Furniture Preservation Tip's Low maintenance

Over the last 20 years of repairing and restoring antique and collectible furniture, many questions have come from our customers about the little things that should or should not be done on a regular basis to care for their prize possessions. Much of this information is just "common sense" but many of us are so busy in our everyday lives that we don't have time to worry about the details. Here's the first installment (of two) of a short guide to remind you of the "little stuff" that may help prevent your having to spend money on the "big stuff".

Things you SHOULD do:

Rotate your dining room table once a year. Pick a date, like your birthday or a holiday and turn the table around. You can also do this with your breakfast table, kitchen chairs, even the family room coffee table. Remember that furniture exposed to strong light will fade and the finish may even start to disintegrate. Excessive wear from using one spot more than another, on a dining table or coffee table for example, will decrease the life of your furniture and may require you to spend big money to repair the damage. Also consider covering your furniture with sheets or closing curtains or blinds in bright rooms that you are not using, especially when you are going to be away from home for awhile.

Put felt cloth or discs beneath lamps, vases and other decorative items you set on your furniture. Since the bottoms of brass lamps etc. are rarely silky smooth, the felt may save your furniture from being scratched and the finish damaged. Felt can even be purchased in pre-cut shapes so the whole project may only take a few minutes. This also works to protect hardwood floors from the tips of your furniture.

Use two people to move the bed. Sometimes beds have to be moved to clean under and around them and at that time they are at risk. Over the years, we have repaired many beds that one person had attempted to move alone. The usual outcome is a broken or severely weakened bed frame. The bedposts usually crack or break where the side rails fit in to the headboard or footboard. Sometimes the rails themselves break or lose the metal fittings embedded in the ends. It is very difficult if not impossible for one person to move a bed without stressing the joints.

Purchase glass cut to size for the tops of your night stands or end tables. This is especially important if you tend to set glasses on your furniture or entertain frequently. You can make a pattern or have a glass company come out and make a pattern. This will add years to the life of the furniture. Also, don't forget to use clear plastic discs (about the size of a nickel and available from the glass company) between the furniture and the glass so that the finish can breathe.

Invest in proper table pads to cover your dining room table. Put a tablecloth over the pads and THEN you can use placemats or other coverings if you choose. Lots of folks think that putting a table cloth directly on the table is enough protection. Unfortunately the moisture from a glass or the heat from a casserole dish will go right through the tablecloth (or a placemat) and into the finish on the table. Remember that your guests are there to enjoy your company and not to look at the dining table so cover it and protect your investment.

Purchase a can of silicone lubricant. If possible try to find "food grade" silicone from a fabric or hardware store. Use this spray when you have a dresser drawer that is giving you problems each time you open and close it. Pull out the problem drawer and make sure that the wooden runner is not completely worn down or that a part isn't missing. Then by simply spraying the bottoms of your drawers on the runner and the corresponding case runner(s), you will find the drawer will open and close more easily. Beeswax works as well for this application but once you buy a can of silicone you will find 1000 other uses for it.

Take a video inventory of your household goods. Hire someone to do this for you if you have to. This way you will have a record of your belongings should you have a personal emergency. Keep a copy of the video in a safe deposit box or family safe. Also consider having any valuable furniture appraised by a licensed appraiser. Keep a copy of the appraisal and pictures in a safe place. You may need to consider purchasing additional contents coverage on your homeowner's policy based on the appraisal results.

Visit the craftsman. If you are considering having a piece of furniture repaired or restored, go visit the location of the business you are planning to use. Ask to see some of the work in progress and ask for and follow up on references. Always give the shop a match drawer, door or whatever you want your piece to resemble when it is finished. This will help the shop determine the color and sheen for the restored piece.

Number all the drawers in a chest of drawers, dresser or buffet. That way the next time you move, you won't have to worry about where each drawer fits. Also remove keys and pack in a safe place.

Read all you can to learn more about your furniture. The library is full of books covering periods, styles and ages and learning the history of how, when, where and what materials were used to make a piece of furniture can add to your enjoyment of the piece.

