Caring for Your Antique Furniture
Some Tips on How to Polish Antique Furniture
- Apply a thin coating of polish with a cotton cloth, or an old paint brush. We use a paint brush, which makes it easy to spread the polish, get a good even coating, and to work into corners and other awkward areas.
- If polishing mahogany, or other French polished surfaces, apply the polish as sparingly as you can. (If you put on too much it goes streaky and times a lot of rubbing to lift off the excess).
- Leave the polish to sit for about 10 to 15 minutes. This gives time for it to soak in and nourish the wood.
- Rub most of the polish off with a cotton cloth. Old towels are quite good for this.
- Always rub in long broad strokes, following the grain of the wood. Don’t use a circular motion, or rub across the grain. Don’t rub too hard in too small an area or you could rub through the surface completely.
- Use a lighter cotton cloth to shine and finish off, again working with the grain.
- If you leave the polish on too long it will go hard and waxy, and will be difficult to rub off. In this case, apply another thin coat of polish. The new polish will melt the old, and make it easier to rub off.
- If the surface already has a good patina and you are only maintaining the shine, one coat roughly every six months should be plenty. If the wood has not been polished for a long time and has become very dry, the polish will all soak in, and you can apply several coats with only a rough buffing up in between.
- Different makes of antique furniture polish use different recipes and ingredients, and some are easier to work with than others. Some are designed for specialist applications and are not particularly good for maintaining an already well polished surface. The main polish we use ourselves, and sell, is made to a time-tested Victorian recipe. We have found it to be a good all round polish for different woods and surfaces, and our customers report they find it easy to use for great results.
- Most modern spray polishes are silicone based and should be avoided.
How to Polish Antique Copper and Brass
- We recommend Brasso Metal Polish Wadding for polishing copper and brass. This is a wadding impregnated with Brasso polish formula, and is easier to work with than liquid Brasso. It is easily available in most supermarkets in the UK.
- The most important tip for getting good long-lasting results is to make sure you rub off all the metal polish and buff the surface up very well. The polish lifts off the oxidisation that has occurred on the surface of the metal, creating a black film of liquid. If you don’t rub that off well the surface will quickly tarnish. We use three separate clothes: the first to take the bulk of the black off, the second to take the remainder of, and a third clean soft white cotton cloth for a final rub over. If black is still coming off on the third cloth you have more rubbing to do!
- Be careful when polishing brass handles on a piece of furniture. The metal polish will eat into the surface of the surrounding wood and strip off the colour and patina. Often buffing off the furniture polish which inevitably strays onto the handles when you are polishing the wood will be enough to lift the brass handles without using metal polish at all. If you do need to use metal polish, apply a good layer of furniture polish to the wood surrounding the handle to protect it. You still need to be careful to minimise the amount of metal polish going onto the wood, and wipe it off as soon as you can.
- Brass handles that are gilded (covered in a gold wash to stop the brass tarnishing) should not be polished, as this will strip off the protective gilt surface.
- Strong sunlight will cause the colour of the wood to fade.
- Heat, from central heating or strong sunlight, will cause the wood to dry out and possibly warp or crack. This is particularly a problem with pieces which are veneered or inlaid. Keeping pieces well polished will help nourish and feed the wood. Don’t place pieces too close to radiators or other direct sources of heat, and protect from long periods of strong sunlight. If necessary a dish of water placed in the bottom of a cupboard, underneath the piece, or nearby will help by keeping moisture in the air as the water evaporates.
- Antique furniture has stood the test of time, with many pieces already having lasted several hundred years. Your pieces will continue to last well into the future with common sense care, which applies to furniture of any age. Use both handles to open drawers, and don’t let cupboard doors swing back against their hinges. Avoiding rocking back in an antique chair.
- When moving pieces, lift them rather than dragging or pushing. Be aware of drawers sliding out and cupboard doors swinging open. It is best to lift pieces from the bottom, or by holding the undercarriage of a table. If you lift only by holding the top, the weight of the main structure can pull it loose. Pick chairs up from the seat.