Furniture
Your antique furniture is worth preserving and there are number of things you can do to ensure correct and lasting maintenance.

Worth preserving

Looking after your antiques, ensuring they're displayed, stored and handled correctly, is essential to preserving them for future generations. Furniture needs informed care and it's important to remember it isn't just wood - the beauty of timber furniture is often how it's allowed to age.

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Cleaning


The best way to protect the finish of your timber is to use a good quality beeswax polish. This should be done once a year, or twice a year for heavy use. The wax should be applied sparingly with a soft cloth and then polished with another lint-free cloth. A good shine comes from rubbing rather than lots of layers of wax.

Don't use silicone-based sprays for cleaning as they leave a film that is very hard to remove. Oil-based polishes attract dirt and some might darken the wood. Avoid feather dusters as they can scratch the surface. Clean intricate areas with a soft brush. Be careful not to catch or pull any decoration that could bend or come off.

Furniture

Repairing furniture is a difficult and highly specialised area and we recommend you contact a qualified furniture conservator before considering any DIY repairs that might compromise the piece.

There are a number of surface finishes including wax, varnish, lacquer, shellac, paint and modern synthetic finishes. Even bare wood will develop a patina of its own over decades. These finishes are a sign of the age of a piece and should be preserved.

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Scratches

If you find a scratch examine how deep it is. If it's only a surface scratch that has not gone through to the actual wood, you can attempt to colour-in the area. A scratch that has gone through to the wood can allow moisture to penetrate and this type of damage needs professional attention.

Before attempting any minor repairs, make sure you know what the surface finish of your piece is.

If it's varnish, shellac or wax you could try the following steps:
  • Make sure the surface is dust free.
  • Use a basic watercolour set and a sable brush. Do some test colours to find one that looks as if it will match. Try it first on the underside of the piece (or some other area that can't be seen). The colour when wet will be the colour when waxed.
  • Avoid getting paint on the finish. Have a cloth ready to wipe off any stray spots of paint.
  • When fully dry, polish with beeswax and a lint-free cloth.

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Breakages

Functioning furniture gets banged, things fall on it and constant rubbing can loosen the trim. It's important to replace these when possible because exposed areas on either side of a damaged area can be more vulnerable. Even a gentle dusting can snag the edge of a broken area and pull it off.

If a piece has broken off your furniture but in one section (rather than several pieces) you may be able to re-attach it. However, it's advisable to speak to a professional conservator before attempting such a repair. Paying for a quick visit for them to see your piece of furniture may save you a great deal of angst and money.

If there are a number of pieces, wrap each one individually in acid-free tissue and store in a bag or box. Don't attempt a complex repair.

For a simple re-attachment, follow these tips:
  • Examine the area. Is there a residue of old glue? If so, this can be removed
    with a scalpel and a very steady hand. Don't dig at the glue but gently brush
    away any residue. It may be necessary to do this on both the area of the break and the broken piece.
  • Use a tiny amount of cold scotch glue on the broken part. This is animal glue and does not need to be heated to be effective. Try to apply it in the middle of the piece to be joined, as this will help to prevent the glue from oozing out at the edges.
  • Carefully place the piece back in its original location. Remove any glue seepage with your finger.
  • Leave it for 24 hours and then rub with beeswax polish if necessary.

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Gener
al
tips

The temperature in your home can greatly affect the condition of your furniture. Excessively dry conditions can cause furniture to dry out and shrink, while damp conditions can cause mould growth. Try to keep your pieces in a stable environment where the temperature and relative humidity don't fluctuate dramatically.

The following points are worth bearing in mind:
  • Don't place furniture near heat sources as heat causes shrinkage. This can
    loosen joints and veneers and change the shape of the piece over time.
  • Light can also damage furniture. Natural or artificial light of high intensity can
    alter finishes and if severe can break down the wood. Use blinds or curtains to reduce light levels.
  • When moving furniture, remove drawers and lock doors so they don't open.
    Pieces should be padded and covered for transport. Use clean white cotton 
    gloves when moving gilded furniture (available inexpensively at chemists).
  • Lifting furniture should be done carefully. Check for loose areas. Chairs should be lifted (not dragged) by the seat rather than the back or arms.  Tables should be lifted by the legs rather than the top, which could come off.



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