Find someone knowledgeable about furniture and let that person be your guide. That person may be a dealer you trust, a craftsman who has done good work for you or just a friend but whoever it is make sure they know more than you do about furniture. That way when you have an important decision to make, you already have a place to seek guidance

Furniture Preservation Tips part II

Things you SHOULD NOT do:

Don't place your furniture in strong light as a permanent location. The light will fade the pigment in the wood and damage the finish. Strong light will also fade upholstery and cause the fabric to deteriorate faster. When possible, close blinds and curtains during the day and remember to rotate your furniture once a year.

Don't use a centerpiece like to beveled mirror or a table runner on your dining table for long periods of time if it sits in strong light. When you remove the centerpiece, you will notice a difference in color where the centerpiece sat and it generally is not repairable..

Don't put plastic covers directly on your wooden furniture. The plastic (if left any length of time) will adhere to your furniture and might pull the finish off when you try to remove the cover because the solvents in the plastic are the same as the solvents in the finish. This is something we have often seen after the holidays when a plastic cover was put on the buffet or dining table and then covered with a tablecloth and forgotten until things returned to normal.

Don't store your dining room table leaves in the closet standing on end because the leaves may warp especially if they are only used once or twice a year. When possible, store them flat under a bed covered with an old sheet.

Don't put soap on the bottom of drawers that don't open and close properly. First, pull out the problem drawer, unload it and look at the sides, the bottom and the back. If there are no loose parts then sight down the bottom on the drawer sides to see if the wooden runners are worn out. If worn out, hire a furniture professional to rebuild them. If you found your missing sweater under the drawer and everything else looks good, spray some silicone (food grade) on the runners being careful not to get any on the front of the drawer and put it back in. The drawer should work smoothly again. If you still have a problem, call a professional.

Don't try to repair your loose dining room or kitchen chairs yourself unless you have clamps as well as glue. Gluing without clamping is the same as not gluing and putting fresh glue into joints that already have glue in them probably won't hold because glue doesn't stick to glue. You will have to pay a lot more to have them repaired properly by a furniture professional later on.

Don't try to move the bed by yourself to clean under it. You will probably torque it and stress the joints where the rails fit in and the bed may break. Instead get help. Help is a lot cheaper than hiring a furniture professional to repair the broken bed while you are sleeping on the floor.

Don't lean your wet or oily head back on your wooden headboard. You will damage the finish over time and the headboard will need to be refinished. Instead, put a dry towel or an extra pillow against the headboard where your head would normally touch.

Don't put scent packets directly on your furniture. They smell great but if left on the furniture, will damage the finish. Again the solvents are the same as the finish. Put these decorative packets in a pretty dish or bowl.

Don't set colored candles (red green, blue and black are worst!) directly on your furniture especially if it is light colored. The color may bleed through the finish and into the wood. When you are burning votive candles, check the glass candle holders every so often to make sure they aren't real hot. When they get too hot to pick up, the heat may scorch the finish on your furniture.

Don't load bookshelves with too much weight. The shelves will sag and may even break the supports, especially if the shelves are not made of solid wood.

Don't panic if you see a white mark on your furniture. Leave it alone and it may go away by itself. A white mark usually means that moisture is trapped in the finish and if left alone with disappear on it's own. Whatever you do, don't try mayonnaise or cigarette ashes or oil. If the white mark doesn't go away by itself within 48 hours, call a furniture pro to help you out.

Don't buy an old bed that is missing it's side rails. Side rails that will actually fit your bed aren't that easy to find and unless you are going to convert to a Hollywood bed frame, you are asking for trouble.

Don't leave your pets alone and unrestrained in the house while you are at work all day. We have fixed many dog chewed chairs, bird pecked beds and cat scratched dining room tables and these repairs can be very costly.

Don't feed the finish on your wooden furniture. The finish is synthetic and the wood is dead. You only need to keep it cleaned, waxed and dry, not oiled. Remember, you wouldn't oil the finish on your car, would you?

Enjoy your furniture. Good furniture should last a lifetime if you use a "Common Sense" approach to taking care of it.

For more information please contact Fred Taylor at or visit