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Restoring an Antique Table with Eli

Martha Stewart Living Television

A piece of antique furniture may be dirty, dusty, or stained, but these aren't necessarily reasons to give up on it. Moreover, you may not need to embark on a full-scale restoration to bring an antique table or chair back to its original beauty. Today, furniture conservator Eli Rios shares his step-by-step approach for cleaning neglected antique furniture.

Martha's antique piecrust table is severely stained on the surface, but it is constructed of solid mahogany, which makes it very much worth saving. Eli takes a systematic approach to restore the piece, which can do wonders without resorting to drastic measures.

Begin by testing a small area of the surface with water; if the water beads up, you'll know that there is wax on the table. Then, apply mineral spirits to a small area of the surface with a clean cloth. If you remove a noticeable amount of dirt, apply mineral spirits to the rest of the surface with a cloth or a piece of very fine steel wool. Apply several coats to ensure that all the dirt is removed. Make sure to use gloves when using mineral spirits, and keep the room well ventilated. Clean the surface with several applications of denatured alcohol, using a clean rag and wearing gloves; denatured alcohol, like mineral spirits, will help to remove any residual dirt from the surface. After applying the alcohol, the wood should appear brighter and deeper in color.

To remove stains caused by metallic objects, such as cans or hot pots, try a metallic stain remover. Eli recommends a stain remover that is composed of oxalic acid. Test it first on a small stained area,and if effective, treat the entire surface with the stain remover. The final step is to apply shellac, which will enhance the entire surface and make the wood's original color show through. Using a piece of tightly woven cheesecloth, apply the shellac going with the grain of the wood; as the cheesecloth runs out of shellac, add more. After an hour or so of shellacking, let the table sit overnight, and assess it the next morning to determine whether additional coats are needed.

To learn more about ECR Conservation and Restoration, visit

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