Panic Attack: Holiday Quick Fixes for Furniture

As the holidays roll around on a regular basis this time of the year, they are often accompanied by panic attacks, as the realization sets in that you are not really ready to host the big neighborhood party or to have a houseful of overnight guests usually accompanied by young children.

You really meant to do something about the awful condition of Grandma’s buffet before the aunts and uncles show up and comment, and that little piece of loose veneer on the coffee table is going to be the Grand Canyon after the visiting 4-year-old gets through with it. Desperate phone calls to your normally reliable “furniture guy” confirm that you should have been on his schedule two months ago. Now what?

Here are a few quick fixes that will improve the look of your treasures without investing the week or a fortune.

CLEAN HARDWARE: This one step will make the most difference in the appearance of older furniture and, while it sounds like drudgery, it can be quick and easy if you are willing to short-cut it for short-term results. The steps to true hardware restoration are: a) disassemble; b) strip; c) clean; d) color; e) seal; and f) reassemble. But you can eliminate b) and c)—the real killers, using the short cut.

You still must remove the hardware from the piece (never clean or seal hardware while it is still attached—you may damage the surrounding finish). Use masking tape to label each piece of hardware so that it returns to its original home. Then use brass or gold metallic wax to highlight the hardware. It often looks best if you just hit the high spots of the piece and leave recesses and designs a little darker to emphasize depth and age. Apply the wax with your finger tip to achieve a nice mellow look. Metallic waxes go under names like Decorator Gilt and Rub n’ Buff and are usually available at better craft stores and some paint and hardware stores.

But you still must seal in the wax or it will rub off on Aunt Mable’s black silk pants and then you really can panic. While you are at the craft store buying the metallic wax, also buy a small can of “crystal clear” acrylic spray to mist over the hardware and seal in the wax. Be sure to buy “crystal clear” rather than “clear.” The regular clear version will be slightly amber while the crystal clear version is as clear as water. After your spray dries—in less than five minutes—you are ready to reinstall your “new” hardware.

(For the long version of cleaning hardware, see “Cleaning Your Brass Furniture Hardware”)

REPAIR LOOSE VENEER: This usually scares most people off or they try the Scotch tape and school glue approach. Basically, there are three types of glue available to repair veneer. The first is water-based wood glue, which is stronger in the long run but is very slow drying (usually overnight), requires a lot of preparation time and must be clamped tightly to be effective. This is the glue for major chair repairs but not quick veneer fixes.

Another option is the new breed of cyanoacrylate glues that are, for all intents and purposes, instant glue. But these glues, while just the right thing in some situations, are testy and can be hazardous (for details on cyanoacrylates, see my Common Sense Antiques article # 53, “N.K.O.B. – CYANOACRYLATE GLUE”).

So what is left for a quick fix? Two-part, five-minute epoxy. Two-part clear epoxy glues are available just about anywhere and are simple to use. Just mix equal parts of the ingredients on a stiff disposable surface like cardboard and apply a small amount to the underside of the loose veneer using a flat toothpick, being careful not to drip glue on any finished surface or on the carpet. Use a paint paddle or other flat object with wax paper between it and the surface to apply medium pressure over the repaired area with your hand for three to five minutes. Clean up with lacquer thinner or acetone-based fingernail polish remover and you are done.

CLEAN AND WAX: The last category also is not as bad as it sounds. If you have done little or nothing to that dried-out old buffet for several years, just clean it with a damp cloth and apply a very light coat of paste wax to it. Don’t use oil or oil-based products on it because they don’t dry and just smear around, leaving a greasy feeling to your furniture. Try some of the colored waxes for furniture from Howard’s Products, Briwax or Fiddes, usually available in antique shops of repair shops. After the holidays, maintain the piece with a simple once-a-year wax job. Remember, no greasy kid stuff.

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

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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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  1. Ann Marie Talorsky says:

    great article – lots of useful information!

  2. Percy says:

    It’s definitely a good idea to have a bottle of Elmer’s wood glue around the house for last minute fixes for the Holidays.