Professional painters who can refinish old furniture back to its original state are few and far between. Old and antique furniture holds a special place in the heart of the owner and proper restoration requires patience, expertise, and a steady hand. Those that work with old furniture pieces, however, know that refinishing and repairing them is a lot less about paint or stain than it is about surface preparation. Here are the five places where you must pay the utmost attention to successfully refinish an old or antique piece of furniture.
- Removing stains and wood discoloration: Even the heartiest stains, lacquers, and polishes are susceptible to water marks or stains left behind by liquids. With any luck, the stain is just below the surface and can be removed by rubbing the surface with a liquid furniture polish. In the event the stain does not respond to the polish, you will have to remove it through good old fashioned elbow grease. A very fine grit sandpaper or light steel wool can help remove any stains or watermarks. Our suggestion is to perform a few circular motions with the sandpaper at the location of the spot, stop, wipe off any created dust or debris, and evaluate the surface. If the spot has disappeared, stop sanding. If the spot remains, go ahead and repeat the steps above until the stain is removed entirely. It is imperative that you not sand any deeper into the surface than is absolutely necessary.
- Repairing surface scratches, dings, and cracks: Repairing scratches, dents, dings, or cracks is best accomplished either through light sanding or adding filler. Surface cracks or slight scratches can be sanded out easily. Any dings or deeper damage should be filled with a high quality wood filler or bonding agent. Once the filler dries, lightly sand it to match the level of the original surface. However, some fillers (even professional grade) will not completely cure and settle for many hours. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s specifications before working with the filler or else you risk having a divot or dent that is only partially filled.
- Repairing veneer and joints: Veneer is a thin layer of laminate or imitation wood placed on the outermost layer of wood to provide an enhanced or more appealing appearance. Over time, veneer can peel away from the substrate or incur the same types of damage as natural wood. Removing veneer is a challenge because the glue typically used to attach veneer to the surface is quite strong. Often removal means sanding with a heavy grit sandpaper or using a heating gun to loosen the glue. Repairing veneer or joints that appear damaged is often a much better option. A number of silicon fillers are available that provide enhanced strength and surface mass to repair any veneer damage. As with any filler, however, it is best too apply too much and remove with sandpaper after curing.
- Sanding before staining or painting: The biggest challenge in refinishing old furniture comes from sanding the substrate in a uniform and consistent way that is ready to accept stain or paint. Since stain absorbs into wood, removing stain requires deeper sanding then removing paint. That said, be cautious that your sanding doesn’t go so deep as to affect the structural integrity of the furniture itself. In some cases, you may find that the stain cannot be completely removed through sanding or using steel wool. In these cases you may have to add stain or paint over a faint layer of preexisting stain. If this happens, choose a color or stain a shade lighter than the intended result. The old stain underneath will make the new coat darker then you imagine, so planning for a lighter tone is in order.
- Hardware preparation: The time and detail needed to refinish old wood furniture is all for naught if the hardware and accessories of the piece are not given the same attention. From drawer knobs to the rivets on upholstery, each piece of hardware should be cleaned thoroughly and checked for signs of damage. With a little effort, you should be able to find a replacement part for most any hardware accent that is indistinguishable from the original. Pulling hardware from other old furniture, looking at antique shops, and even shopping online will yield cost-effective and beautiful hardware for your piece.
Even though refinishing old furniture may seem more art than science, professional painters know that surface preparation is key to excellent results. Older furniture requires repairing old damage, as well as removing old paint and stain. At the same time, the delicate nature of older materials means that hard abrasives or powerful stripping agents can do more harm then good. Working slowly and carefully is key to preserving the piece as well as possible. A refinished and repaired piece of old furniture can give any room or office a unique and beautiful component, so pay attention to the guidelines above to achieve optimal results. Click here to learn more about paint finishing and surface preparation!