of the stick and press it firmly into the hole or crack. Scrape any excess off and with some soft cardboard paper carefully rub it smooth. One the holes or crack is filled wax over the top with a good quality furniture wax. Some people like to see honest marks and cracks as this is original to the piece and comes with antique furniture but if it bothers you this is a simple and in expensive way to fix the problem and it does not cause any damage to the piece as long as it is done correctly.

We offer two different types of wax stick, the first is medium in colours and is for woods such as Oak, Cherry, Teak, lighter shades of mahogany and lighter walnut shades and Antique Pine wood. The other wax stick we supply is for Dark coloured woods such as dark oak, dark mahogany and darker walnut shades of wood.

How to get annoying paint marks off antique furniture

There is nothing more annoying than small splatters of paint on your antique furniture and especially if you have accidentally done it yourself. Different paints do different damage but the first thing you must do is as soon as you see any wet paint on your piece, wipe it off immediately whilst it is still wet and easily removed.

If it is dry paint then water based paint will still wipe off with a damp cloth.

If it is an emulsion or acrylic paint then the best thing to do is to get a clean rag and put a small amount of methylated spirit on to the cloth. put the cloth onto the area for a short time, maybe lay the cloth on top of the paint for around twenty minutes and then remove the cloth. Now very gently scrape the paint with your fingernail or a soft piece of wood and this should take the paint off. Very often the paint can penetrate the polish and you end up with patches of bare wood. The easiest way to resolve this is to very slightly dampen some cotton wool with white spirit and very gently rub over the area and just over the surrounding area in small circles. The white spirit will dissolve the old layers of polish and when it dries the old polish will dry and should re form over the area so the area is now polished. Once the polish is dry and has re formed, gently rub some wax or furniture oil with a soft cloth. This only works on old french polished surfaces.

We always recommend to try a small area before doing the entire piece. Some polishes react differently to others so test a small patch first, in an area not too visible to be on the safe side.

How to Remove Oil or Grease from Antique Furniture

If you accidentally spill oil or butter onto your antique table top whilst cooking, it can look a bit of a mess. There are two methods you can try, dependent on if you want the mark completely removed or just blended in. If you are happy to see marks on your antique table top as part of the character, just try rubbing over the affected area with a clear wax and then over the entire top. Once the wax has had time to dry and soak into the wood, give the top a good buff up with a clean cloth.

If you want the oil completely removed then firstly you will need to strip off the old finish using a good paint or polish stripper. Once that is done neutralise the stripper using a methylated spirit and when dry mix some talcum powder with some methylated spirit. mix it into a thick paste and then put it onto the affected area to dry over night. The powder should draw the oil out of the wood (this is not always guaranteed) and then sand the top slightly and re polish. On the second option it is always best to give to a professional restorer as you can sometimes do more damage than good if you do not do it correctly.

I personally think marks on antique furniture are part and parcel of a piece over 100 years old so do not worry too much as it just adds to the character of the furniture.

Cleaning Handles and fittings on Antique Furniture

Antique furniture has lots of different metal fittings like handles, hinges, key escutcheons, tilting bolts, locks, clash moulds, pulls, brackets and castors. These fittings are usually made from Brass, Copper or Iron and if they have dullness and age I personally recommend leaving this as it is part of the character and you expect to see signs of age on the metal fittings. If the marks bother you and you want to clean the fittings, you must firstly remove all the fittings from the furniture, as cleaning solution on the wood will damage the polish. You can use a superb metal cleaner to do this. It is designed for clock movements but it works on all Brass and Copper fittings etc. Apply the cleaner in a container or bowl and mix 1 measure of the fluid with 7 measures of cold water. Submerge the metal fittings fully, until all tarnish is removed, rinse thoroughly with water then polish in the usual way. For badly rusted metal use cleaning solution with fine wire wool.

Steam out Dents

If you accidentally get a dent in your piece of antique furniture (usually by dropping something on the surface ) then there is a method to remove this but it can only be used if the surface is to have the old finish stripped off. It can only be used on solid wood rather than veneered wood. The first thing to do is to strip the old polish off from the surface, then dampen a large piece of cloth and fold it to roughly the size of an iron. Turn on an iron at a low setting and put the cloth over the dent. Put the iron on the damp cloth and hold for a short while and then check the dent. The wood will start to swell and so the dent will start to disappear. You may have to do this process a few times to get a result but be careful not to burn the wood by leaving the iron on too long and keep the cloth damp. The other option is to put a small puddle of water over the dent and leave to soak over night as this will also swell the wood and draw out the dent.

