Industrial Hand Cleaner and Briwax: The ONE, TWO Punch for Renewing Antique Furniture
I just finished reading an article on striping and refinishing old furniture. I came away with just one thought: “Don’t do it!” What a mess with great potential for uncertain results at best! If it is a really old piece that is heirloom quality, or something with great sentimental value that you want to pass to future generations, get a professional to do it. But before you send it off to the refinisher, try the following steps to restore it yourself. Nothing I am suggesting can hurt your furniture and the results may really surprise you. If there is too much damage, you might need the professional, but try this first. Your valuable piece will thank you with many years of beauty and usefulness. Your children and grandchildren with thank you as well.
Now that does not mean there is nothing you can do to give a facelift to your grandmothers walnut vanity. If it is in reasonably good structural shape but the finish is looking a little sad, some very simple steps could give you some amazing results. The first thing to do is clean it and then wax it with a good old-fashioned paste wax like Briwax. I know you think it is clean because you have been dusting it regularly with that aerosol stuff you got at the grocery store. Trust me, you DO need to clean it and hope the aerosol you used did not contain silicon oils which could damage the finish of the furniture.
The first step in cleaning your heirloom piece is to get some industrial hand cleaner, like GOJO. Be sure, however, to get the non-gritty kind. That is really important, so I am going to repeat myself. Get the industrial hand cleaner without the grit in it. The reason you don’t want the grit is pretty obvious. It will probably scratch and ruin the finish for you. But both the gritty and non-gritty hand cleaner have as their primary ingredient, mineral spirits along with some other non corrosive cleaners. You can, after all, use it on your hands. The GOJO hand cleaner even has aloe in it so you don’t even have to use rubber gloves if you don’t want to.
While you are at the hardware store, pick up some 0000 steel wool. 0000 is the very finest grade. And if you don’t have any old clean tee shirts at home that you are willing to ruin, get some lint-free polishing cloths while you are there. Oh yes, also pick up a feather duster so that later you can keep the dust off without damaging your renewed finish.
Now to the actual facelift; simply apply about two tablespoons of hand cleaner to your 0000 steel wool and scrub each square foot section of the vanity. Work with the grain of the wood letting the hand cleaner stand on the surface for a minute or two to allow the mineral spirits to do its work. If you didn’t get the steel wool, an old towel will work almost as well. Once you have scrubbed the entire section of the vanity with hand cleaner, wipe it off with a lint free cloth and use another cloth to buff it. If there was any original finish there to start with this treatment should restore the old finish to the furniture.
Now that its original finish is showing, use some Briwax in a color to match the color that appeared after cleaning. Or darken or lighten to suit your taste by selecting a darker or lighter Briwax shade. Briwax was created in England in the 17th century to protect their fine and to restore their not so fine solid wood furniture. Since that time woodcrafters all over the world have been using it to restore fine antiques to their original patina. Besides the Briwax this project will take some elbow grease, too, but the result will be worth it. Apply the Briwax with a clean lint-free rag and use another clean rag to buff to a sheen. Like I said it takes elbow grease because heat from the friction of rubbing is the “secret ingredient” to the lustrous finish that you will obtain. Be sure to allow the Briwax to dry for about 5 minutes before you buff. If you want a deeper, more lustrous finish, keep applying Briwax using these steps until you have the look you like. Don’t give up, and remember, the elbow grease is what does the trick.
Enjoy your renewed family heirloom!