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Regular Maintenance for Antique Furniture – a List of ‘Don’t Do’s’

by Fred Taylor (10/07/09).

I hope that you caught my suggestions last time on the “common sense little stuff” that you SHOULD do to prevent your having to spend money on “big stuff” later on (Regular Maintenance for Antique Furniture – a List of ‘Should Do’s’). Enjoy the second part of this Regular Maintenance series and remember that all of these DON’T suggestions are the result of things that we have fixed for our customers in 30 years of repairing and restoring antique and collectible furniture. I don’t want you to have to spend big money on these repairs later on.

Things you SHOULD NOT do:

• Don’t place your furniture in strong light as a permanent location. The light will fade the pigment in the wood and damage the finish. Strong light will also fade upholstery and cause the fabric to deteriorate faster. When possible, close blinds and curtains during the day and remember to rotate your furniture once a year.

If left in place long enough, this table runner and center piece will protect the color of the table while the exposed sections fade around it. The table should be covered in the long term uniformly.

If left in place long enough, this table runner and center piece will protect the color of the table while the exposed sections fade around it. The table should be covered in the long term uniformly.

• Don’t use a centerpiece like a beveled mirror or a table runner on your dining table for long periods of time if it sits in strong light. When you remove the centerpiece, you will notice a difference in color where the centerpiece sat and it generally is not repairable.

• Don’t put plastic covers directly on your wooden furniture. The plastic (if left any length of time) will adhere to your furniture and might pull the finish off when you try to remove the cover because the solvents in the plastic are the same as the solvents in the finish. This is something we have often seen after the holidays when a plastic cover was put on the buffet or dining table and then covered with a tablecloth and forgotten until things returned to normal.

• Don’t store your dining room table leaves in the closet standing on end because the leaves may warp especially if they are only used once or twice a year. When possible, store them flat under a bed wrapped in a couple of old sheets.

• Don’t put soap on the bottom of drawers that don’t open and close properly. First unload it. Then pull out the problem drawer and look at the sides, the bottom and the back. If there are no loose parts then sight down the bottom on the drawer sides to see if the wooden runners are worn out. If worn out, hire a furniture professional to rebuild them. If you found your missing sweater under the drawer and everything else looks good, spray some silicone (food grade) on the runners being careful not to get any on the front of the drawer and put it back in. The drawer should work smoothly again. If you still have a problem, call a professional.

• Don’t try to repair your loose dining room or kitchen chairs yourself unless you have clamps as well as glue. Gluing without clamping is the same as not gluing and putting fresh glue into joints that already have glue in them probably won’t hold because glue doesn’t stick to glue. You will have to pay a lot more to have them repaired properly by a furniture professional later on.

The damage to this table top occurred when the batteries of a portable television set corroded. Battery acid and furniture finish do not mix well.

The damage to this table top occurred when the batteries of a portable television set corroded. Battery acid and furniture finish do not mix well.

• Don’t put electronic items like calculators directly on a finished surface. The solvents in the plastic or composition plastic feet on the machine will allow color from the feet to migrate into the finish. Battery powered electronics may leak battery corrosion on the finish.

• Don’t try to move the bed by yourself to clean under it. You will probably torque it and stress the joints where the rails fit in and the bed may break. Instead, get help. Help is a lot cheaper than hiring a furniture professional to repair the broken bed while you are sleeping on the floor.

• Don’t lean your wet or oily head back on your wooden headboard. You will damage the finish over time and the headboard will need to be refinished. Instead, put a dry towel or an extra pillow against the headboard where your head would normally touch.

• Don’t put scent packets directly on your furniture. They smell great but if left on the furniture, will damage the finish. Again the solvents are the same as the finish. Put these decorative packets in a pretty dish or bowl.

• Don’t set colored candles (red green, blue and black are worst!) directly on your furniture, especially if it is light colored. The color may bleed through the finish and into the wood. When you are burning votive candles, check the glass candle holders every so often to make sure they aren’t real hot. When they get too hot to pick up, the heat may scorch the finish on your furniture.

• Don’t load bookshelves with too much weight. The shelves will sag and may even break the supports, especially if the shelves are not made of solid wood.

• Don’t panic if you see a white mark on your furniture. Leave it alone and it may go away by itself. A white mark usually means that moisture is trapped in the finish and if left alone may disappear on its own. Whatever you do, don’t try mayonnaise or cigarette ashes or oil. If the white mark doesn’t go away by itself within 48 hours, call a furniture pro to help you out.

