Avoid lemon oil when working with damaged finishes on antique furniture
Q I had the whole family home for a recent reunion. In order to protect my very expensive dining table from the kids and grand kids I covered it with a plastic sheet before I put out my tablecloth and napkins. After everybody left I forgot about the sheet for a couple of weeks. When I pulled it off I noticed the finish on my gorgeous table is soft and wrinkled in spots. Did it get too hot and how do I fix it? I already tried lemon oil but it didn’t help.
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A Putting lemon oil on your table is the worst thing you could have done, whether or not it had a problem. Lemon oil has nothing to do with furniture but that’s another subject. You are a victim of modern chemistry. The solvents used to make the plastic in your plastic sheet are very similar to the solvents used in the production of the lacquer finish on your table. The solvents have migrated and started to dissolve your finish. Your best bet is to leave it alone for several weeks and it may harden back up on its own as the solvents dissipate. However, you need to remove the lemon oil to allow the finish to breathe again and get those solvents out. Clean your table gently with mineral spirits (paint thinner) and a clean cloth. Just wipe, don’t scrub because your finish is still soft. After cleaning with spirits give it a wipe with naphtha which will help kick start the solvents on their way. If your table has not returned to its original hardness after about three weeks its time to call in a furniture professional. The table may have to be stripped and refinished if the solvent damage is severe or it may just need recoating to bring it back. In the meantime be very careful with it. Do not put anything on it including centerpieces, candlesticks, etc., because they may print through the softened finish.
Q I have an antique rocking chair I acquired at auction for a very reasonable price because the bottom is falling out of it. The canvas looking straps that hold in the sprigs are rotten and broken. I would just take them off but it looks like the springs inside are sewn to the straps. Can I replace them without reupholstering the entire chair?
A The “canvas straps” are known as jute webbing, usually in three or four inch widths. You are correct that the springs are tied to the webbing by heavy string. The springs are also tied to each other with heavier cord at the top in what is known as an “eight way tie”. It is imperative that the springs be linked to the webbing or they will not stand up under pressure. It is difficult but not impossible to replace the webbing without stripping the upholstery off. Go to an upholstery supply house, or if they won’t sell to you because many of them are strictly wholesale to the trade, go to a local upholstery shop. Buy the jute webbing from them and also inquire about “hog rings”. Many factories and upholstery shops now use these rings to attach coil springs to the webbing. They require a special tool but it is not expensive. You will also need large carpet tacks or an air powered stapler to fasten the strips of jute. Most hand staplers are not strong enough to handle the jute.
As you remove the old webbing, note how it is folded over and double tacked where it is attached to the frame of the chair. Attach the new webbing in the same manner, interweaving the straps from front to back and side to side, spaced so that you get an intersection of straps below each coil spring. This will allow enough room around the edges of the straps to get your fingers and a hog ring inside to secure the springs. Be sure you get the springs properly spaced and standing up straight. When you are done with the webbing, finish the job by installing the black dust cover, called cambric, over the entire bottom of the chair.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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