Antique Restoration

Some recent correspondence concerning Repairs and Antique Restoration.

Here is a reply from one Conservationist about her Restoration Services:

"First let me tell you a little about my professional skills in restoration.As to my knowledge in this field I would attribute my expertise primarily to my years as a restorer and conservor of fine antiques in the Southern region. I was introduced some of the local collections, and worked on many restoration projects.My appreciation for antique design and all it's related fields was cultivated at an early age.There is nothing more rewarding then bringing a worthwhile relic back to it's former glory, but also it is an education. As the piece is taken apart for repair, and then brought back, you begin to understand and appreciate the method, design and execution of the maker.

Conservation is all about being careful to preserve the integrity of the piece.

In short, the challenge is that each piece requires that I will need more time to evaluate each piece.

On the restoration of the frames I would suggest a closer look but my procedure would eventually be :

Disassemble items to prepare them for finishing, using hand tools.
Examine furniture to determine the extent of damage or deterioration, and to decide on the best method for repair or restoration.
Fill and smooth cracks or depressions, remove marks and imperfections, and repair broken parts, using plastic or wood putty, glue, nails, and screws.
Remove old finishes and damaged or deteriorated parts, using hand tools, stripping tools, sandpaper, steel wool, abrasives, solvents, and dip baths.
Smooth, shape, and touch-up surfaces to prepare them for finishing, using sandpaper, pumice stones, steel wool, chisels, sanders, and grinders.
For example :Damaged Gesso Gilt Surfaces;at least 5 phases of surface decoration involving 15 layers of mixed oil and water based materials. To repair one needs to unravel the complex history of treatment to discover the original gilt and painted intention.To restore gold gilt patinas,hours must be taken to secure and stabilise original material, remove later over oil gilding, reinstate small carving and gesso losses and reinstate the water gilt surface, retaining original gilding

On broken or missing carved areas, they may need carving replacements and all needed gesso consolidation. Casts can be taken from the original remaining patterns to replace damaged or missing areas of moulding.Where this is not possible, new replacement mouldings can be carved or fashioned in wood, compo or gesso. The original gilding and the hover gilding were to be retained and stabilised. Repairs blend in with the C19th surface. Agreed levels of cleaning and gilding replacement take account of the condition of each piece,to remove the later gesso layers stripping back to the Regency gesso thus redefining the carved areas. Missing carving might need repair in an appropriate wood. Any damages to the surface would be matched and applied where necessary before regilding, burnishing, distressing and toning to give a natural aged appearance.

My Restorations will not exceed the cost estimate without prior approval. Costs may range from $40 for a small edge chip, $75 to replace a finger, $225 -$500 to mold a finial on a teapot lid, or a major restoration (such as the larger frames and furniture see below) which would range between $950 and $1,200. per piece. (I don't usually charge by the hour, but if you insist, I will):
Labor is $75.00 per hour + parts. Ornamentation can be added to corners to make a finished corner frame. (The minimum charge for restoration per piece would be approximately $175.00) .

A written estimate is included if necessary for insurance.

The restoration estimate on the first piece of artwork and/or frame is $100. Each additional estimate for each additional piece will be $50.00 per piece.

My shop rate is $75.00 per hour for most work, and $100.00 per hour on my elaborate pieces. I would need several professional movers and packers to move the items to a warehouse for the work and in order to do that I would need to rent a space for at least one month to complete the work.On the larger pieces I suggest an Antique Mover which costs would range $100- $500 per item depending on how much we would need to pack each item. Insurance on these items would need to be obtained as well.Not included in estimate,

I would charge a beginning $100 to come to your home to look more carefully at the items that need further evaluation. Then I would prepare my estimate per piece at a charge of $50.00 per piece which would be subtracted from the restoration invoice should you decide to hire me for your restoration project.

"The quality of the conservation is an important factor in determining diminished value although the monetary compensation for damage is never a reflection upon the quality of the conservation. Conservation can be 100% successful, yet the value of the artwork can be negatively affected. Even a partial restoration of certain works would affect their value in the auction market, or resale of item and must be noted that it has been "restored"."

