Restoring Antique Furniture – A DIY Beginner’s Guide

Sometimes, the furniture you buy isn’t as pretty as it once was. The ravages of time can be cruel to furniture, and some people still choose not to buy restored antique furniture.

To those brave, foolhardy people, we say this:

You might not get the same quality as when you buy direct from a restorer, but you might at least have a laugh trying to make your bargain antiques serviceable. So, to help you on your way, here’s a quick beginner’s guide to restoring antique furniture. Good luck (and remember, you’ll probably be better off letting someone else do the hard work for you!)

Step One: Examination

Take a look at the challenge you’ve set yourself. A proper, long, hard look. You’ll need to have a good idea of what this piece looks like, what you want it to look like (do a quick search on the internet) and how to bring those two ideas together.

If, at this point, you decide to cut your losses and just buy some restored furniture, we wouldn’t blame you.

Step Two: Documentation

You know, deep down in your heart of hearts, that this probably isn’t going to go as well as you hope. So get out your trusty camera and start snapping. Take pictures from every angle, taking care to make references for every piece of fine detail. And then take a few more pictures for good measure.

Then take good care of these pictures, because they will be indispensable come step five…

Step Three: Cleaning

Now comes the moment of truth. There’s decades of accumulated dust, dirt and grime to remove from this piece, so it’s time to get scrubbing. Use a soft bristled brush and a soft cloth, so you don’t do the piece any damage.

If you need to remove varnish or paint, things are going to get a little more difficult. You can sand the varnish off, start messing about with strippers and solvents, or just admit that buying something fit for purpose might have been for the best.

Step Four: Repair

Hopefully the only repairs you’ll be doing are to fix pre-existing conditions. But if you messed up in the last step, this is where you start trying to retrieve the situation.

Gluing joints, screwing on handles, replacing castors, touching up paint… That’s just the start. But have fun, and try not to make the situation worse.

Step Five: Damage Limitation

You know what, best just admit it. Your hours of well-meaning destruction have nearly ruined that piece, and now you need to pay a professional to clean up your mess. This step’s easy. Find a restorer, pay them your hard-earned cash, and weep. Or you could just skip all the hassle and just purchase some restored vintage furniture from an expert. It’s a sure-fire way to avoid splinters, and you’ll know what you’re getting before you buy