Antique Restorers’ Tricks of the Trade

Whether you inherited that sentimental antique from grandma or found a compelling piece of furniture at the flea market that was just calling to you, nothing is so frustrating than trying to restore a piece of furniture that has a missing or damaged draw pull, scroll work or finial. More often than not, after searching in vain and failing to find a duplicate, that old piece of furniture is relegated back to the attic or basement to wait for the next generation to try their restoration luck. But the story doesn’t always have to end like that. As a matter to fact, it can more often than not, have a happier ending if you follow the workshop tricks of the old-time-craftsmen.

Most of us are good with paint strippers, steel wool and stain or paint. It doesn’t require too much instruction to apply them, only patience and attention to detail. But paint or stain can’t cover the fact that an applique or draw pull might be missing no matter thick the paint covering. Yet it is not as difficult as one thinks to duplicate a handle, drawer pull our missing scroll work if you have the right materials and a copy to work with. Then all it takes are a few steps to create a mold and to cast a duplicate.

For beginners, I recommend a silicone mold putty that when the two parts combined and mixed; will set in about five minutes. It makes for a fast and study mold as before it cures it fairly thick with the consistency of putty or clay, thus, easy to apply without runs or drips. Once properly mixed, simply press the mold putty against duplicate scroll work on your furniture piece and then allow it to cure. For a missing knob or drawer pull, cover the entire surface of any remaining knobs or pulls and allow the silicone to cure.

Once cured, the silicone mold putty is flexible enough to be stretched so that the original item may be extracted from it without tearing. So as you can see, the mold making part really doesn’t require any decision-making. It comes in two parts, you combine equal parts of each and work them in your palms to mix them together. Each part is a different color, so the objective is to mix both parts thoroughly enough so you don’t see any color marbling, just a homogenous color all the way through. That is how you know it has been properly combined. A big advantage of using silicone over other mold making materials is that you don’t need to apply a mold release to the surface of your work before applying the silicone mold material.

As to decision-making, the opposite is true of casting materials. Here a number of material decisions must be made. First and foremost you must determine the type of material that the original was crafted from. Is it wood, metal or plastic? That is a fairly easy call. But if it is metal, what type of metal is it? Whatever the original material may be, creating duplicate casting material follows the same method. For example, if you are duplicating wood, then you would acquire wood powder. A common one is pecan shell flour. The formula combines one-third of pecan shell flour with one-third of Part A of fast setting polyurethane resin and one-third of Part B of the same resin. Once thoroughly, mixed it is poured into the mold and allowed to cure. Fast setting resin will cure in about fifteen minutes. After curing, the piece is buffed with “0000” steel wool to expose the wood surface. All that is needed is to carefully duplicate the original color by applying a matching wood stain.

For a metal part reproduction, metal powders are used and combined with polyurethane resin in the same ratio as the wood powder. There are many types of metal powders available on the Internet, the most common ones being bronze, brass, copper and tin. Make certain that they are fine enough to properly combine with resin. You need to specify a 325-screen mesh to be safe.

These simple, but effective restoration tricks can bring those cherished by wounded pieces furniture back to life so you can enjoy them for many generations.. They can also allow you to inexpensively restore a piece of flea market furniture and turn it around for a quick profit. So with those tricks in mind, happy antiquing!