You’ve bought a great antique. Now what? Here’s what you need to know to avoid damaging your newfound treasures.
1. Ignoring Effects of Relative Humidity
Today’s central heating wreaks havoc on antiques. It’s the fluctuations in relative humidity caused by central heating that results in real damage.
Wood responds to relative humidity by expanding and contracting as it tries to maintain a balance with its environment. It’s not the rapid changes during the course of a day that cause the most damage. It’s the long-term seasonal fluctuations, which cause the serious damage.
During the dry winter months when it is cold outside and warm inside, wood tends to shrink. During hot damp summers when it is warm outside and cooler inside, wood tends to expand. Long-term exposure to these conditions leads to cracking, warping and splitting.
To guard against the fluctuations in relative humidity in your home, use a humidifier during the dry winter and a dehumidifier in the damp summer. Think twice before putting quality furniture in the basement, attic, near heating vents or next to your fireplace. Keep fresh air circulating. Maintain a constant room temperature and turn it down at night.
2. Overlooking Impact of Sunlight
Just as sun damage to the skin is cumulative and permanent, its effects on wood are equally destructive. Diffused sunlight over a long period of time can be as harmful as direct sunlight over a short period of time. Sunlight can turn a clear finish yellow. The only good news about sun damage is that it’s easy to avoid. Draw the drapes, pull the blinds or have an UV-filtering film applied to your windows.
3. Thinking You Are an Accomplished Furniture Restorer
Unless you are an expert furniture restorer, don’t attempt to repair broken legs, burn marks or other damage. Inexperienced individuals can strip off patina causing irreversible damage. Leave restoration to professionals. In the long run, it is worth the investment.
4. Over Cleaning Antiques
Remember that less is more when cleaning antiques. Every couple of months, treat your wood furniture a good quality paste wax that can be found in any hardware store. Waxing too often can dull a finish and attract dust. Avoid aerosol spray polishes because they can contain silicone and other agents that can be harmful to your furniture.
For daily cleaning, use a clean cloth or a clean duster. For those who like to use something more, I recommend Orange Oil by Howard Products because it cleans and polishes wood finishes very well. Orange Oil is one of my favourites because it does not leave a wax build-up, and contains neither linseed nor silicone.
5. Rough-Handing Your Antiques
Some repairs to antique furniture can be avoided with more considerate care. Don’t lean back on antique chairs or pick them up from the back of the chair, rather lift front and back together. This type of handling coupled with the effects of relative humidity and a chair back may result in your chair back becoming unhinged, requiring repair. Avoid scratches and water damage by using coasters.