Furniture Detective: Best way to move a piece is carefully

Until the levitation of solid objects becomes more widespread, those of us interested in antique furniture are faced with the fact that some of this stuff is very heavy and is not very often found in a place of maximum convenience. It usually has to be moved, sometimes just across the room and sometimes down the stairs, around the corner, out the door and across town. The trick here is to a) relocate the piece, b) don’t damage the piece and c) don’t damage yourself — not necessarily in that order.

Acknowledgment must be made right about here that most moving jobs, even within the same house or showroom, are two-person jobs, sometimes even more. There are very few pieces of antique furniture that can or should be moved by one person, especially case goods. Chairs are usually an exception to this, but there are some chairs, old and new, that require two sets of hands, legs and backs to move. Arm chairs are a good example, since moving an arm chair by the obvious method, i.e. snagging the arms, is strictly a “no-no.”

Arms on chairs are built to withstand the downward force of human bodies in their care. They are not engineered to withstand the upward force of lifting the chair, thereby making the arms carry the weight of the chair suspended in air. The rule of thumb is that no piece of furniture should be moved by grasping or lifting any “attached element” such as arms, “wings”, rails, etc. Moving a large arm chair requires two people, one on each side, carrying the chair by the underneath frame. A heavy chair should NEVER be dragged, not even if it has casters as many Victorian chairs do. Those casters are similar to many grocery cart wheels in that they really don’t function like wheels most of the time.

Case goods are another category of pieces that require special attention. Many antique cases are not that heavy by themselves, especially with the drawers removed, but they can be bulky and awkward and demonstrate a notable lack of convenient hand holds. The first step in moving a case with which you are unfamiliar is to spend a couple of minutes surveying the piece. The objective of the survey is to gain a quick insight into the construction and condition of the piece. You should know from your survey how the main frame is assembled, how the top is supported, how the legs or feet are attached and blocked and what the main weaknesses of the structure are, paying special attention to any damage from external sources such as weakened blocks from water damage, cracks in the finish and panels from previous moves, loose glue joints, etc.

After your quick survey, you should be able to move the piece with a minimum of disturbance to fit and finish. Be sure to remove all drawers, finials and any other loose parts, including shelves and shelf supports in bookcase units. Be sure to label or number drawers if there is any question of their proper order. Attached doors should be locked if available or otherwise secured so they do not swing open in transit. (CAUTION: Do not use tape to secure doors and loose pieces because it may pull finish or leave a gummy tape shadow. Instead, wrap the piece in a blanket and use a rope or elastic cord over the blanket.) Drop leaves must be supported, and drop-front desk lids should be secured. Cabinets with glass panel doors and sides can be stuffed with pillows and blankets to support the glass and keep it from vibrating in time to road imperfections. The same principle works with the small interior drawers of a secretary. Stuff the insides to secure the drawers and small doors.

After preparation to the piece is done, spend some time on your personal preparation before it’s time to move. Make sure you and your helper are on the same page here. Go over your plan with your helper and plan each move carefully. Walk over your intended path, and visualize carrying the piece as you walk. Notice each turn and the room required to make the turn. Count the number of steps up or down as you walk. Then, when you actually carry the piece have the person in front count the steps out loud. Agree between you what certain things like “up a little” or “over this way” really mean.

Check to make sure your intended path is free of obstacles and that it is wide enough, tall enough, etc., to move through and that you have appropriate light and footing.  The piece should be lifted high enough to allow your legs and feet room to work freely but not so high as to cause it to be top heavy. Lift and carry the piece close to your body for maximum control. Always lift with your back straight — let your legs do the lifting with the piece actually suspended from your arms. ?

Send your comments, questions and pictures to Fred Taylor, P.O. Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or Visit Fred’s Web site:

His book “How To Be a Furniture Detective” is available for $18.95 plus $3 S&H. Also available is Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ($17 + $3 S&H) and a bound compilation of the first 60 columns of “Common Sense Antiques by Fred Taylor” ($25 + $3 S&H). For more information call 800-387-6377, fax 352-563-2916 or


Great books, CDs, price guides & more

Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles 2011 Price Guide

Interact with other antique collectors in Antique Trader’s online forum

Get up-to-date pricing for tens of thousands of antiques & collectibles on – FREE for 1 year – when you join the Collecting Insider Club!

Browse hundreds of FREE online classified ads

Sign up for your FREE email newsletter

For more columns and features for antique dealers, restorers and collectors, get your own subscription to Antique Trader magazine