Knowing the ins and outs of refinishing antique furniture can help you restore beautiful pieces you find at estate sales, tag sales and thrift shops to their former glory. Whether you want to update solid wood furniture to suit your contemporary space, spiff up a mid-century modern console table to hold your flat-screen TV or breathe new life into an old Adirondack chair with a fresh coat of paint, furniture refinishing solutions from the Real Milk Paint Co. help you add shine, color and character to your restoration project.
Refinishing Antique Furniture With a Modern Twist
Matching wood furniture you find with your home’s modern aesthetic is simple when you have Real Milk Paint Co. products on your side. No matter if a furniture piece needs lots of work or just minor repairs, we can help with finishing oils like our Pure Tung Oil that showcase the beauty of wood grain, paste waxes like our Soft Wax that restore the shine to dull surfaces and 56 colors of Real Milk Paint suitable for almost any furniture restoration project. We also offer products to prep and clean surfaces, protect your clothing and apply finish and color to your furniture piece.
Determining If Antique Furniture Is Worth Refinishing
When you find a piece of old furniture you love, consider if it’s worth refinishing before you decide to purchase it or pick it up off the curb. Painted antiques are sometimes notoriously hard to strip — especially if you’re at a beginner skill level and it has multiple layers in its existing finish. If you must have the piece for your refinishing furniture project, consider using Soy-Gel Professional Paint Remover to eliminate the old finish. This high-quality product from the Real Milk Paint Co. not only quickly strips wood furniture down to its original finish but also traps debris and lead for safer furniture restoration projects.
Overall Furniture Quality and Current State
Other factors to consider when deciding if solid wood furniture is worth refinishing is its overall quality and current state. Higher-quality antiques made from wood like oak, cherry and walnut typically have the structural integrity to handle furniture refinishing, so pieces made prior to 1950 usually work best for furniture restoration projects. Modern furnishings are more likely to have particleboard or plywood elements, so be sure to look the old furniture over a bit before you decide on restoration.
Additionally, some antiques may look good from the outside but have internal issues that make repairing and restoring them difficult. With that in mind, be sure to access any drawers or hidden spaces to ensure components haven’t incurred internal damage and been reglued.
Keep in mind that you may have to make some necessary repairs before you begin your furniture refinishing project. If the piece is made from a solid wood like oak, it should be simple to bring it back to its original luster, and small dents in the wood grain shouldn’t be difficult to fill with a top-notch product like Real Wood Filler by the Real Milk Paint Co. Likewise, pieces with metal stains can be quickly restored with a thorough cleaning and application of our Oxalic Acid Wood Bleach. If you decide on a piece made with plywood or laminate, you can usually make minor repairs with something like epoxy putty, though the results may not live up to your expectations or may be difficult to maintain.
Other factors go into determining if antiques are worth repairing and restoring as well. Some things to look for before you decide on refinishing furniture include:
- Inscriptions and manufacturer’s stamps: Antiques with inscriptions and manufacturer’s stamps make it quite a bit easier to trace down the provenance and determine the value before you purchase. Sometimes, these marks may be as simple as a note inside a wood drawer, though pieces from the 20th century usually have paper or brass labels or even stamps on the wood.
- Dovetail or mortise-and-tenon joinery: Drawers made with dovetail joinery usually indicate an antique is of high quality. Older furnishings may have irregular cuts in these joints due to the handmade nature of the construction, but more modern pieces usually have uniform cuts as they were generally built in factories. Block-cut mortise-and-tenon joinery also indicates age and quality due to the strength added to the piece in question.
- Original hardware and unique details: Antiques with the original brass hardware sometimes have more value than those that have had knobs and pulls replaced with contemporary choices, and cleaning away the patina isn’t always the best option. Likewise, pieces with hand carvings and unique moldings may be a little more work to repair and restore, but the finished results are typically worth it.
Special Concerns When Refinishing Antiques
In the case of some antiques, you may not want to refinish the furniture at all due to the value of the piece. Antiques like this generally lose value if refinished with an invasive method, making conservation a better option than restoration. If you suspect the antique you have may have substantial value, consider seeking help from a professional appraiser before you put it at the front of your repairing and restoring project line. This small pause to check things out could very well make a huge difference in the value of your antique, so researching beforehand makes sense in the long run.
Ways to Restore and Refinish Antique Furniture
While there are special considerations to take when repairing and restoring antiques, common pieces usually benefit from the basics. With that in mind, the steps to refinishing antique furniture are deciding on a finish, gathering supplies, stripping the old finish, making repairs and then completing the restoration project.
Decide on a Wood Finish
If you wish to maintain a traditional look, consider the original finish of your furniture piece. For example, simple yet elegant styles like William and Mary, Victorian, Revival and Federal don’t need a quick coat of paint but rather gel stains or finishing glazes that enhance the original styling. Likewise, Shaker and Mission pieces often look good refinished with Pure Tung Oil or a paste wax like our Wood Wax. More ornate antiques such as an Empire-style table with carvings and moldings may benefit from two-tone coverage with Real Milk Paint if you want to add a modern twist to the design.