If the antique furniture you wish to restore is not particularly valuable, restoring the finish and any damaged wood will greatly improve its beauty and usefulness. Most antique furniture has older finishes that are more readily damaged by dampness or aging than modern finishes. Restoring a damaged piece of antique furniture can make an unsafe or unsightly piece of furniture into a useful home decor element.
Antique furniture restoration may be performed in several ways. The most basic is refinishing, which involves sanding or stripping off the old finish, removing any dings, scratches or scuffs, and applying a new finish. Severe damaged or rotted furniture may require wood to be replaced with similar wood during the restoration process. Worn or damaged hardware such as hinges, locks, latches or other metal parts may be replaced with similar parts. Total restoration jobs can be expensive if done by professionals, and are often extremely time-consuming and complicated if done by the owner.
In many cases, restoration of antique furniture actually reduces the furniture's value. Collectors of very old or historically important pieces usually want the original finish, even if flawed or damaged, for authenticity's sake. A piece that has been obviously refinished with modern products or modern hardware could be considered ruined by a collector. If in doubt, consult an antique expert for advice before performing restoration.
Only restore what must be restored. It is preferable to use traditional products, such as shellac or lacquer, as a finish rather than modern finishes like polyurethane. If you hire a furniture restoration professional to perform the work, choose carefully and ask for references. Make sure he uses authentic products and materials, and ask him to display examples of his work. Always consult an antique dealer or other professional prior to starting a restoration of antique furniture so that you do not inadvertently reduce a rare piece's value.
A large restoration project, such as a filigreed pie safe or armoire, can take months to complete. This is true even if a well-staffed professional restoration business performs the work. Stripping and sanding can take an amateur quite some time, as most antique furniture has ornate trim and requires a great deal of hand-sanding and careful attention to small corners and notches. Average jobs done in the home can take anywhere from days to months, depending on how much attention to detail is required, and the size and difficulty of the piece.