Determining the Timber of Antique Furniture Without Damaging the Finish

A major problem in restoration and preservation is that many people insist on scratching or scraping an area on a piece of furniture to try to ascertain its timber, removing the finish, being it painted or disguised under many layers of old finish and waxes, prior to purchase. A small, good quality torch to inspect the undersides of a piece will often reveal more than scraping or gouging the outside surface, enlightening you as to its timber composition (without, of course, it is veneered). By inspecting the article in such a manner you will also reveal the general quality of cabinet work instead of causing irreversible damage. This kind of damage, more often than not, is done to furniture that the offender does not own – thereby spoiling it for someone else.

More annoying than sand in your togs is the person who lakes out their car keys or pocket knife and scrapes away at a piece of furniture, whether it's painted or polished (usually on the most obvious places), and even when raw timber is revealed they do not know what they are looking at. If these people knew what they were doing I am sure that they would not commit these vandal-like acts.

These situations often get me into trouble because I usually tell the offenders that I am interested in purchasing that item (even if I am not) or give them a tongue lashing only to he told them that it's going to be sanded anyway. This is not necessarily so, as a good restorer can save even the most heavily painted articles along with most of the timber patina and some of the old polish. Sometimes I am told to mind my own business. Well, this is my business and the ramification of this supposedly innocent scrape is an obvious blemish on a sometimes important piece of furniture.

This happens almost always at auctions – even vendors will sand part of one leg or an area on a convenient spot to display the timber. When restoration is carried out, however, the sanded area will stand out like a sore thumb after the rest of the leg or area has been stripped. I also find very disturbing the fact that on very rare occasion do these people actually put their money where their actions lie and purchase the item they defaced.