By Frank Klausz

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A lot of furniture is ruined by removing the finish in an effort to restore the piece. Antique furniture— 100 vears old or more—is most valuable with its original finish; therefore, whenever it is possible, any work on an antique should involve bringing the finish back to life without taking it off. I call this process restoring the finish. And restoration doesn't stop with just antiques: Any type of furniture can be restored without removing the finish as long as the wood below isn't damaged and most of the finish is intact. With some modern finishing materials and a little experience, you can preserve the original look of a piece in less time than it takes to remove die finish and start from scratch.

If you're just starting out, it's best to try your hand at restoring a common piece of furniture first instead of a valu able antique. Also, sometimes your only option is to remove die finish. I'll show you what to look for when deciding whedicr to take diis step.

In addition to knowing when and how to restore a finish, it's important to know what kind of finish you're trying to restore, because there are different approaches for different finishes. Ihc majority of antique furniture is finished with shellac or varnish, and occasionally with oil. Nitrocellulose lacquer has become popular only in die last 30 to 40 years, so you're most likely to find diis finish on a more recent piece. Tliat said, let's look at the options you have for giving an old finish new life.


If the finish on a piece of furniture is dull but otherwise smooth and intact, all it may need is a good wax job to bring back the shine. Even a rough and lackluster finish can often be brought back to life with minimal work if you make your waxing a little more aggressive. I do this by using steel wool and paste wax, with brown-colored wax for dark woods and light-colored wax for lighter woods. The steel wool cleans and smooths the finish, and die color in die wax helps to hide small impcrfcctions.

To wax a piece of furniture, dip a piece of 0000 steel wool generously into a can of wax and rub with the grain, using a sanding motion. As the wax dries, you'll notice the sheen change to dull. At this point, buff off the wax with a clean rag. Don't try to wax an area larger than about 1 ft. square at a time, since the wax dries quickly and becomes hard to buff out if you let it sit t(x> long.


If the finish is dim' and dull, it needs to be cleaned prior to waxing. As long as there's no waxy buildup on the surface of the piece, cleaning can be done with any natural soap.

I use a little Murphy's Oil soap mixed with warm water. Dip a rag in the mixture and cover the area to be cleaned, scrubbing to remove the dirt. If the dirt is persistent, try letting the mixture soak for five to 10 minutes on the surface. Don't let the water touch anv areas that mav have bare wood or

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