Hand Tools Archive

Cleaning antique finishes

Joe in a Cleveland suburb
I have this old secretary that I obtained a year ago from a 92 year old friend. This secretary had been in his family for many generations and was used in a tavern in Rhode Island in the late 1700's. I have no idea how old this is, but the tavern burned down in the 1880's.

George Washington wrote about staying at this tavern in his diary from what I've read. Did he sit at this secretary? Probably not. I think it was probably made after his death.

The closer I look at it, I can see it was pretty crudely made. The whole piece appears to be made of pine with walnut veneer. Even the two doors are each a single 17" wide board with walnut veneer applied to look like rails and stiles. Of course the pine boards have split which is why the venner is split. Even the sides of the case are a single wide board. Each of the 4 turned feet are slightly different. I've found some cut nails as well as steel screws that appears to be hand made/filed.

It's interesting to see all the old hand tooling marks on it.

Anyway, I was reading an article by Jeff Jewitt about cleaning old finishes. He talks about first using mineral spirits, then wiping down with soap (Dawn) and water. Lastly, wax. I was thinking of doing this in hopes of not doing any damage and trying to preserve the patina - the finish may be too far gone though. There are some spots of spattered paint too. I may have to wipe on a coat or two of varnish after cleaning since the finish is pretty much shot I think.

Any advice anybody would like to share in regards to cleaning it? I am not looking to restore and refinish this, just want to kind of conserve it.

A couple pictures.

The backside of one of the doors - single wide board

Paint splatter

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