From hardware to veneer, these quick fixes can spruce up antique furniture for the holidays


Furniture Detective by Fred Taylor

As the holidays roll around on a regular basis they are often accompanied by panic attacks as the realization sets in that you are not really ready to host the big neighborhood party or to have a houseful of overnight guests, usually accompanied by young children.

You really meant to do something about the awful condition of Grandma’s buffet before the aunts and uncles show up and comment. That little piece of loose veneer on the coffee table is going to turn into the Grand Canyon after the visiting four year old gets through with it. Here are a few quick fixes that will improve the look of your treasures without investing the week or a fortune.

Clean Hardware

This one step will make the most difference in the appearance of older furniture and while it sounds like drudgery it can be quick and easy if you are willing to short cut it for short term results. The steps to true hardware restoration are a) disassemble, b) strip, c) clean, d) color, e) seal and f) reassemble but you can eliminate b) and c), the real killers, using the short cut.

Looking ready for any holiday dinner, this monumental oak claw food dining table was a centerpiece in the historic Carmichael House, a well-known Jackson, Ga., mansion. The table was original to the home since it was built in 1897. It features claw feet, a center leg support and six, 12-inch leaves, which brings the table to an impressive 126 inches long when all leaves are in use. Standing 54 inches wide by 30 inches tall, the table sold for $1,100 in a March 2010 auction officiated by Four Season Auction Gallery.

You still must remove the hardware from the piece (never clean or seal hardware while it is still attached – you may damage the surrounding finish). Use masking tape to label each piece of hardware so that it returns to its original home. Then use brass or gold metallic wax to highlight the hardware. It often looks best if you just hit the high spots of the piece and leave recesses and designs a little darker to emphasize depth and age. Apply the wax with your fingertip to achieve a nice mellow look. Metallic waxes go under names like Decorator Gilt and Rub n’ Buff and are usually available at better craft stores and some paint and hardware stores.

But you still must seal in the wax or it will rub off on Aunt Mable’s black silk pants and then you really can panic. While you are at the craft store buying the metallic wax buy a small can of “crystal clear” acrylic spray to mist over the hardware and seal in the wax. Be sure to buy “crystal clear” rather than “clear”; the regular clear version will be slightly amber while the crystal clear version is as clear as water. After your spray dries, which takes less than five minutes, you are ready to reinstall your hardware.

Repair Loose Veneer

This usually scares most people off or they try the scotch tape and school glue approach. Basically there are three types of glue available to repair veneer. The first is water-based wood glue that is stronger in the long run but is very slow drying (usually overnight), requires a lot of preparation time and must be clamped tightly to be effective. This is the glue for major chair repairs but not quick veneer fixes. Another option is the new breed of cyanoacrylate glues that are, for all intents and purposes, instant glue. But these glues, while just the right thing in some situations, are testy and can be hazardous.

So what is left for a quick fix? Two-part five-minute epoxy. Two-part clear epoxy glues are available just about anywhere and are simple to use. Just mix equal parts of the ingredients on a stiff disposable surface like cardboard and apply a small amount to the underside of the loose veneer using a flat toothpick, being careful not to drip glue on any finished surface or on the carpet. Use a paint paddle or other flat object with wax paper between it and the surface to apply medium pressure over the repaired area with your hand for three to five minutes. Clean up with lacquer thinner or acetone-based fingernail polish remover and you are done.

Clean and Wax

The last category also is not as bad as it sounds. If you have done little or nothing to that dried out old buffet for several years, just clean it with a damp cloth and apply a coat of paste wax to it. Don’t use oil or oil based products on it because they don’t dry and just smear around, leaving a greasy feeling to your furniture. Try some of the colored waxes for furniture from Kiwi Bois, Briwax or Fiddes, which are usually available in antiques and repair shops.

Send your comments, questions and pictures to Fred Taylor, P.O. Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or visit Fred’s website. 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

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