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Antique Furniture/To oil or not


QUESTION: I have a wardrobe that has been in a barn with birds nesting on it for over 100 years.  I now because it was shut when my great grandmother died (1902)and not open until my Mom was little. Anyway, I want to refinish it and I would think it might need oil to get some moisture back in the wood.  I also want to maybe stain and protect it in some way.  Should I put oil on it before I stain it?

ANSWER: Generally I will not answer questions without a picture of the item being discussed but this is too important so here goes:

NO OIL!!!!!

oils for furniture are non drying oils that contain mineral oil and/or silicone oil.  these do not and never will never impart moisture to the wood. they will however act as dirt and dust magnets.

wood will always reach moisture equilibrium with the surrounding atmosphere, whereever it is stored or lives.  finishes will slow the absorption and adsorption of that moisture.  wood will oxidize if it is not coated with something, lacquer, wax, varnish, shellac, etc.

I recommend first to clean the item.  Since i do not have a picture I cannot give you a good series of steps.  if i can see a picture it will help.  you have two routes, one is to gently wash with water and a rag then rinse well but not soaking the item.  if it is not too bad you could just use a good wax like Briwax to wax the item.  wax is also a cleaner and will give some protection.  understand this is a job that will take several hours.  please use the follow up function and post a picture.  

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

side of wardrobe
side of wardrobe  

side 2 of wardrobe
side 2 of wardrobe  
QUESTION: thanks for answering my question, I would have put oil on the peice.  I have now discoverd another puzzling thing with the wardrobe.  on the inset sides there is some kind of paint or something. it is chalky and will not come off easily. do you have any idea what that might be, given the age and that it has not been touched in over 100 years? I have attached some pictures but it is not together.

will it wash off with warm water and a half of dawn in a gallon of water then rinsed?

it could be anything, if i was there i might could help quicker.

does it come off with a dry rag?
water wet rag?
mineral spirits wet rag?
lacquer thinner wet rag?

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robert klein


Regarding American antique, vintage, and collectible furniture I can help with wood identification, styles, age, periods, historical coatings, materials, techniques, repair, restoration, refinishing. Please read instructions for posting.


I have been in the antiques furniture and restoration business and in the sales of American antique furniture for 40+ years and have continued my education in the trade attending workshops and seminars through several organizations.

Professional Refinishers Groop, Int., AIC, Antiques Dealers Association

BA Florida State University BA University of West Florida 1971

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