The methods of care for or restoration of antique furniture have changed over the years. Basically, antique furniture should not be cared for or repaired in the same manner as modern home furnishings. This is because the use of regular polishes, adhesives, fasteners and finishes can dramatically diminish the current and future value of such pieces.
The idea that antique item needed to be fed with oil to keep from drying out is a myth. Wood does not dry out from the lack of oil but rather from the lack of moisture. As such, storage in hot dry areas such as an attic should be kept to a minimum. In the same manner, furniture oils will temporarily enhance the finish and appearance, but can contribute to the degradation of the finish over time as oils leave a residue that can attract dust and dirt build up.
The preferred method of maintaining a varnished finish is a coat of high quality paste wax. Furniture paste wax is stable and long lasting. It will provide protection from moisture and dust and is not permanent.
A thin coat of wax applied following the manufacturers recommendation annually will help protect your antique furniture’s finish. In between waxing, dusting with a soft, lint free cloth on a regular basis. Dampen the cloth slightly and turn frequently. A dry rag can cause scratches when dusting. The reason is that wax may not be appropriate for surfaces with a deteriorating finish. Silicone-based polishes should be avoided as well since silicone can penetrate the finish and will cause problems with future furniture restoration or repairs.
With time, brass and copper hardware will acquire a soft patina that may appear to some as unattractive. Brass and copper hardware on historical and other valuable antiques should not be polished to remove the tarnished appearance. The original finish and patina should be retained on the hardware including handles, knobs, hinges, pulls and escutcheons.
When you need to move your antique furniture, you should check for loose or damaged joints. Chairs should always be carried by the seat rails as opposed to the back splat, top rail or arms. Tables should be carried by the apron or legs instead of the top which could pull loose from the base. Large pieces should always be lifted and never dragged across the floor. When transporting your antique furniture it’s best to first remove shelves, doors and drawers. Protect glass doors with moving blankets or other adequate padding. Large items should be transported on their back or top, preferably their back. Marble tops should be removed and transported vertically. A marble top transported flat can crack easily. Mirrors and glass should also be transported and stored vertically.
Maintaining the original aged finish of antique furniture is essential to their restorations. This can be achieved if you avoid placing the antique furniture in front of a window or direct sunlight, near air conditioning and heating vents, fireplaces and stoves. If you spill any harsh liquid on them, blot up the spill immediately. And then dust the furniture regularly using a lint-free cloth.
Your antique furniture is also affected by the amount of moisture in the air. Changes in relative humidity can cause wood to expand and contract. This expansion and contraction can cause glue joints to loosen, drawers and doors to drag or become stuck in their opening. Extended periods of high humidity can lead to mold growth, rot and insect infestation.
The use of a humidifier or dehumidifier is recommended to help maintain the relative humidity and minimize the adverse effects that moisture can have on your valuable antique furniture.