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To Restore or Not to Restore?
The Answers to a Recurring Question on Refinishing Antique Furniture
By Pamela Wiggins, About.com

What to Do Before You Tackle a Restoration Project

Before you tackle a restoration project, take some time to inspect the piece of furniture for any identifying labels or marks that might help you research its origin. Look at the overall quality of the wood and craftsmanship, including any carving present. If it turns out to be an extremely valuable item, leave it alone. Any fixer-up tasks accomplished on a piece like that should be left to a professional who works with high-end antique furniture. A museum curator in your area can probably point you in the right direction to find someone who does this type of work locally.

If it turns out that the piece isn’t a rare antique, it’s still better to take the path of least resistance when possible. If that dirty dresser has held together pretty well over time, try just cleaning out the dirt-dobbers and giving it a good dusting. Even with furniture that isn’t of masterpiece caliber, most tried and true collectors value an original finish and a little patina (which basically translates into dirt and wear that build up over time) that actually makes an item look old, and you might decide to sell the piece some day. Sometimes a once over cleaning and a little glue to hold the joints together securely will do a world of good. When that’s still not enough, figure out just how much restoration to the finish and components will be necessary to make it presentable.

Tossing Around the Term “Restoration”

Now, you’ll notice that I use the term “restoration” liberally here. That’s because it’s always better to restore a piece to its original state if you can, rather than totally changing it or simply patching it up haphazardly. There are exceptions, of course.

If you find a cupboard with the doors missing, the trim broken off and a rotted leg, it might be worth the work to save it. But if you decide this item will look better with red crackle finish that matches your kitchen, that’s not too much of a problem when so many pieces will need to be newly manufactured to get it back into shape. Again though, try to determine whether or not the item is a rarity before you alter it extensively. Those really hard to find period pieces can be well worth restoring, and still hold quite a bit of value even with newly manufactured repairs when they are professionally done.