Refinishing is often the most dramatic procedure of restoration. Refinishing can be as unobtrusive as touching-up scratches or damages on-site, or might require the complete removal of existing finish, dyeing and staining and application of a new finish. If an original finish can be maintained, that is often the preferred alternative. However, finishes used from the very beginning of the 20th century until today were usually nitrocellulose lacquer, or later derivative of lacquer or other catalyzed finish. These modern finishes contain plasticizers that evaporate out of the finish over a period of decades, and when the plasticizer is gone, or light damages the finish, the finish is brittle, heat marks badly, loses adhesion with the wood beneath, and generally performs poorly in use. Such finishes are usually better to remove than trying to save. Any finish put over the top of such a brittle finish, will transmit its problems through any new finish put over them.

If the finish is not removed thoroughly, the new finish will not last as it should and will be susceptible to loss of adhesion, cloudiness or flaking off of the finish. Sanding is another critical issue. Sanding the wood thoroughly will remove wood bleached over the years of exposure to light, and erases the patina of the furniture. then it will have to be refinished and to do it right will cost at least $1000.

Refinished by French Polishing, High Gloss:
Shellac is a finishing product used in an old method of finishing called a French polish. French polishing is applying several hand rubbed layers of shellac in order to get a deep, rich, finish to the wood. In between the coats of shellac the wood is hand sanded with fine pumice. As easy as it may sound, it is not. True French polishers take several years of training to acquire the necessary skills. Therefore it is an expensive way of furniture finishing. Consequently, a French polish finish is usually reserved for the more valuable pieces.

Lacquer is considered a more modern application and is a used after the stain has been applied. It usually is sprayed on and if done well can mirror a French polish rather well at a fraction of the cost of a true French polish. However, prices range dramatically on refinishers and usually for good reason. We suggest that before you decide on having anything refinished or restored you ask to see some samples and references of the persons you are considering to do the job.

Today, French polishing is seen as just applying clear finishes to furniture, but traditionally it was a much more involved process," says Greg Peters of Patinations Conservation Services.

What is French polishing?
Used mainly in antique restorations, traditional French polishing gives furniture a beautiful finish, Greg explains. "It really brings a clarity and depth to the timber that no modern polishing product can re-create," he says. "Modern finishes tend to reflect the light and can be quite harsh, whereas with shellac there is warmth - you can see into the timber."

Shellac is a special resin that comes from an insect. The Lac beetle sucks sap from certain trees in India and South-East Asia, transforms it via a chemical process, and secretes it back onto the tree, which is harvested. The untreated resin is then dissolved in methylated spirits to make shellac.

Furniture polishing techniques
French polishing involves building up hundreds of thin layers of shellac, which according to Greg is very time consuming. "It can take weeks, but it has huge positives," he says. "The layers adhere to each other, eventually forming one coat. On the other hand, modern products tend to form layers that disguise clarity and can lead to deterioration."

This means that you can keep adding layers of shellac when maintenance or restoration is required and it will continue to adhere. "With antiques you want to keep any interference to a minimum," explains Greg. "When modern finishes deteriorate you have to strip them off, which can result in more damage, whereas with shellac you can build on the original finish."

Although shellac varnish is quite soft and needs particular care, it does have its definite advantages. "Mainly it keeps the look and feel of the original piece," says Greg. "Also, shellac can be easily repaired, whereas other products tend to have a limited lifespan, so at some stage you will have to strip and refinish, destroying the patina and historic value of the piece."

What costs are involved with French polishing?
Compared with using modern furniture lacquer, French polishing is not a cheap process, with price depending on the size, age, condition and type of timber the piece is made out of. "The process works particularly well with close-grain timbers such as mahogany and walnut," says Greg. "Open-grain timbers such as oak and Australian cedar are much more laborious, as you really have to work much harder to fill the grain."

But if you've got a loved antique piece, the cost will be worth it in the end.

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