Guide to Antique Furniture Finishes

Antique Wood Furniture, because of its value, should be approached carefully by any do-it-yourselfer. It is allways more desireable with the original finish.

Avoid extremes of humidity and temperature, which accelerate cracking and checking of finish, and loosen joints and veneer. Never set beverage glasses, vases of flowers, etc. on surfaces without coasters or mat protection.

Vacuum or dust surfaces with a soft cloth. Occasionally use a cloth just barely dampened with solvent-based cleaning wax to wipe the surface to pick up more dust, and immediately wipe with a dry cloth or soft paper towel.

Never use spray waxes or polishes on surfaces. They leave a residue and create a higher gloss. Many spray and cream waxes contain silicones, which may make future refinishing more difficult.

Occasionally wax with a hard paste wax with carnauba. Rub on a very light coat with a soft cloth in the direction of the grain of the wood. Some woodworkers suggest putting a lump of wax inside a few layers of folded cotton cheesecloth and rubbing it onto wood thus preventing heavy smears. Next buff at once with soft cloth, turning often, until wax coating is hard. Cotton tee shirts are good. Most paint stores carry boxes of tee shirt rag material for this purpose. Be sure all wax is completely buffed until hard to avoid smears and streaks. A small electric polisher can save effort, but be careful not to burnish the wood by pressing too hard in any position. Wipe the surface gently with clean soft cloth after applying wax to remove any loosened soil and then let set several minutes (following wax label directions) before buffing. An occasional re-buffing will renew a soft gloss. Paste wax helps to cover small cracks and checks in old finishes, and can easily be removed with mineral spirits when desired.

Antiques that have been refinished should be treated according to type of finish as described in other sections. Since old finishes may be affected by cleaning treatments, always test the first time on an inconspicuous place on the furniture to be sure it is compatible with the finish. Generally, the above is satisfactory.

This article has been contributed in part by Michigan State University Extension