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Spring! The time of the year when we look at the house and get motivated to clean. To inspire you in your efforts to clean and repair your antiques, here is advice gathered over the years from various sources. While some of the procedures are quite simple, you may look at others and decide to seek professional help.

Protecting Raw Wood

To preserve the raw wood found underneath or inside antique furniture, use the following: two parts raw linseed oil to one part turpentine. Warm the linseed oil, remove from heat, add the turpentine, and stir. Apply a thin coat with a brush to the raw wood only. Do not apply to finished surfaces. Often, the exterior of furniture is protected with polish, but the inside is neglected. This process helps keep the wood from drying out on the inside. Since the mixture is highly flammable, apply in a well ventilated area. To prevent combustion, immediately wash any rags that are used.

Beetle Attacks

Major attacks of woodworms should always be dealt with by a professional restorer, but there is a fairly straightforward solution to a minor or recent attack. In treating furniture it is important to understand the problem clearly and know something of the life cycle of the furniture beetle.

The adult beetle lays its eggs in any suitable place- in the cracks in loose joints, small splits, and even old flight holes from previous attacks. From these eggs, the grubs develop and burrow through the wood for two or more years, until they emerge from the surface of the wood as beetles and begin the cycle again. The characteristic clusters of pin-size holes seen on the surface of any piece of furniture during an attack are exit holes for the adult beetles. This indicates an attack which is already at least two years old. When the beetles emerge in late spring and early summer, particular attention is required.

To break this cycle and, if possible, prevent re-infestation, use one of the appropriate formulated insecticides on the market: Pentide, Wood-Life, or Xylamon.

The surface of the affected piece should be wiped with insecticide, with particular attention paid to any small cracks and holes. When dry, generously polish with a paste wax for antiques and fill –as far as possible-any holes that might invite future attacks. Active worms will leave telltale sawdust around the piece.

Leather Desktops

The replacement of leather desktops, table tops, or card table coverings is a simple job. First, the old covering must be stripped or torn off and all the glue cleaned away. This is easier if small quantities of hot water are used to softened the glue. Purchase leather, plain or tooled with a border. It is simple to cut away the excess (usually about a half inch) from one end and side, and lay the leather in the recess. Smooth it with your hand, moving from the cut edges across the leather piece, to remove any wrinkles and air bubbles. The most effective paste is an ordinary, heavy duty wallpaper paste, mixed very slightly stiffer than for paper hanging. The remaining edges can be cut with a sharp artist’s knife, using the edge of the recess as a guide.

Old leather can be improved by polishing it with a good beeswax polish or in some cases by applying British Museum Leather Dressing (a mixture of seven ounces anhydrous lanolin, a half-ounce of beeswax, 11 fluid ounces of cedarwood oil, and 11 fluid ounces of hexane). Shred the beeswax into the hexane and shake thoroughly before use. It is highly flammable, so care is needed.

Removing Water Rings/Marks

If a water ring or mark has marred the furniture surface, one of several simple remedies may restore the appearance. Apply a paste wax with 3/0 grade steel wool. Work with the grain of the wood and polish. Rottenstone and oil is another effective remedy for many wood finishes. (Rottenstone is a fine abrasive often used in polishing wood. Purchase a small amount from a hardware store). Put a few drops of lubricating oil (salad oil will work) on the blemish and shake on enough rottenstone to make a paste. Rub briskly with the grain of the wood, using a clean soft cloth. Wipe frequently to compare and match the gloss of the repaired area with the original finish.

Cleaning Antique Furniture

A good method for thoroughly cleaning antique furniture is to use a household solvent, such as odorless mineral spirits or naphtha. (Both are found in hardware or paint stores.) Fold a clean, soft clothe into a palm sized pad and saturate with a generous amount of solvent.

Rub the cloth over a small area with a circular washing motion, cleaning the surface thoroughly.

Wipe off loosened soil and softened polish with a dry, clean cloth. Use plenty of solvent and change cloths frequently to avoid redepositing the film. When no more soil appears on the dry cloth, the surface is ready for an application of the furniture care product of your choice. Tip: Use both hands when cleaning. Work with the cleaning cloth in one hand the polishing clothe in the other. Apply polish and buff; than wipe immediately, doing a small section at a time.

Tortoiseshell and Ivory

Both of these substances, being natural will benefit from cleaning with warm water and a mild detergent, applied sparingly with cotton swabs and dried thoroughly. If ivory is badly stained, it can be carefully bleached with a stiff paste of whiting mixed with a weak solution of hydrogen peroxide. (Whiting is a lime product not to be confused with 100% lime which might eat through ivory when mixed with peroxide.) It can be applied with a pallet knife and left for five minutes, then removed and re-applied if necessary.

Cleaning Copper

Wash the copper well in hot water, then rub with a mixture of salt, fine sand, and vinegar, using a piece of flannel. Wash again in warm water to remove all traces of the vinegar and other cleaners. Dry and polish the outside with metal polish, if needed. A variation is to fill a spray bottle with vinegar and add three tablespoons of salt. Spray the solution liberally on the copper. Let set for a while, and then rub clean.

Removing Candle Wax

To remove from furniture, harden the dripped wax by holding an ice cube wrapped in a plastic bag against it for a few seconds. Crumble off as much as possible with your fingers and then scrape gently with a dull knife. Rub the area briskly with a cloth saturated with furniture polish, wiping dry with a clean cloth. To remove wax from candleholders, place them in the freezer for an hour or so. The wax will peel off with no injury to silver or other surfaces. Or hold the candlestick under very hot running water until the wax has melted; then dry with an absorbent towel.

Removing Old and New Stains From Linen and Silk

This remedy is from the late Jeanette Mosely, who owned Queen Anne’s Lace in Franklin, TN. She was an expert in antique linens and lace.

Mix together the following:
2 parts Ivory Snow powder
1 part Snowy Bleach
7 parts water

Water will get gluey. Place stained cloths in the mixture up to three weeks. Then rinse until you could drink the water.

*Published in NFocus magazine July and September 1999.


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