Q & A
Some Answers to Letters
While I’ve been doing these articles for “The Busy Bee Trader” several of you have called or written with questions about furniture. I would like to share some of these this time.
Will restoration decrease the value of an antique?
I would like to quote Peter B. Cook to answer this question. As executive producer of Antique Roadshow he has stated, “Well conceived and well executed refinishing and restoration usually enhances the value of just about any piece of old furniture. Exception are those rare, often museum quality, pieces that have somehow survived in great condition.”
One person wrote, “ I’m retired and enjoy working on furniture in my basement. My wife found a nice little cherry table at a sale. It needed some work. The top of the table had been put back on with finishing nails. I took the top off and got the nails out. Then I reattached the top using the original screw holes. My question is. What is a good filler or wood putty to use in these nail holes?”
My answer was: What I use for filling small nail holes is bees wax and sanding dust. Make sanding dust out of the same type of wood as your table is. Then use a small double boiler and melt some bees wax about twice the size of your thumb. Add the sanding dust to the melted bees wax until the mixture is crumbly and you can’t add any more dust. Let it cool and scrape it out on your work bench. Take a hammer and pound it into a block shape. Now it’s ready to use. With a pocket knife cut a little off and push it into a nail hole. Any excess scrape off with your thumb nail and polish the surface with your finger. This blends in very well to the color of the wood.
Another person asked, “The rungs of one of my kitchen chairs are loose. I can pull them out of their holes. Is it alright to put some new glue in the holes and on the ends of the rungs and just push them back in?”
My answer was: If you just put new glue in it will not hold because of the old glue. Take hot water and vinegar, about half and half, and clean off the old glue. Let it dry over night. The next day apply the new glue to the parts and push them back in place. Then use a soft rope around the legs. Insert a short stick and twist the rope. This will pull the rungs back into place. Leave it on for 1 or 2 hours before taking the tourniquet off. This should give enough time for the glue to dry.
One woman wrote. “You have talked about paste wax for furniture . Which one do you recommend?”
My answer was: I like a good hard wax. One that is high in carnauba wax. Softer waxes will smudge for a long time after being applied. For 20 years I had used one brand until about 4 years ago it was changed. I tried several different waxes with no satisfaction. As most of the furniture I work with is dark in color, I wanted a dark wax. So I started making my own. Here is the formula. Take one can of Johnson paste wax and divide it in half. Save the wax you have taken out in a air tight container, because you may need a light colored wax some time. Place the can of wax in a pot filled with water and bring to a medium heat. The wax will start to melt. When the wax has melted add 2 small cans of Kiwi brown shoe polish, not the liquid polish. Shoe polish wax is very high in carnauba wax. As this melts blend it into the already melted wax. When it is a uniform color remove it from the stove and let it cool. The wax is now ready to use.
In the last few months an antique dealer told me of a paste wax they had been using. I tried a can and am very impressed. The wax is Kiwi Bois made in France. The wax comes in different colors and I give it two thumbs up. Ask your local antique shop about it.
I received an e-mail that asked, “I have an ogee shelf clock with original finish. The problem is that the finish is black, dirty, and the finish has little beads all over it. The clock had been in an old basement for years and years. Can I use a finish renewer to save the original finish?”
My reply was: I have seen just what you described. Shellac would have been the finish applied to the clock when it was made. What causes the finish to have beaded up like you described is at some time it was too close to a heat source. It may have been stored near a furnace in the basement. When you clean it with mineral spirits you won’t get all of the dirt out of the old finish because some will be trapped in those little beads of old finish. This is why I don’t recommend a finish renewer. A renewer dissolves the old finish and evaporates off leaving what looks like a good finish. What is there then is a cocktail of old finish, dirt, and possibly wax.
I would suggest taking the weights and works out of the clock. This would be a good time to send the works to a reputable clock repair person and have them cleaned and oiled. The case can be stripped and cleaned. Be careful stripping the case if the original paper label is still there, do not get stripper on the label. Once it’s stripped then you can put a new shellac finish on.
There has been some rethinking of original finishes by museums. If the finish is original, should a dirty old finish be kept?. Or should the surface be refinished to what the maker intended. There is a good article on this in “The Magazine Antiques, October, 2000, Our evolving understanding of untouched furniture surfaces, by John T. Kirk”
I’ve enjoyed the questions that have come in. Part of the enjoyment of antiques is learning more about them. So please keep the questions coming in. Yours may be one of the next ones I share with the readers.