How to Repair and Refinish an Antique Chair

If within your broken and aged French chair you still see a glimmer of old world charm, consider it an antique chair worth rescuing. Although a restoration project such as the one featured below does require some time and patience–the end result will be a rewarding one.

(Picture Credit Dutch Connection)

Conduct a Thorough Inspection

Before you get to work on your antique chair, remove any surface dust so that you can examine it more closely. A soft, damp cloth can be used to wipe off larger areas, while an old toothbrush will make it easier to get into carved areas or smaller crevices. Once you’ve cleaned off your chair, it will be much easier to inspect. Make note of any repairs that you need to make, and what products or replacement pieces you’ll need to get the job done.

Disassemble with Care

Care should be used in handling and disassembling an antique chair–especially one that’s fragile or broken. Remove the padded seat if there is one, take out all screws, and gently pull each piece apart. If you’re having a hard time taking it apart, use a soft-headed mallet to tap pieces out. Be sure to label each part that as it’s removed using marked pieces of masking tape–or take it a step further and sketch a quick diagram. That way you’ll know what goes where when it’s time to put the chair back together. Put all screws in a small, clear baggy–and keep them in a safe place where you won’t lose them.

Remove the Finish

Using a medium-sized paintbrush, apply an even layer of paste-stripper to each part of the chair that you need to remove the finish from. After a few minutes, you will notice that the finish will start to bubble, a clear indication that it’s ready to be scraped off. Use a putty knife to remove finish from larger parts of the chair, and try using a small piece of steel wool to take off any finish located in small tight areas that are difficult to get at.

Once you’ve successfully stripped the finish, apply a coat of lacquer using a damp rag. The lacquer will neutralize the area you just stripped, as well as remove any stripper residue that was left behind. Wipe each piece with a slightly damp cloth after neutralizing so that it’s ready for any repair work.

(Picture Credit…. Pinterest. So many people would LOVE to have a french chair in their home, than for it to be used as a planter to rot)

Make Necessary Repairs

There’s a lot of room for variation when it comes to antique chairs, and depending on when, where, and from what materials your chair was made–you may or may not be able to repair the chair yourself. Conduct some online research on your chair before you start repairing it so that you’re prepared with the right materials and some troubleshooting tips in case you run into any unexpected challenges. The following are some repairs that you may be able to handle yourself.

To fix a broken spindle, drill a hole into each of the broken ends. Using a brand of glue recommended for the type of wood you’re working with, fill each hole with a generous amount of glue. Insert a small wooden dowel into one of the broken spindle ends and then put the other part of the spindle onto the dowel. Apply a small amount of wood glue to the area where the two parts of the spindle meet, gently push the pieces together, and clamp to dry.

Wood that’s been chipped can be easily repaired, no woodworking skills required. Just fill them in with wood putty and smooth out the surface.
If you need to replace a broken piece of wood, first smooth out any rough edges by sanding them down. Take exact measurements of the piece you need to replace and sketch or trace it on a sheet of paper. If the chair has another part identical to the one that needs repair, use it as a model. Identify what type of wood your chair was made of and do your best to find a piece of the same wood or one that is similar enough to be a good match. Cut the replacement wood to match the piece you need, glue it to the part it snapped off from using wood glue, and clamp it together to dry. Once the glue has dried, you can sand the newly repaired piece to perfect the shape.

If you don’t feel comfortable working with wood, you may be able to find a replacement piece for your chair. Look online or check with antique dealers located in your area–you may be able to find a replacement part eliminating the need to fashion one yourself.

Reassemble and Refinish

When all repairs have been made, carefully reassemble your antique chair using labeled markings or your diagram. One assembled, the chair can be refinished. Starting at the top of the chair and working in one area at a time, use a paintbrush to apply the stain. After allowing a couple of minutes for the stain to soak into the wood, wipe each area to remove any surface stain then leave the chair to dry overnight. Next, apply a very thin layer of shellac over the stain, leaving it to dry for at least a half an hour.

Final Touches

If you want to reduce the amount of shine on your chair so that it looks slightly weathered, go over the surface of your chair with a piece of very fine steel wool. Give the seat cushion of your chair a thorough cleaning or reupholster it altogether if needed. Tack down the seat securely and sit back and relax–your work is done!
Don’t give up on your French antique chair if it’s in need of attention–give it a makeover instead. By repairing and refinishing it, you can breathe some life back into your antique chair–restoring its beauty and elegance so that it can be treasured for many years to come.

Guest post from Jean Clark.

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