Loved, Not Lost: Repairing Your Treasured Family Furnishings
You grew up with them — grandma’s old rocker, dad’s old recliner, mom’s china. They’re looking a little worse for wear. How do you restore them and keep them in the family? Fortunately, it’s not that hard. If you’ve ever wanted to know how to restore a family heirloom, here’s how it’s done.
Practice Safety Before You Start
You’ll be working with chemicals and sanding equipment and stuff that’s generally irritating to the lungs. So, always wear protective equipment first. Restoring old furniture also takes patience. So, if you’re not the type of person who has patience, don’t take on a project.
Even if it’s something as simple as fixing table legs. You will likely need a minimum of:
- Ventilation mask
- Sander or sanding paper
- Tape and;
Make sure that you’re working in a well-ventilated area, too. Ideally, you’ll work outdoors. This will help dissipate any vapors from the chemicals you’re working with. While a breather mask will help with fumes, unless it’s fitted it’s not going to provide perfect protection.
Working Out An Old Finish
Before you can restore an antique item, you need to figure out what the current finish on the wood is. A natural finish, like shellac, varnish, and lacquer, are really difficult to identify just by sight unless you happen to be a professional.
You can test the surface by applying denatured alcohol to an inconspicuous area. This should tell you whether it’s a shellac coating. It takes lacquer thinner to get the finish off, then you have lacquer.
If neither of these things do the job, you probably have varnish. If it’s a dull finish, it might be oil or wax.
How To Clean The Furniture
Before you can restore your piece, you’ll need to clean it up. Sometimes, it’s as easy as just giving it a good cleaning. But, sometimes, you’ll need to use a wood cleaner or liquid detergent. These can sometimes be harsh, so be careful. Always test it on a small area first and see what happens.
When working with wood, you don’t want to soak it in water. In fact, using water is a double-edged sword, since water naturally damages it.
Work in sections, and dry as you go.
If you’re using a solvent to clean the wood, you have a few options, including turpentine, denatured alcohol, or mineral spirits. If possible, you should work with these chemicals outside. Use a rough cloth, like a towel and wipe it immediately after you’re finished working on a section.
Strip The Finish
When you refinish a piece, you will need to strip off the old finish to make room for the stain you want to apply. Use a semi-paste that can sit on the surface to loosen up the old coats of paint. Then, scrape everything off and clean up the piece before applying a new finish.
Refinish The Product
This is what you’ve been waiting for. Apply a new coat of stain to the piece. You can go for a whole new look or try to imitate the old finish. Once the first coat is on, sand it down with 100 grit sandpaper. Clean the surface with a vacuum and tack cloth and you should be all set.
Guest Post by: Niamh Sheppard is a creator (artist if you will) who restores, upcycles and creates beautiful things for her home whether antiques that needed some love or trash that she has turned into treasure. She encourages others to do the same and writes DIY/Restoration/Frugal related articles.