What People Want To Know About Furniture: FAQ

What People Want To Know About Furniture: FAQ
J. Aubrey Bolen III

Over the years, people have asked me many questions about their furniture, and I have tried my best to provide them with the answers or information they are seeking.  Now, I have an opportunity to provide the general public with some of the more commonly asked questions and answers.  Hopefully there will be some nugget of information below which will aid you in caring for your furniture!

1. Will finishing the inside of my cedar chest destroy its aroma?

Yes, applying a finish to the inside of any cedar furniture will destroy the distinctive, appealing aroma.  The interior of cedar furniture should always be left unfinished.  If the cedar smell begins to fade, you can try sanding the inside of the piece with 220-grit sandpaper to revive the precious aroma.

2. What is the safest finish for a baby crib?

Shellac is considered the safest clear finish.  Once stain (if so desired) has been applied to the crib, the next step is the complex process of applying shellac.  In addition, most paints sold today are safe for baby cribs.  Lead-free paint was mandated in the U.S. in 1978.  However, it is always good to research, examine, or question the contents of the paint you wish to purchase.

3. What should I use on my butcher block, cutting board, or wooden utensils to guard against germs and mold?

Closed grained hardwoods are used in making butcher blocks, cutting boards, and fine wooden utensils.  There is no finish that will maintain its integrity through frequent use and frequent washing of these surfaces.  However, the surfaces of these hardwoods need an oil that can be repeatedly applied to fill the wood pores and repel food particles, liquids and oils.  Edible mineral oil is most commonly used and can be found at drugstores, hardware stores, or online.  Pure raw almond and walnut oils are also safe and effective for these surfaces.
4. Do I need to strip off the old finish if I want to paint a piece of furniture?

It is important to carefully weigh your options when considering painting furniture since it is difficult and costly to remove.  However, if you do choose to paint your furniture, it is not always necessary to strip the standing finish on the furniture.  If the standing finish is in good condition and adheres well to the wood, there is no need to remove it before painting.  Clean off the dirt and grime, “rough-up” the standing finish with 220-grit sandpaper, and apply a coat of primer.  These three preliminary steps ensure the bonding of the paint to the surface of the furniture.  If the standing finish is in bad condition, the piece of furniture will need to be stripped before primer and paint can be applied.

5. How can I tell if the piece of furniture I want to purchase is an authentic antique or a modern-day reproduction?

To begin, there is nothing wrong with well-built reproduction furniture that is sold as such.  Not all folks seek to furnish their homes with antiques.  If you are striving to distinguish between reproductions and authentic antiques, there are several tips to keep in mind.  When examining tables, look underneath for what is written or stamped; this simple act can reveal that a piece is a reproduction made in Malaysia, Indonesia, etc.  Note whether the underside of the table has been painted a solid color; reproductions are sometimes painted underneath to disguise particle board or other signs of modern construction.  When analyzing a chest of drawers, or any piece of furniture containing drawers, take the drawers out and look inside the cabinet.  If the interior appears to be clean and free of dust and the drawers appear to have been unused, it is most likely a reproduction.  The key point here is that a reproduction is not hard to spot if the client takes a couple of minutes to examine the piece of furniture.  Think about antiques you have seen and the character marks that make them unique and oftentimes tell a story.  They are worn, chipped, repaired, etc.  However, we make personal connections to them, and they become precious possessions.
I want to send a special, “Thank you!” to my clients for entrusting me to care for your precious possessions.  It is my honor to protect and restore your treasured furniture.  Have a safe and merry holiday season!