The problem with these methods, is you then need to rub down the surface with sanding paper and re polish the surface. With this kind of repair we usually recommend to seek the advice of an antiques restorer first as you may well do more damage than good if it is a really good piece of antique furniture. We also have wax sticks to fill small dents so this may also be an easier option?

Removing Water Ring Marks

It can be very annoying when you get a water mark from a vase or drink on the surface of your antique furniture.  Firstly try our polish reviver as this helps to remove most rings from water. It will also revive the polish so you get the added bonus of a clean polished piece of antique furniture. Always finish off by using a good quality antique furniture bees wax.

The alternative is to heat a small amount of olive oil and stir about quarter the amount of paraffin wax into the warm oil so they blend together. Rub the mixed liquid with a clean cloth into the ring mark and leave for a few hours. Buff off the excess and if it has not worked repeat several times until the desired effect. Always wax over the area when finished

The last thing to try is to mix potato flour with white vinegar until you get a thick paste. Put this paste over the ring mark and leave overnight. Remove the dry paste the next day and wax the surface.

Liberon also offer a Ring remover, that can be quite effective but it depends on the finish you are using it on.

There are other ways to burn the ring mark out using methylated spirit but this is quite dangerous and risky as it can damage the surface. I would only let a professional do this.

These are a few tips but the easiest is obviously using our antiques polish reviver or you can always seek the advice of a furniture restorer.

Burn marks on antique furniture

Burn marks by a cigarette or larger areas by open fires on antique furniture can be very difficult to repair and in most cases it is best to seek the advice of a professional antique furniture restorer to repair it. If it is a piece that you do not mind having a go at yourself, try the remedy for discoloration below. Please note, unless the mark is fairly superficial and the underlying wood is not charred, you may have little success. If it is a burn by a cigarette or a large burn on the side, cut the area out carefully using a chisel and try to get similar grained wood or veneer to fit into its place. Re-polish to match the rest of the piece. Smaller burns can be cut out and hard coloured wax used to fill the areas.

Smaller burns from a hot pan, try to heat some olive oil and add a small amount of paraffin wax into the warm oil so they blend together. Rub the mixture with a clean cloth into the burned area and then leave it for a few hours. Once it has been left and had time to soak in, buff off any excess liquid and you may need to repeat this process several times to get a result. Once you are happy, polish the area with a good quality antique furniture wax. If this process does not work try to gently rub polish reviver into the burn mark using a soft clean cloth. When the mark is starting to look more natural again wax using a good furniture wax.

These methods are not guaranteed to work so try small areas first but the best advice with such damage is to seek advice from a good furniture restorer who specialises in antiques.

The most lightly outcome is you will have to strip off the area and sand the mark out before re-polishing.

How to Remove Candle Wax

On pieces of antique furniture, it can be a nice effect to have lit candles in a candelabra. This can cause the wax to drip onto the wood surface and leave bobbles of wax. The best way to remove the wax is to firstly wipe off with a clean cloth as soon as you notice it has dripped but this will only work if the wax is still warm and soft. If the wax has cooled and hardened then the best way to deal with this, is to put some crushed ice into a plastic seal-able bag (a sandwich bag will do) and put this into a soft cloth. Put the ice in cloth onto the hard wax and leave it on there for approximately 5 minutes. Take the cold cloth off and the wax will now be very brittle so now you can carefully scrape off the wax with your fingernail or a blunt square end of a small piece of wood. To finish off we always recommend putting some antique furniture wax on the area with a soft cloth and waxing the entire surface around the mark to blend in any marks left. The wax will also protect the surface for any future wax spilling and will enhance the patina. We do stock good quality antique furniture wax so see our website for details.

How to remove ink stains from antique furniture

On antique furniture, especially antique desks and bureaux you can often see old ink stains. I personally like to see this on antique furniture and would prefer to leave it on the pieces as they are antique and come with character marks from years of use. If this is something that really bothers you then here is a tip on how to remove it. The unfortunate thing is that the older the ink stain is, then the harder the ink stain is to remove. There are different things to try to remove ink stains and not all are guaranteed. I always suggest trying a small area first before putting it all over the piece just in case it reacts badly with the wood.

