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Restore, Revive, or Refresh?

Updated: Jan 6

Not so long ago, I sent some images to my brother in the UK as he's a bit of an antique buff - an Oak bedside table that I'd picked up as a bonus, having just bought an old Oak single bed frame from the same seller. "That's a lovely piece....", he began in his reply. Then my eyes went straight to the "look at that beautiful old tea pot stain..." and he continued to identify the markings and the various characteristics of the historic charm, telling the history of the piece.

I was floored. The second and subsequent images I'd sent him, were of the now 'restored' table. Sure, it was an unmistakably old piece of Oak, it was of early-mid 20th century design, as was further evidenced small carvings and the style of turned legs.

But despite there being no particular damage to either the structure or the finish, I stripped it back, sanded and effectively made new, the old piece. Is this to restore then?

A Google search returns pages of information where the terms Restore, Revive, Refresh, and Preserve are used interchangeably, but according to the dictionary, to restore is to give back, or return to. And whilst I’d made a reasonable job of the restoration, I'm now left wondering if I’d done the right thing by the piece. After-all, I’d all but erased its life story!

For my next project I was determined to make some reasonable assessment of the piece and consider very carefully what I wanted to achieve, could achieve, and should achieve. Well I’d already decided that whatever the piece looked like, I wasn’t going to erase its past, diving in with strippers and sanders, unless it was absolutely necessary.

The other objective was to demonstrate just how easy using our Restorers Premium Wax Furniture Polish is, and how a durable, lustrous finish can be achieved with just a small pad of fine steel wool and an old cotton polishing cloth.

The assessment would need to establish the plan going in - To Restore, to Revive, or to Refresh?

The Project

An opportunity presented itself in the form of this child's rocking chair - at first glance (when I went to collect it) it appeared to be in fairly good condition, and from a distance, besides looking a little lack-lustre, not really in need of anything besides the bit I most enjoy... applying a wax polish refresher!

Childs rocking chair for revival
Rocking chair project

The Assessment

A closer look revealed a few points that would be hard to ignore if either restore, revive or even just a refresh was to be anything like successful.

As you'd expect of a piece of furniture like this, it had been well used and received several additions to the original finish and glue joints over the years. The legs had probably been wiped over with a coat or two of shellac and there was further evidence of some varnishes having been brushed on to cover generations of dents, dings & scratches. (I think the brush used to apply the last coat, was a scrubbing brush)

It also looks like someone made a start in stripping some layers... but then had a change of heart.

worn varnish and shellac
Rocking chair varnish scrape

With the initial aesthetic review about concluded, I gently started stress-testing the joints.

failed furniture joints
Rocking chair undercarriage

Not only were they not going to last another generation of play, but about 80% of all of joints had by this time, failed. In fairness, I was told that the chair would make a better decorative piece.

All-in-all a bit of a mess in the undercarriage region.

Failed furniture joints
Rocking chair leg joint failed


The joints need mending and the excessive layers of gunk, glues & flaking finishes must be 'moderated', but without totally stripping.

I'm determined to retain as much of the history ('patina') as possible. I want to feature the grunge, the dings, and to the greater extent, add to this already substantial life-story.

But wait, there's more - it appears the seat has been the subject of someone's lunch menu. That looks like termite damage from some time ago! It's cast all over the seat top but fortunately only about a millimetre in depth, at most.

Oak seat furniture revival
Seat termite damage

Where the joints permitted with some encouragement, I pulled them apart. (OK, I snapped one leg!) I decided I'd use a pure citrus (d-limonene) cleaner. Compared to a varnish stripper it's a non-aggressive approach, just softening built up areas that could be scraped away with a cabinet scraper and then soften the edges with a coarse wire wool.

The cabinet scraper and wire wool served their purpose well, just removing excess build up and not cutting back all the original finish. A good rinse off with the water & white vinegar combo neutralised the citric and the chair parts were given a couple of hours to dry.

