To Sand or Not to Sand
by Alan Noel

Since the early eighties, seems we have become very aware of our families' personal histories and treasures. Everything from pictures, linens, dishes, silver and of course, furniture, hold many memories that are dear to our hearts. This is one of the reasons (actually the main reason) The Antique Road Show is so popular. How we go about restoring the finish on family heirlooms will often determine how much of the evidence of those memories actually gets preserved. In my furniture restoration firm, I always make sure to ask my clients about any personal histories and stories they have about the pieces they have entrusted to me for restoration. This helps me determine what course of action may be required to achieve their desired result.

Here are 6 tips to consider in deciding how to restore your own pieces:

1. Inspect the finish to determine if the finish itself can be saved. Is it doing its job of protecting and enhancing the piece?

2. If the finish is in good shape, a good cleaning, a little touch up and a good coat of wax may be all that is required.

3. If the finish has to be stripped, which would generally be the last resort, inspect the entire piece for evidence of wear and everyday use before stripping to determine if the wear or damage is "use" or "abuse." For instance, an ink spot on a desk top, although seemingly unsightly, is evidence of past use and not abuse in my opinion. Cigarette burns, water rings and little Joey chopping on the edge of the dinner table with his new hatchet, however charming, are abuse and should be fixed.

4. Minor splits and cracks, which are the direct result of aging, should also be left alone unless there are structural issues involved, in which case, they should be fixed in order for the piece to be structurally sound for future use.

5. The bottom line here is that you are the one that has to make the determination as to what gets sanded away and what memories are left intact.

6. When in doubt, call a professional for advice.

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