The first thing to try is to put a small amount of white vinegar with cotton wool onto the ink stain and gently rub. You can also try to rub a small amount of lemon juice with cotton wool onto the ink stain.  Try to put a mixture of lemon juice and table salt with cotton wool and rub gently into the area.

Try to put some very weak solution of hydrogen peroxide diluted with four parts water with cotton wool but make sure you rinse off with water and dry with kitchen roll before adding any polish on top.

After the ink stain is removed (hopefully one of these methods will work) make sure the area is dry and use a wood stain to darken the area to the colour of the surrounding wood. Finish off by waxing using a good furniture wax.

Can you polish antique furniture using linseed oil?

The answer is yes, but only if you do it correctly as it can leave a build up of a sticky finish if not done correctly. The correct method is to rub boiled linseed oil into the wood using a clean lint free cloth. Rub in oil very vigorously until the wood looks replenished and won’t soak up any more linseed oil.

With your cloth rub off the excess oil and leave the piece of antique furniture to dry over night. Do this same procedure every day for a week but remember to leave the drying times over night. One you have finished after a week make sure you buff up using lots of pressure with a clean cloth and the better you buff up, the better the finish will be. To keep the finish looking good, use the above method every few months but only one or two applications will be necessary.

What to do with sun bleached areas on antique furniture

If you leave your antique furniture in an area of your home where the sun is always facing, the colour of the wood will fade and go lighter. This can take many years to happen but it can affect the value of your furniture quite substantially. There is not much you can do other than re polish the piece completely but there are a few thing you can try first. This is not guaranteed to work but it definitely helps. Try rubbing rub some teak oil into the sun bleached area with either a soft cotton cloth or some cotton wool. Leave it to dry for a couple of days and then repeat again maybe three or four times but always leave to dry for a couple of days between coats. When the colour looks better use some Fiddes coloured wax (we stock different shades for different woods) and rub in the area with a cotton cloth and buff to a shine. Repeat this waxing a few times in the same way and leave drying times. Once the area is looking closer to the original colour, wax the entire piece several times, all over to blend in the area better.

The other option is to try a liquid wax, also seen on our restoration section on our website. This can penetrate to wood really well and the colour can soak in quicker. I would always recommend testing a very small patch first to ensure there are no bad reactions or discolorations. To protect it from happening again either move the piece away from the sunlight area, put up shades or curtains and always wax the area on a regular basis to protect it further.

How to remove Odour & Mothball Smells from Antique Furniture

Occasionally old and antique furniture can come with certain smells which some people love and some people hate. As we wax and clean all our antiques, our items usually come with a lovely newly waxed smell that is very appealing. If you find you have an old piece of furniture that does have a slight smell there are a few remedies you can try.

Firstly you can wipe the insides of the furniture with a damp cloth soaked in four teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda to eight pints of water. Next, wipe over again with a clean cloth just dampened in clear water. Leave the furniture to dry fully, open in a well ventilated room and once dry either use an air purifying bag inside the piece or use a product such as febreze. Alternatively you can use substances that absorb smells, such as cat litter, charcoal or bicarbonate of soda inside the furniture.

Always finish using a good bees wax on the outside of the furniture as this will leave a lovely smell in your room and you can also use a clear wax on the insides of furniture but not in areas where clothes or fabric will be stored.

Cleaning Marble on Antique Furniture. 

Marble can be cleaned using the following solution. dissolve a hand full of soda crystals into four and a half Litres of warm water in a container. Use this solution to give the top a light clean using a cotton buffing cloth to remove the surface dirt. Try not to over clean the Mable as you still want to keep part of its charm and charter. It is nice to finish with a clear wax, you can add several thin coats to add to its original charm and patina.

Leather Care

Over a long period of time due to its nature, leather tends to become dry, brittle and worn. Leather on antique furniture must be kept original and preserved. To do this you can try the following.

First, apply an even coat of our Light Priory Finishing wax using a soft cotton cloth over the whole piece of leather. This will feed and nourish the dry leather and provide a protective coating. Leave the wax to absorb into the leather for 10 minutes before lightly buffing off the excess. Our other Dark Finishing wax may also be used on darker shades of leather which can also help colour in scratches. Several applications may also be required to achieve the desired finish.

For further leather care try a good quality leather cream which also feeds, protects and produces a beautiful soft sheen to any leather surface. It is easy to use, apply with a soft cotton cloth then leave to soak in for 10 minutes before buffing to a soft even sheen. Several applications may also be required.

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