The practice of caring for and restoring fine furniture has changed dramatically in recent years. Consideration now needs to be given to the preservation of original finishes and restorers are not as quick to recommend refinishing. Stripping and refinishing is no longer standard practice. The original finish is significant to historic furniture and should be preserved whenever possible. The appearance of an early finish can almost always be improved with several proper cleaning methods and materials.
When attempting to clean and restore furniture, one must first be able to identify all of the materials that were used to create the piece. Furniture may consist of components that are made of, or finished in, wood, stone, metal, acrylic, fabric, leather, gold leaf, paint and natural or synthetic resins. Each material may have a different reaction to solvents and cleaning agents that may be chosen to restore the surface. It may not be safe to use a single product to treat an entire piece of furniture. In most cases, the advice of an experienced furniture conservator is suggested.
It is not necessary or advisable to routinely drench your furniture with oil and wax mixtures to prevent the wood from drying out and cracking. Some “home remedies” can temporarily improve the appearance of the wood and finish, but ultimately do nothing to stop the drying out of the older finish. Products containing linseed oil should not be applied to fine furniture on a regular basis. The surface can become very sticky and can darken enough over time to obscure the natural beauty and grain of the wood. Furniture polishes that contain lemon oil can attract and capture dust and dirt on the surface that may require future removal.
The best way to protect and maintain the original clear finish on furniture is an annual application of a good quality paste wax made of carnauba or micro-crystalline wax. Renaissance brandwax polish is a good polish to use. After proper cleaning, a furniture conservator can apply a thin layer of paste wax that is buffed by hand to restore a deep luster to the original finish. Some paste wax is available in different colors to make small nicks and scratches less noticeable after polishing. Water based finishes may be sensitive and easily damaged by paste wax which can contain solvents. It is always a good idea to test a small area before applying wax over an entire surface. After waxing, the surface can easily be maintained by hand buffing with a slightly dampened clean soft cloth every month or two.
Maintaining a stable environment will also help to preserve your furniture. Wood and most finishes can be affected and damaged by changes in relative humidity, extreme temperatures and over-exposure to ultraviolet light. No amount of lemon oil will prevent wood from drying out if it is constantly exposed to low humidity levels.
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Until next time – Wood Menders