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What Causes Holes in Antique Furniture?

Kochava R. Greene

Antique furniture can be damaged in a number of ways, many of which result in holes. Everyday wear, moving and misuse can make holes in your old furniture. The most common cause of holes in antique furniture, though, is damage from various beetles. They feed on wood and other materials and create holes as they bore through the furniture.

Wood Worm

Antique wood furniture is a favorite snack for some beetles.

Small round holes in antique wood furniture are usually the result of a wood beetle called the wood worm or powder post beetle. These beetles bore tiny holes in the wood when they are larvae, making tunnels through the wood as they eat their way through. If you see fresh sawdust around the holes, you may still have an infestation of the beetles in the piece; if the holes are old, the beetles have likely left. If you suspect a fresh infestation, place the item in a plastic bag and seal it. If the piece of furniture is very valuable or rare, consult an expert restorer. Extensive tunneling by beetles can also make a piece of antique furniture unstable for use, so if you see holes in chair or table legs or joints, be sure to check the solidity of the piece before using it.

Carpet Beetles

Carpet beetles also make holes in antique furniture, usually in the upholstery and padding of chairs and in carpets and tapestries. These beetles will also feed on adhesives used in wooden furniture and decorative pieces. Indications of carpet beetle infestation include damaged fabric, padding or wood, seeing the small black beetles themselves or finding their bodies, which are small and furry. As with wood worm, place infested items in plastic bags and consult a restorer.

Normal Wear

Everyday wear can cause holes in upholstery and fabrics. These holes will generally be irregular in size and shape and may correspond with the use; for example, holes may appear in an armrest where someone habitually places an elbow. Restorers are often able to repair holes in antique fabrics through reweaving or replacing fabric with a modern counterpart. You can protect fabrics on antiques by using slipcovers on heavily used areas.

Handling and Moving

Handling antiques is also a cause of damage and holes, particularly in pieces that have posts, such as spindle-back chairs and many Shaker and mission-style pieces. Move these objects with care and never place weight on areas that might cause a post or spindle to push against fabric or a thin wood section of the piece. If you begin to notice uneven wear on your antique furniture, consult with a restorer about repairing it before a hole develops. Never place wet or hot objects on wood furniture, as they can weaken an area and cause a hole over time.