Perhaps you've been eyeing Aunt Edna's antique sideboard, and thought how nice it would look in your home with "just a little work". Unfortunately, restoring a piece of furniture involves a lot more than just stripping off the old finish and applying a new one. Restoration means bringing that piece back to the original state by rebuilding, repairing, and repainting or restaining.
Before you ever open that can of paint remover do your homework. Try to find old photographs of the piece in its original condition. Find out what kind of wood was used, especially if there are missing pieces that need to be replaced or repaired. Determine the kind of stain or paint and the original color used. Study the hardware. Is it original, or has it been replaced with mismatched pieces over the years? There are several companies, which specialize, in antique hardware and faceplate reproductions who can help.
Begin by removing doors, drawers and hardware. Work on small areas at a time, and be sure the area you are working in is well ventilated. Using a paintbrush, apply paint remover liberally and evenly. As the old paint dissolves, spread more paint remover on. Let the paint remover do as much of the work as possible. This means less work for you, and it is better for the wood than sanding and scraping. You will probably find that you need to get through several layers of paint before you ever see the wood underneath. When all of the old paint has been removed wipe the piece down with clean paint remover and a clean cloth.
Inspect the piece and make necessary repairs. Try to use the same kind of wood as in the original piece. If there are any scratches or dents fill with wood filler and sand smooth, being careful to sand with the grain. Chances are most of the joints have become loose over the years and they will need to be reglued. It's best to strip the furniture first, because often the only thing holding the joints together is layer upon layer of paint. Use a rubber mallet to tap the joints loose. Never try to force them, as this could cause additional damage. When you have separated the joints remove all of the old glue with a chisel. Lay the piece on a flat surface to make sure corners are square. Apply a new coat of glue and clamp together until dry.
Now that you have rebuilt and repaired, you are ready to repaint or restain. Try to match the original color as closely as possible. Apply the stain with a brush or cloth ball. If you use a ball of cloth squeeze out excess stain to prevent drips on the wood. Spread the stain liberally and evenly working with the grain, and use a rag or cloth to stain carved areas and hard to reach places. Then wipe the surface with a clean, dry cloth to distribute the color evenly and to remove excess stain. Allow to dry thoroughly.
The final step is to apply a protective coat of varnish, polyurethane or wax. Replace the hardware, sit back, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
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