When the parts dried, it all was starting to look a bit ordinary to be honest, and I was having second thoughts about the softly softly approach of the citric and scraper, but decided to persevere as planned.

revive old furniture
Citrus cleaned chair legs

A dry assembly didn't improve matters, and I was less confident that the cleaning application had been successful. The degree of colour tones was so much more than I'd expected, but I did have a cunning plan to stabilise the tonal array...

rocking chair dry assembly of frame
Dry assembly - dry timber

Enter No.1 - so called because it's the first of 3. For some time we've been working on something of a hybrid wipe-on oil product. No.1 has proved to be very effective as a wipe on quick drying oil sealer that also builds to something of a varnish with a controlled maximum level of shine.

furniture revival - drying oil timber sealer
Furniture oil sealing

No.1, like No.3 and No.6 are based on the same principles as Long Oil, Medium Oil, and Short Oil varnishes, terms usually expressing the ratio of oil-to-resin in traditional varnishes. No.1 contains natural drying oils, a dryer, and in this case Colophony, which is a rosin. Colophony is, and dries quite soft compared to the truer varnish element 'resin' - Rosin is often seen and used within the applications of violin and non-slip finishes, but it's by no means a newcomer to oils and waxes (Hardwax oils too)

When combined with our Pure Tung Oil, itself a natural and arguably champion of drying oils, the small amount of flexible rosin in the mix makes for a single coat wipe on solution that dries fast and adds to the sealing properties. And of course a little stain has been added, which covers scratches and other inconsistencies, and imparts a uniform natural oil seal that cannot be achieved by staining. The oil acts as both the perfect vehicle for the stain and will leave the timber not only sealed and quite evenly stained, but almost impervious (water-proof) to water and won't dry or flake as varnish is prone to over time.

I was lucky first time, and felt that the 20% dark Oak stain added to the oil, produced an acceptable 'light & dark' contrast throughout the piece which is the typical natural patina I wanted to maintain.

restore or revive rocking chair back rest
Oil sealed seat back

I left the (wipe on - wipe off) oil sealer to dry overnight, and I can be confident in applying our Restorers Premium Furniture Wax Polish onto an evenly sealed & prepared surface, without fear of uneven drying, absorption, or undesirable 'faux' finishes.

drying oil sealed back rest  furniture revival
Oil sealed back rest

Those pesky termite crevices got treated after the oil sealing, with a little melted wax (a black candle to be honest). The wax was poured quite liberally over the affected areas, and a redundant credit card used to scrape the excess off the seat surface, whilst the wax was still warm. Came up OK I thought. 100% beeswax of course, and you can't distinguish the wax from the grain in the finish!

Hot spoon to press the wax into the furniture gaps
Wax filling the gaps. (Hot spoon to press the wax)

It was always about the wax

Ready the wax - the Antique version of our Restorers Premium Wax Furniture Polish. It's a blended durable wax with a slightly higher lustre than achieved by Beeswax alone. The composition of waxes together with an antique tint that will blend in and cover scratches in darker timbers, results in exceptional coverage and a unique depth of sheen. You just cannot replicate the originality of this wax with a polyurethane or varnish finish.

Premium restorers wax polish to revive antique furniture
Restorers Premium Wax Furniture Polish

I'm applying a single coat of Restorers Premium Wax Furniture Polish with 0000 (fine) steel wool.

Charging (or loading) the steel wool and applying with the grain wherever practical (not so easy on turned legs for example), I waited just 15 mins (today) and then buffed & smiled as the piece was transformed beyond what I'd expected.

Somewhere between restoration and refreshing, lays revival.

The rocking chair is now structurally sound, maintains a warm inviting glow, a patina reflective of its years, and it will continue to deliver enjoyment to another generation. We haven't taken it back in time but did more than just refresh the existing finish.

Revival of the rocking chair, was in my opinion, the was best outcome for this piece.

Take a look at the short video - there's no AI or cheating. Restorers Premium Wax Furniture Polish has a high wax content, infused with Carnauba wax for additional durability and shine, and Microcrystalline wax to further aid with bonding and flexibility.

TESTED ON WOOD. It's another great wax from the Restorers range, made in a shed, in Australia.

The before and after...but mostly the after

Furniture revival antique waxing a chair
The revival of the rocking chair undercarriage

Furniture revival antique waxing a chair
White ant damage no longer visible

Furniture revival antique waxing a chair
Rocking chair back rest - with a natural aged patina

revived and preserved furniture
Revived rocking chair - ready for another generation

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Nov 18, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

That looks really lovely John, you’ve done a great job ! I love the idea of preserving the history whilst making it aesthetically appealing. The repairing of the termite damage is very shmicko ! Impressive 👌

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