Tips to make your old furniture last longer

July 29, 2015

You probably know about waxing and polishing, and how to save your furniture from (or after) mishaps. Here are some of the bits and pieces that might not have crossed your mind.

Tips to make your old furniture last longer

Never have furniture dip-stripped

  • If you have old furniture with multiple layers of paint and you want to return it to its former glory, it's possible to strip off the paint with a chemical stripper and refinish the bared wood.
  • To preserve the joinery, the safest way to do this is by hand rather than sending it out to be dip-stripped.
  • Apply the stripper according to the manufacturer's recommendation and scrape or rub off the old finish.
  • Remove residue with lacquer thinner (outside or in a well-ventilated room) instead of water in order to preserve the glue in the joints.
  • No time for this messy and time-consuming task?
  • Find a commercial furniture stripper that does cold-tank dipping, and ask for the residue to be removed with lacquer thinner.
  • Avoid commercial strippers that use hot-tank dipping — lye heated to 49°C (120°F ) — unless you are having old doors or stair balustrades stripped.
  • For antique furniture of value, avoid stripping altogether.
  • Simply clean the piece with a damp, soft cloth. The aged finish and the patina that come with years of use are often beautiful and should be maintained.
  • Removing them will also significantly reduce the value of your piece.

Don’t forget the hardware

  • When polishing brass hardware on furniture, such as hinges, handles and knobs, protect the surrounding finish with masking tape or remove the hardware altogether to polish it.
  • Otherwise the polish may mar the furniture finish.
  • Avoid polishes that contain ammonia, because they can promote corrosion.
  • Instead, choose a polish with a mild abrasive. Wax regularly to forestall your next polishing session.

Handle with care when moving

  • Most of the damage to old furniture happens when it has to be moved. Often it's because of a bump against a doorjamb or because it gets jammed while carrying it down a stairway.
  • Take extra care when moving valuable pieces by ensuring there is a clear path to wherever you are carrying the furniture.
  • Remove doors if necessary to give you extra inches. Remove parts, such as drawers, shelves and marble tops.
  • Don't be afraid to disassemble the furniture before moving it if you have to. If the doors can't be removed, bind them closed with straps or soft cord.
  • Be sure to have adequate help.
  • Furniture should be lifted and moved — not dragged, because this can put undue stress on its legs.
  • Lift tables by the apron, not the top, and lift chairs by the rails, not by the seat. Carry and store marble vanity tops vertically, not horizontally.

Keep it shining

  • Brass hardware is usually coated with lacquer to keep it bright. Eventually, however, the lacquer wears off and the hardware will begin to tarnish.
  • Then you're faced with the ongoing chore of polishing if you like a bright finish. To save yourself some work and to keep the hardware looking new, reapply the lacquer finish.
  • First remove the hardware and use acetone to remove any remaining lacquer. Then reapply several coats of lacquer from a spray can.
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