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A Guide to Wooden Furniture Restoration Tools

Primary Tools: Clamps, Sanding Tools, Paintbrushes
©2006 Publications International A strap clamp is especially useful for joint repairs; a buckle device can tighten it to the required pressure.

Before you begin any furniture repair or restoration project at home, make sure your workshop includes clamps, sanding tools, and the other basic tools mentioned below.

Clamps: Several sizes of C-clamps, strap clamp, bar clamps. Clamps are a must for furniture repair; you will probably use clamps more than any other tool. Fortunately, clamps are inexpensive (except wooden hand screws) so you can probably afford a good assortment.

C-clamps look like large letter C's with a turnscrew at the bottom, hence the name. You can buy them in lightweight aluminum or heavier steel. To start out, buy six C-clamps, two of each size you choose.

A strap clamp is a strap with a buckle device on the end. You can use this clamp to hold irregular surfaces together. Rope may be substituted for a strap clamp, but you can't get pressure from rope unless you wedge a stick between two strands of the rope, twisting the rope tight. This isn't always possible in a restricted work area.

Bar clamps are steel bars with clamping devices on each end. It's more economical to buy bar clamp fixtures that fit on the ends of standard galvanized steel water pipe. The length of the clamp is determined by the length of the pipe.

Sanding Tools: Padded sanding blocks, foam blocks, dowel or garden hose. On most surfaces, use a block of scrap wood padded with a piece of thick felt; on curved surfaces, wrap the sandpaper around a thick piece of foam. Commercial rubber sanding blocks are made with metal teeth to hold the paper in position and may be easier to use. There are also flexible sanding blocks with rough exteriors that are suitable.

On concave curves, wrap sandpaper around a piece of dowel the same diameter as the curve, or slit a piece of rubber garden hose and wrap the paper around it, with the ends held in the slit. You can also purchase sanding cord to slide in and out of concave surfaces. The rotary sanding attachment of an electric drill can be used on hard-to-get-at areas; it uses thin strips of sandpaper to smooth rough spots without flattening the wood. Do not use a wire brush or sanding disc attachment.

Glue Injector: The glue injector, used to force glue into loose furniture joints, looks and works like a hypodermic syringe. It can save a lot of time and trouble when making joint repairs.

Doweling Jig or Dowel Center Points: These tools are also used for repairs and for doweling joints and flat components. The doweling jig is a clamplike device that fits against the edge of a part; it has an adjustable sleeve to accept a drill bit. The doweling jig is used where dowel holes must be drilled into both joining parts. Dowel center points, small points used to mark the drilling location, can also be used, but they do not guide the drill bit; it's much harder to align the dowel holes. A doweling jig is more expensive, but if you'll be doing much repair work, it's worth the price.

Paintbrushes: For applying paint and varnish remover, throwaway brushes are fine, but for finish application, use only good-quality natural-bristle brushes. Use a different brush for each type of finish. The same brush should not be used for both varnish and shellac. Brush requirements will vary from project to project, but for most pieces of furniture, a 2- to 3-inch brush is best. Discard brushes if they become damaged or deteriorated, or use them as throwaways.

Lint Pickers: Varnish and enamel finishes dry slowly, giving lint and dust a chance to settle in the finish. To remove, make a lint picker using a long fireplace match without the head. Melt rosin -- either music or baseball -- roll it into a ball, and stick it onto the end of the matchstick. Use the lint picker by touching the ball of rosin carefully to pick up the lint.

If you have the time and money, you should consider purchasing secondary tools for your workshop. They aren't necessary for repairs, but they also can save you time on any project. We'll look at some of those additional tools in the next section.