My mother worked for a Wood Furniture shop for approximately forty years. I don’t mean she supervised or worked in the office: she built the furniture, and eventually, she was the head of quality control for cherry wood stains.
I’ve seen her take the most battered, painted, ugly piece of furniture imaginable, and two weeks later, present us with a burnished, worn, 19th-century table both beautiful to the eye and comfortable to sit at.
Wood Furniture: Some Advice From The Experts
She always recommended washing wood furniture with soap and water first and quickly wiping off the excess. Much of the dull color found in old furniture comes from accumulated use, when touched with hands, airborne pollutants, etc.
There’s no point in going onto the next step until you do this, as you will seal the dirt with whatever you use as the next step.
What you use to clean the piece more thoroughly depends more on the degree of grime, the age of the piece, the kind of finish it has, and your ability and interest in tackling a project that may end up as a completely refinished piece of furniture.
My mother had all the strongest, carcinogenic chemicals at her disposal, and didn’t hesitate to use them (when she died at 85, it was due to emphysema r/t exposure of airborne particles).
I don’t recommend anyone to use these.
Some More Conception To Learn
With practice, you can learn to improve an old piece of furniture’s appearance. Often the clear finishes crack and yellow. There are scratches in old furniture. But start off small, and work in a well-ventilated place with commercial products you can find at any big box home improvement store. Remove of finishes is painstaking and time-consuming. Rarely did my mother use a sandpaper with a grit rating under 100, meaning it was less coarse and took substantial effort to get the finish smooth.
This is the point when you’re most likely to want a professional to finish it.
She was beyond critical of staining techniques. You could not possibly use too little stain (well, unlikely). Excess had to get quickly removed to produce a smooth application without splotches. When you remove the excess, your hand should follow the grain. The topcoat of clear protective finish could be varnish, polyurethane, or wax.
These also need to be applied with extreme care and thought for how they will get used.
True, I’ve never refinished a piece of furniture that came close to her skilled work. But I’ve had some success with cleaning and restoring old pieces, and it’s amazing what you can find under layers of sticky fingerprints, airborne pollution, household dirt, and grime. My mother is no longer around to criticize your lack of technique.
If you do have a piece of furniture you know is a valuable antique, forget all my advice. Having the original finish and hardware counts for a lot in the world of antiques. Find a reliable antique dealer and ask about the worth of the piece. The dealer will probably be able to direct you to a professional restorer.