You can pick up some real bargain furniture from a variety of sources: auction, estate sales, knocking on doors and being a pest or even cruising alley ways to see what people have left for the garbage man. This can yield some amazing pieces of trash which can be turned into something less trashy for profit. Finding real Chippendale, Sheraton and early colonial furniture that will make millionaires get in line does not happen to the likes of me. However, good solid American furniture classics from the late Victorian era onward are tucked away in basements, barns and sheds of all sorts. It’s the old furniture that was in Granny’s parlor. Unloved and uncared for, when it sees the light of day it usually needs some help to make it pay for it’s keep in your little corner of the antique mall.
There are a lot of resources available to the restorer to deal with a host of issues. Finishes on wood break down in time and ill treatment can leave a piece of furniture with dents, dings, gouges and other mechanically introduced impressions. Sometimes they add to the look of age in way that adds value, especially in primitives. Classier furniture may want to have some attention payed the bruising. There are various ways to fill holes and cracks in wood. All of them work best on a raw wood surface. If you are stripping and staining you can effect a basically invisible repair with wood putty. some old-timers have used a mixture of sawdust and glue. That usually doesn’t work as the glue tends to reject new stains.
The king of hole fillers is the shellac stick. This type of repair goes back to the day when shellac was the primary clear finish on most furniture. A filler made from the same material as the finish is naturally compatible. It can accept shellac coatings without making itself known. The application of shellac sticks involves a heat source and a knife like applying tool. I used to use an electric burn in knife but you can also use a palette knife and an alcohol lamp. It takes a bit of practice and experience to get the right amount of shellac where it’s meant to go. To protect the surrounding finish from the heat of the knife there is a product called burn-in balm that does the trick. Basic directions for application techniques can be found at Shellac.net.
Once you have the process dialed in it will become readily apparent how useful this method is. A primary advantage is the wide range of color choices available for matching up to grain or existing stain color. Behlen’s makes at least 21 shades including variations on maple, oak, mahogany, walnut, cherry, and pine. A seven inch stick costs about $4.00 and goes a long way.
The next time you bring home a furniture piece that needs a bit more care than a quick rubdown with Old English polish, remember the time-tested shellac stick. With a little practice you can make defects disappear and keep a classic beauty from becoming firewood.