Don’t assume siderails to different beds are interchangeable. These two sets of hooks appear to be similar but they are not exactly the same and will not fit into a bed the same way.

Don’t assume side rails to different beds are interchangeable. These two sets of hooks appear to be similar but they are not exactly the same and will not fit into a bed the same way.

• Don’t buy an old bed that is missing its side rails. Side rails that will actually fit your bed aren’t that easy to find, and unless you are going to convert to a Hollywood bed frame, you are asking for trouble.

• Don’t leave your pets alone and unrestrained in the house while you are at work all day. We have fixed many dog-chewed chairs, bird pecked beds and cat scratched dining room tables. These repairs can be very costly.

• Don’t “feed” the finish on your wooden furniture. The finish is synthetic and the wood is dead. You only need to keep it cleaned, waxed and dry, not oiled. Remember, you wouldn’t oil the finish on your car, would you?

Enjoy your furniture. Good furniture should last a lifetime if you use a “Common Sense” approach to taking care of it.

——————————–

Fred Taylor is a antique furniture Worthologist who specializes in American furniture from the Late Classicism period (1830-1850).

Send your comments, questions and pictures to me at PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or info@furnituredetective.com.

Visit Fred’s website at www.furnituredetective.com. His book “How To Be A Furniture Detective” is now available for $18.95 plus $3 shipping. Send check or money order for $21.95 to Fred Taylor, PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423.

Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ($17 + $3 S&H) and a bound compilation of the first 60 columns of “Common Sense Antiques,” by Fred Taylor ($25 + $3 S&H) are also available at the same address. For more information call 800-387-6377, fax 352-563-2916, or e-mail info@furnituredetective.com.

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8 Responses to “Regular Maintenance for Antique Furniture – a List of ‘Don’t Do’s’”

  1. Mark Stone says:

    It is not a good idea to use furniture “polish” sprays or liquid like Pledge as they probably contain silicone which can cause grief during future refinishing. There are work-arounds but they can be time consuming and just add to the cost.

  2. Hi Fred, thank you for the info in this email. I will look for the additional info sent on what TO do!

    If you check my website, I do have a few antiques listed: a baker occasional table, a unique sideboard, a porcelain lamp, (not sure if it is an antique) a rosewood table (looks entirely hand made) If you can give me some insight on these, I don’t mind paying for your time. I had offered the sideboard several months ago to Worthpoint to auction, but (I forgot who responded) the response is that it would not make sense to go through regular auction, that it is worth probably just $800. I would like a second opinion on that. I was not charged for an appraisal, it was a courtesy quote. I had joined worthpoint’s search service for $49 per month, but found it not at all complete, and my money was refunded. I would like to sign up again, but not until worthpoint has all its ducks in a row properly. Goantiques had a much better system, but not thorough, either. The community really needs a good service. My complaint was that I would put in an item and get a million other non-related items that were too time consuming to look through.

  3. Millie Golden says:

    Fred, thank you for the valuable tips. I look forward to reading your information whenever I can find it. You give the information in such an easy to understand way — no bull, no fluff like so many other “experts”. Keep up the good work!

  4. Gary says:

    Please could you help. I am trying to rid my furniture of a water stain it is on a piece of mahognay, is there anything I can do to get rid of the stain, I have been told to use a brazil nut!! Thank you

    Gary.

  5. ellen romano says:

    Hello, i have an antique vanity that has area’s above the handles that the finish has worn off. apparently the previous owner didn’t use the handles to close the draw. also on the top the finish has faded. what can i do to make it look better. i see you said don’t use pledge. do i need a professional to fix this.

  6. Fred Taylor says:

    Gary – If the stain is white, it is water trapped within the matrix of the finish. Do yourself a favor and call a professional touch up artist. It is a 30 second problem using a professional product called “No-Blush.”

    If the stain is black the water has penetrated the wood and reacted with the tannin. It mus be stripped and bleached with oxalic acid, another job for a pro.

    Home rememdies for water stains usually create more problems and add to the final bill for the professional restoration artist.

    Good luck.

    Fred Taylor

  7. Fred Taylor says:

    Ellen – You need proferssional help to restore the missing finish on the drawers. The faded top can be improved by the application of a tinted paste wax such as Howard’s or BriWax. Just pick the right tint and apply a thin coat.

    Good luck.

    Fred Taylor

  8. Millie O'Reilly says:

    Another very good article full of information. Can’t wait to read what you write next. How do you know so much?

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