Wood patina is a natural process that develops in exposed wood over time. While there is a wide range of products that can stain, paint or even distress new wood, a true patina cannot be faked. A natural patina is the difference between a high-quality antique and a lesser-quality reproduction.
What is Patina
The patina of antique wood results from a combination of factors. Over time, the wood dries, allowing the resins inside to crystallize in tiny patterns. The exposed wood oxidizes and changes color in much the same way as a cut apple darkens. Each species of wood has a different color of patina from the silvery gray of pine to the deep reddish-brown of mahogany. But wood patina is very thin and fragile. Stripping or sanding the wood destroys the patina and the value of your antique.
Cleaning the Patina
Clean the patina as gently as possible. Because the layer of color is so thin, over time even tiny scratches will damage and wear through the patina. Instead, use a vacuum to pull loose dirt and dust from the piece. Cover the attachment brush with a single layer of cheesecloth. The cloth allows the dirt and dust to pass through while protecting the wood from the stiff attachment brush. Place a drop or two of water on a clean, soft rag. Old cotton T-shirts are good rags for dusting and the water prevents the cloth from scratching the fragile patina. Wipe away any dirt that might cling to corners or crevices of the furniture.
Protecting the Wood
In the past, furniture restoration companies encouraged consumers to use oils to protect wood patina. However, according to Michigan State University, this has changed. Many natural oils have their own color, which affects the natural patina. In addition, the oil attracts dust and holds the tiny particles deep in the crevices of the wood. Over time, this unnaturally darkens the patina. Current restoration experts recommend using carnauba wax. Carnauba wax is the same product used to protect your car’s finish. When looking for the wax, choose the all-natural carnauba. Do not use paste wax with silicon.
Waxing the Patina
Fold a clean piece of cheesecloth into quarters. Place a lump of carnuba paste wax in the center of the folded cloth. Pull the edges of the folded cloth up around the wax and secure with a rubber band. Hold the rubber band side of the cheesecloth in your hand. Rub the lump of wax in the cheesecloth with the grain of the wood. Work with a small section of wood at a time. Rub the wax into the wood. Buff the wax to a shine with a soft rag. Place your antique furniture in an area away from direct sunlight and heating vents. Both will break down the patina over time.
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