Less is more when it comes to restoring antique seats, because the less you do, the greater chance you have of preserving the original character. You can not always get away with an easy finish touch-up, nevertheless — you often have to fix broken timber or strip off the old, damaged finish and apply a new one. Attention to detail is crucial, because every change affects not only the appearance but the worth of the piece.
Disassembling the Chair
It is rare to find an antique that doesn’t require some kind of repair: The joints could be loose, a spindle broken or the timber gouged. It is ideal to make these repairs before refinishing. You have to disassemble the chair to reglue diminished joints, which might mean removing a few upholstery. Disassembling the chair also enables you create repairs to individual components, such as cracked or broken spindles, with glue and clamps. Label all joints using numbered bits of tape before disassembling, then knock them apart carefully but firmly with a rubber mallet.
Stripping Away the Finish
If you have to remove old finish, it is best done while the chair is in bits. Based on the finish, use a mild stripper — one with orange oil is the least toxic alternative, but you might require a stronger one to remove layers of paint. Scrape the stripper carefully using a pull scraper, which is easier to control than you push into the wood. You have to neutralize the stripper with water when you are done. This increases the timber grain, but also you can sand down it as soon as the wood dries.
Sanding and Reassembling
You will likely need to sand a few of these bits before you place the chair back together, because you have more control of the sandpaper when you are managing small pieces. Sanding an antique chair isn’t a job for a machine — it is far better to sand by hand, with the grain, to avoid reshaping the timber. The coarsest sandpaper you must use to remove stripper deposit is 120-grit. Do good sanding with 150-grit paper. After reassembling the chair with glue and clamps, a last touch-up using 150- and 220-grit paper should find the chair ready for finishing.
Staining and Finishing
If you choose to apply a stain, use a brush to apply it this way, you will be sure to get into all the crevices — and wipe the excess thoroughly using a clean rag. The ideal surface coat is that the chair originally needed. If it predates 1920, that’s usually shellac, that you apply in successive coats using a brush, lightly sanding between coats with 320- or 400-grit sandpaper to knock down the grain. If you decide to apply lacquer, then you ought to spray three or more coats on with air spray equipment, sanding between coats. You may also finish with a olive oil for a more natural colour.