Can You Refinish Antique Furniture?
You have found an exquisite antique. Perhaps it was placed away, forgotten in an attic of a family home, perhaps your sharp eye and expertise caught a glimmer of it at an estate sale or thrift shop and you were able to add it to finish your collection. Maybe it’s a hand-carved teak wood elephant chair or maybe it is a pair of exceedingly rare Thomas Chippendale Chinese Number 10 Downing Street Suite Settee Armchairs. Either way, you’ve found and identified a stunningly rare antique and it is now yours.
There may be a few issues, however. Improper storage, exposure to sunlight and UV rays, dampness and moisture, dirt and lack of care or polishing can all damage and affect the look of an antique. Chairs or loveseats or couches with very old original fabric may have begun to disintegrate, wear through, tear, or worse—been eaten by various insects.
The question that most commonly occurs in situations like this is: can you refinish antique furniture?
Yes, you could. Most antique experts and collectors will respond to this question with a cautious, “Maybe.”
But in some cases refinishing an antique may lower its value. It’s not as easy as putting a new coat of finish on and hoping for the best, especially if furniture refinishing, carpentry and knowing how to restore wood furniture is not your forte or your profession.
We’ll take an in-depth and detailed look into what it takes to refinish antique furniture, why or why not you should do it yourself, and some of the best tips and advice we can give you to help you make the right decision for the right antiques.
When should you avoid refinishing an antique?
The first and most important reason as to why you should not refinish an antique is if you ever plan to place it up for sale. Especially if it is one of the more unique designer pieces that are rare and difficult to own. Look for any designer or maker markings on any of your antique finds and do a thorough online search for who made it, what the mark means and general value before considering refinishing.
Antique tables, chairs, buffets, and other pieces, even if they are damaged and you finish them, may lose value up to 50% after finishing if you intend to sell them.
It is best to sell any antique, “as is,” and allow the buyer to decide whether or not and how to refinish if they desire.
When can you refinish antique furniture?
If your piece is inherited and has been in your family for generations and you have no intention of selling, as it is an heirloom piece and will continue to be—you should feel free to consider it. For example, if you inherited your grandmother’s antique solid-mahogany bed, and you plan to keep it in your family, most antique furniture experts will recommend refinishing it.
If you have a more modern piece, of course, something that would be called more retro than antique, refinishing them can and often will make them more beautiful and functional. Most furniture experts generally agree that sturdy, solid-wood furniture that is factory-made pieces from the late 1850s to the 1960s fall in this category. Generally, pieces from this time frame that are factory-made are not old enough to be exceptionally valuable antiques.
It’s always a great idea to become familiar with historical furniture styles from the 1850s and 1960s before breaking out the sandpaper or finishes, however. Take a bit to recognize Victorian, Craftsman, and other modern styles also known as midcentury modern, or, MCM. This not only gives you a clearer idea as to when any given piece has been made but be able to recognize if you do happen to have a very rare piece that may be more valuable left as-is.
Further proof that what you have maybe better unfinished is to look for the quality of how it was created. Specifically: tongue-and-groove and dovetail joints are evidence that your furniture is better-made than furniture that uses nails or screws.
What should you know before attempting to refinish antique furniture?
There’s a lot to know about refinishing furniture, especially antiques. Before we can give you a quick rundown of what you might need to have and to know, you could save yourself some time and effort by checking to see if perhaps your antique simply needs a thorough, but gentle cleaning first.
Some pieces can be rejuvenated by cleaning and waxing the existing surface, but this method only works on wood furniture in good condition. At Laurel Crown, we recommend to clean antique wood furniture with a clean, lightly damp dye-free cloth and to dry after. We also advise against commercial lemon oil to clean any furniture, as lemon oil may provide a nice shine, many of the products contain kerosene which can damage the wood furniture finish.
If a cleaning won’t do it, here are some basic supplies you should have on hand for refinishing:
- Clean, soft cloth, towels, and warm water.
- Paint or lacquer stripper and thinner
- Hand or power sanders
- Sandpaper in multiple grits
- Plastic paint scrapers
- Wood stain or paint of choice
- Drop cloths
- Wax coating
- Eye protection
- Chemical resistant gloves
- Shop-vac or vacuum cleaner
Extra supplies that may come in handy depending on how you are refinishing your antique:
- Natural bristle paint brushes
- Painter’s tape
- Plenty of clean rags and cloths
- Stir sticks
- Glue and clamps for unexpected repairing and reinforcing of furniture
Because of the nature of different types of wood, finishes, veneers, hand carvings and style, the exact procedure on how to refinish your particular antique furniture piece will likely need specific instructions. There are plenty of online resources, including right here at our website, that can help you in this project.
If the unfortunate happens and not even refinishing can help recover a beloved antique, there may be options for you. At Laurel Crown, our team of master craftsmen and carpenters have been lovingly and meticulously recreating antiques down to the littlest, handcrafted details for over three decades. Our Custom Design Department can work with you side by side from photographs of your beloved antique, or customize any of our exquisite designs for you to proof until your treasured heirloom furniture memories become reality.
We never cut corners from concept to customer service. If you are curious about any of our unforgettable, elegant pieces, contact us at any time.
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