It’s amazing how many phone calls I get from people wanting to know how to strip their antique furniture because the finish is damaged in some way.
After a brief discussion with the person we can sometimes determine that a total strip and refinish may not be necessary at all. Some expert touch and minor repair up is all that’s required.
If the original finish is damaged and beyond redemption, than stripping may be your last resort. In this week’s blog we’ll explore how to determine whether a total ‘strip’ is required or not.
We’ve all heard experts tell us daily, altering the finish can destroy the furnitures value. In most cases this is true. For example, a 17th Century hand painted finish on a rare American or Continental piece can spell disaster if stripped. People hunt and pay dearly for those ‘distressed’ finishes that were done by hand over 250 years ago. They are rare and should never be touched, other than with a light cleaning. And even a cleaning can be touchy unless you know what your doing.
We’ve also heard of the person ‘cleaning’ or ‘polishing’ up a piece of furniture and completely destroying the original patina and devaluing the piece many thousands of dollars in some cases. This is true in more cases than not.
Then there are the people that decide they want to refinish a lovely old piece to make it look ‘better’. I see wonderful tables that come in to my store, where the client has totally refinished the piece. The original color, depth and patina has been destroyed, devaluating the piece to a fraction of what it might have fetched.
Many finishes that look absolutely horrible may be salvageable with a little oil and wax. It’s amazing what we do with pieces that come in from France that look like deaths’ door and after a little TLC they end up looking wonderful.
I would only strip a piece of furniture if the following applies.
A. Deep dark water marks have burled there way into the wood
B. The finish has chipped off in some way over the entire surface.
C. The finish has deep cigarette burns or fire burns.
D. You want a different color.
I would suggest either contacting us first, or sending a photo and we can let you know whether a little touch up will do the trick or if a complete ‘refinish’ or ‘restoration’ is necessary.
If you notice I have used the word ‘restoration’. We do much restoration to finishes without totally stripping a piece. This keeps the integrity of the piece intact, and leaves the original finish which is always preferable.
If you’ve scrutinized the finish and determined it’s beyond help, you may want to strip and refinish the piece.
Another prime candidate for stripping and refinishing is a piece that was originally finished in a wood finish but has since been painted over within the last 50 years. Usually you’ll find that the paint was applied directly over the original finish, making it easier to strip because the paint pigments have not been able to penetrate the wood grain. Stripping and refinishing this kind of piece often exposes beautiful wood hidden under an opaque finish.
Keep in mind, however, that some pieces were made to be painted; stripping them usually uncovers inferior or mismatched wood pieces that will not finish well. If the paint has been applied to raw wood, it’s usually an indication that the piece was meant to have a painted finish. In such cases you may still want to strip furniture paint to repaint the piece, or you may be able to simply repaint over the old color. To find out whether the paint is directly on the wood surface or atop another finish, scrape the paint or apply solvent to it in a small, inconspicuous area. If the paint pigment remains in the wood grain, it was probably painted originally; if not, the paint is over a natural wood finish and refinishing may be in order.
You may want to consider joining one of our French painting classes held at the store and conducted by painting guru Kathy Van Gogh. She will show you how to produce a ‘faux finish’ that will look many decades old.
Another case for stripping is if the finish is so far gone or damaged that it simply cannot be renewed. Old finishes can become brittle or flaky as a result of age and mistreatment. Finishes can also be damaged by water or fire and often can’t be restored without stripping and refinishing. Water can make some finishes lift and discolor permanently, while heat and smoke can blister or blacken finishes.
Yet another reason to strip and refinish a piece: You don’t like the finish color or shade. For example, if you’re putting a piece in a particular room or with another piece of furniture, you may want to blend or match the room’s other furniture or the area’s decor. But again, before deciding, consider the piece itself: If it’s a valuable piece blessed with an original finish, you’d be better off saving the finish and buying another piece of furniture to fill your need! To me it’s like buying a piece of artwork to match the color combination of a room and not for the artworks sake itself.
Remember, it’s easy to strip a piece ( with a lot of elbow grease involved ) but it’s quite another to ‘refinish’ the piece. There are so many types of finishes to choose from that it can be daunting. But I can almost guarantee you, unless you’re a pro you may regret ever trying to refinish a piece yourself. This is where you definitely need to consult a refinisher. And even then, there are good and bad refinishers. I know of one who simply sprays a lacquer finish on pieces. So many times, more often than not, I see this done to furniture. The look is dull, flat and plastic. I hate this finish, unless its a super high gloss clear coat on an art deco piece or something very modern. And be careful about putting a high gloss clear coat on an antique. The look is simply awful. The antique looks too new, and looks like it should be in the showroom of an Ethan Allen or some other new furniture vendor. Dont do it!! It will devalue and ruin the piece for ever.
My advice, go ahead a strip the piece if you want, but let a professional apply the final finish unless you are truly confident you know what you’re doing.