General Angela B. Clyne  

Restoring old wooden furniture

Whether a discovery in the attic, at the flea market or an inheritance: old chests, cupboards or chests of drawers are sometimes real pieces of jewellery, even if they have their best time behind them at first glance – especially since an old imperfect look with knotholes or cracks in furniture is currently very trendy. However, the hinges of the old treasures are often loose, the drawers broken or the lacquer burst open. Which pieces of furniture are worth restoring? What can you do yourself and which furniture would you prefer to have restored by a professional?

Not only restore valuable furniture

“The only thing that often counts for a professional is that the ratio of expenditure to yield must be right,” says restorer Bernhard Kügler from the Association of Restorers in Bonn. For private individuals, however, it is not always the pure material value that counts. “Many pieces of furniture, regardless of their sales value, also have an ideal value – for example, grandma’s former favourite armchair. Then restoration is worthwhile even if the market value does not actually justify it.

Restoring furniture yourself or handing it over to a professional?

With such a piece of furniture, you can think about whether you can restore it yourself in order to save the costs for the restorer. The situation is different with expensive furniture: “If it is a valuable antiquarian item that may also have a shellac surface or has been treated with special stains, I would advise you to ‘get your hands off me’,” warns Uwe Blumberg of the Deutsche Heimwerker Akademie in Cologne. “If, on the other hand, it is an old peasant’s wardrobe without elaborate painting from a flea market, you can – provided that you have some manual dexterity – also dare to do it yourself”.

If you are unsure about the value and age of a piece of furniture or if historical originality is important to you, you should consult an expert anyway. “The layman often destroys more than he saves,” says Kügler. “It often happens, for example, that paint is stripped, causing damage such as discoloration or the destruction of paintings covered by layers of paint. In addition, fittings and gildings are often cleaned much too sharply. Many pieces also landed at the restorer with misgluing, which would then have to be laboriously corrected again. Thus, needed to contact a nearby locksmith to help you restoring old furniture.

Wooden furniture is modern again

However, the excavation is not always a precious antique. It can also be just the stepmotherly chest of drawers pushed into the cellar, which should get a second chance in the living room with a new coat of paint. Right now, wooden furniture is more in demand than it has been for a long time. Furniture manufacturers have rediscovered oak and offer wooden furniture with knotholes, cracks, bark and above all a striking grain. Those who still have a good piece of furniture in the attic and are able to refurbish it themselves can swim along with the current trend without having to invest in new furniture right away.

Well prepared for the restoration process

Good preparation is important when restoring. It saves time and money. “In order to keep an overview, you should write down which materials and which tools are needed,” advises DIY enthusiast Blumberg. “If everything is in order, a to-do list for the entire repair can be extremely useful and helpful. The various work steps should be noted in the correct order. “It is also advisable to take a photo in advance so that you know exactly which part belongs where when you assemble it later.

Proceeding step by step during restoration

The do-it-yourselfer’s approach of course always depends on the type and condition of the furniture. However, some work steps are always part of it: First of all, the furniture should be completely checked for its functions. “This involves finding out what needs to be repaired,” says master carpenter and restorer Kurt Spatzier, explaining the procedure. Are the hinges and fittings functional? Do the doors possibly hang? And are the drawers easy to pull out?

Restoring functionality

In addition, connections are often loose or have become unglued, making them unstable. “If this is the case, cracks should be glued and woods or veneers that fit into the open joints should be installed so that they fit and are press sealed,” explains Spatzier. “The types of wood used should not only be of the same type and grain as furniture, but should also be of the same age”. Once the piece is finally stable again and fulfils all its functions, the surface can be finished.


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