Patina on furniture and other wooden items

The term patina occurs frequently in the world of antiques. But what is it, and how does it occur?

Australian cedar chiffioniere

Australian cedar chiffioniere

Most wooden items over the centuries have had some sort of coating on them to protect and nourish the timber as well as bringing out the natural beauty and colour of the timber. It also makes cleaning easier. Prior to the introduction of French polishing in the late 1700’s, all furniture was simply rubbed with bees wax to protect it. This has produced, over the centuries, a lovely mellow look to the piece. When French polish first became popular, people who were used to the old wax finish found the new process too bright and garish. Today we can also see the mellowness of French polishing that only becomes apparent with age.

Time, use, exposure to sunlight, waxing, polishing and even grime all play a part in imparting a wonderful sheen to timber.

Small wooden items can develop a patina through handling and usage, with the natural oils and sweat from the owners hands building up a lovely colour and sheen. Pieces like this are much sought after by collectors.

Australian cedar cotton reel holder

Australian cedar cotton reel holder

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but when a piece is stripped and repolished, to me it takes away part of it’s history. Layers of grime and discolouration may be removed by gentle cleaning by a good restorer to reveal the beauty beneath. Obviously there are times when stripping has to be done, but such a drastic step should only be a last resort.

Walnut bed

Walnut bed

Rosewood sewing table

Rosewood sewing table