Identify & Renew Antique or Old Furniture

Like all other material, furniture wears out over the years. Sometimes the entire finish is worn or heavy-use spots are seen. Even if wear and tear adds character, there are some technique which help in restoring furniture.

Let’s start with identifying different finishes. Before you decide to film or recoat the piece, it is essential to determine the finish of the furniture. Try small tests to identify between polish, varnish, paint, shellac, varnish, lacquer, etc.
1. Wax Polish
This is a semisolid polish and does almost no harm to the wooden surface and is widely used in India. It involves a lot of physical labour. Since it is stable and durable, it needs to be applied infrequently. Polish gives a natural and penetrating appearance rather than film-building look to the furniture. It usually has a dull sheen look to it.
2. Varnish
Varnish is a combination of drying oil, resin and a thinner. It usually gives a glossy look though it may be designed to produce satin or semi-gloss look. Usually varnished surface is sanded carefully and then varnish remover is used which can be found in hardware stores. Be careful because there are some varnishes that stay permanent.
3. Paint
It is easy to indentify paint on wood due to its different colour. Most paints are oil based and can be removed with thinners or paint removers.





4. Shellac Finish

Shellac is derived from a resin that is secreted from an insect native to certain forests in Southeast Asia. Shellac is non-toxic and can be added to any colour very easily. To determine shellac finish, use mineral spirit or turpentine and rub it with a white soft cotton rag in an inconspicuous area. The apply denatured alcohol to the spot and leave it for 5 minutes. If the colour dissolves and the rag picks up the colour of the furniture, then it is a shellac finish.



5. Lacquer Finish
Lacquer is a coloured or clear varnish which produces is very hard and durable look. It comes off effectively only with the lacquer solvent.

Simple home cleaner and more….
Always buff and sand the piece of furniture you want to restore.


1. Utensil Detergent
Use warm water and detergent to clean finishes and leave it to dry for a while. Mostly it does works on painted and clear finishes. Do not pour the solution on the wood as it may open up the wood grain and cause damage to it. Soak the cotton rag in water, rinse it dry and then work in sections by wiping it. Take another clean rag and dry the surface again.
2. Thinners
There are several types of thinners. You can find paint, polish, metal…etc thinners at any hardware store. They are easy to use and are very widely used in cleaning surfaces in India.
3. Mineral Spirits or Turpentine
Mineral spirits and turpentine are two different solvents which have similar applications. They both are very good in case there are grease or oil stains and work great on painted and primered surfaces. This one is widely used in restoring furniture. In India turpentine is widely used though working with mineral spirits is easier and safer. These are usually available at paint shops.
4. Denatured Alcohol or Ethanol
Denatured alcohol is weaker and slow-working and good to clean light surfaces. It helps to more easily remove the excess dust that results from sanding wood, because it does not open the wood grain. It is widely used for shellac finishes.
5. Lacquer Solvent
Lacquer solvents are strong and will dissolve them quickly. They are used on lacquer finishes only.
Hope you have got an idea about the different types of finishes that appear on the piece of furniture you want to restore. I will certainly talk more about removing spots, grease and water marks in my next article. For now please try to understand and care for your furniture. Always remember, old is gold. Restore and treasure it as much as you can!!