Restoring antique furniture provides hours of satisfaction and enjoyment for history buffs and the crafty among us. It can even be a lucrative side career, for many, as the median income for antique restorers is about $27,000 per year, according to government labor research.
Even if you’re into antique furniture restoration purely for your own satisfaction, doing the job right is important, as it will yield more attractive results and boost your confidence in your ability as a furniture restorer. Taking the time to learn the ins and outs of antique furniture restoration, and being patient as you progress through the trial and error most restoration artists must experience, will build your skills and confidence.
One of the biggest things furniture refinishers need to learn about restoring antique furniture is how to select the right finish. If you choose the wrong finish, it will surely show, as the incongruity between your furniture and its finish is clearly evident.
When refinishing furniture, it is usually best to stick with the finish that was originally applied to the furniture or a finish that closely matches it. If you’re having a hard time identifying the original finish, talking to an antique furniture dealer or professional furniture refinishers can help.
Each type of finish on the market has different benefits. Penetrating oil finishes are fairly common and are easy for furniture refinishers to apply. They provide a very natural, muted appearance. They do not thoroughly protect your furniture from scrapes or dings, as do lacquer or varnish, however.
Polyurethane finish is tough and durable, and there are a variety of sheens you can find. Some antique restorers do not like dealing with such a strong chemical, although there are water-based versions that are eco-friendly.
Lacquer finishes are striking and highly effective, but require an advanced level of skill from antique restorers to apply to their furniture. Applying lacquer to antique furniture can be extremely labor intensive and time consuming, but it is often worth it, thanks to the luster it provides to refinished furniture.
The type of project you are undertaking often dictates what type of finish will work best. For example, for piano restoration projects, the most commonly used finishes are shellac, polyurethane and nitrocellulose lacquer. The lacquer option is the most labor intensive, and requires a certain amount of deftness, but if applied correctly, it can make your antique piano look as grand as it did the day it was originally sold.
If you’re unsure about what type of finish to use, consult with professional antique restorers and furniture refinishers. Their knowledge and expertise can help steer you in the right direction, or if the job appears too difficult for you to handle on your own, they will be able to perform it for you.