Care of any piece of wood furniture, whether new or old, is relatively simple. If in actual use in your home, the surface should be protected with a good coating of paste wax and buffed out to a soft sheen. If the piece is soiled, wipe it down with paint thinner using a clean white cloth (white so you can see how much dirt is being removed). Then apply one or two thin coats of wax. Do not use lemon oil , mineral oil , spray – on polishes or tinted paste waxes. The oils will only collect dust and dirt over time negating your cleaning job. Spray- on polishes and some tinted waxes will actually erode the original shellac , varnish , or lacquer finish on the furniture after repeated use . Furniture that has an oil finish, such as tung oil or boiled linseed oil, should be wiped down with paint thinner until clean and a new thin coating of oil applied. No paste wax should be used on pieces that have an oil finish.
Painted furniture can be rejuvenated by lightly sanding the piece with 0000 sandpaper and then wiping down with paint thinner followed up with an application of paste wax. Be cautious in making this decision particuarly with a very old piece where the original crusty painted surface is prized by many owners.
Hardware can be protected in several ways depending on the metal used. Establish what type of metal it is by simply touching it with a magnet. If steel , the magnet will stick to it. If brass or copper, the magnet will not stick. Sometimes the back plate of a pull will be brass and the bail will be steel. Some pulls are pot metal and may or may not stick to a magnet. Scratching the back surface with a knife will show a silvery mark indicating pot metal.
The best way to polish brass or copper hardware is to remove it from the piece. Then a power buffing machine can be used. Care should be taken that the wire wheel is designed for use on soft metals. Then a follow- up polish with a cloth wheel imparts a soft glow. If no machine is available, cleaning and polishing can be done by hand. If tarnish is very heavy, try using Tinner`s Acid to dissolve the tarnish. Use rubber gloves and apply the acid with a small piece of 0000 steel wool. When the acid cleans the piece, rinse it under running water. The item will have a definite red tinge to it which is normal. Do not soak the pulls in acid for any length of time as this can cause serious damage . Once the heavy tarnish is gone, apply a quality brass cleaner with a small piece of 0000 steel wool and polish it out to a bright soft appearance.
Now you can spray the polished pieces with a clear coating of automotive lacquer. This will eliminate the need for regular polishing for months if not years.
Steel hardware can be cleaned on a buffing wheel or by hand. Sometimes this type of hardware has been coated with a brass- colored plating process to imitate real brass. If the coating is in good shape, just clean the items with paint thinner and coat with the spray lacquer and re – install. Pot metal pieces should be handled in the same fashion. A buffing wire wheel will remove the brass coating . Pot metal pieces should be cleaned by hand. If steel and pot metal items are unsightly after cleaning, consider painting them. Paint in aerosol cans comes in a variety of colors and can be used to enhance the appearance of the hardware. The paint dries quickly and does not need the clear lacquer spray- on process described previously.
Now that the piece is nicely polished and the hardware glistens, you can position it in your home. Putting it in direct sunlight from a nearby window will , over time, destroy the exposed finish and bleach the wood necessitating a complete refinishing job. Keep the piece away from a working fireplace or wood stove. Heat will blister and destroy the finish.
Storing furniture all too often means relegating it to a basement, attic , garage or to a rented off- site storage unit. If the basement is relatively damp, put the item in the attic or a garage with an old sheet over it and a heavy sheet of plastic under it. Raise it up off the plastic if you can. If you think your basement is dry, take a sheet of plastic about four feet square and leave it on your dry basement floor for a week. Then pick it up and see the accumulation of water on it and the very damp wet spot on the floor. That is moisture seeping up from the ground , through the cement , and onto your furniture. Remember most furniture has no protective finish on the underneath and interior wood surfaces so moisture from the floor goes right up into it causing mildew or warpage and will destroy the glue that holds veneer in place.
If a storage unit is to be used, be wary of the basic unheated garage- type units with cement floors. Pay the extra money and go to a place that is climate- controlled and get onto an upper floor. Never store furniture , rugs , clothing etc in the garage- type unit.