New life for an old find

Give that antique gem you picked up some elbow grease and it'll shine in no time

You’ve fallen in love with a fixer upper, but you’re all thumbs when it comes to repairs. Don’t sweat it, with some TLC that shaggy dog you brought home from the thrift shop or garage sale can become best in show.

First things first. In the name of furniture lovers everywhere, if you suspect you have a fine antique on your hands (hint: it belonged to a wealthy aunt and had an auspicious pedigree) do not attempt to repair or refinish the piece yourself; leave it to a professional so it can retain its value.

Now on to the nitty gritty. If the piece was rescued from a dusty attic or grimy garage and has mildew, give it a once over with mineral spirits to break down wax, grease and polish. Use a soft toothbrush to clean out corners, crevices and carvings. Touch up scratches and worn edges with a wood tone felt-tip marker. These are available in a range of tones at home improvement stores. For a soft patina, rub the piece with coloured shoe polish in a coordinating tone. Fill in chips by dabbing on several coats of shellac to fill in dents. Wait for each coat to dry and then sand with 600-grit sandpaper. Bring back the sheen with a paste furniture wax ({} [] has a wide range) applied with a 0000 steel wool pad and buffed with a cloth.

Musty drawers can be freshened with a spit coat of shellac (one part shellac with five parts methyl hydrate and a couple drops of essential oil).

To restore a piece’s original paint – sometimes that is a big part of the piece’s charm – clean furniture with boiled linseed oil to give it lustre, then sand it with 400-grit wet sandpaper. If you decide to repaint, fix dings and dents with wood putty or two-part epoxy. After putty or epoxy dries, lightly sand the entire piece to give the paint something to grip to and go over every inch with a tack cloth to remove particles prior to painting.

Lastly, hardware often dates a piece, particularly if it is cheap. For a contemporary feel – or if you want to maintain a retro vibe with good quality reproductions – new hardware is an easy way to make a piece look like it always had pride of place, and was never relegated to the attic.