If you want to refinish antique furniture, you will need to at least learn the basics of repairing antique furniture. Many pieces of antique furniture will need to be reglued somewhere. Older glues will usually start to breakdown after many years of use. This is especially true of antique chairs.
The two essentials to reglue any piece of furniture are a good glue and the proper clamp. Many people prefer the traditional wood glue. It is easy to cleanup with just water. It takes several hours to dry properly. I love the new epoxy glues that are on the market. They offer much faster drying times, some as short as five minutes. I might add that this seems wonderful, but sometimes this is just too fast and the glue will start to set before you want it too. I usually went with the 30 minute glues. But they do require something other than water for cleanup. Different glues require different solvents for cleanup.
The secret for any good glue job is preparation. You need to remove as much of the old glue as possible. This can be the toughest part of the job, but it is essential. When using traditional wood glue this step is especially critical. The two part epoxy glues are a little more forgiving, but still get as much old glue removed as you possibly can.
When regluing chairs the temptation is to try to force the glue into the smallest opening rather than completely knocking the chair apart. If you are not careful when you knock the chair apart, you can easily break them. Unfortunately, I speak from the voice of experience. If you strip a chair, be sure and let the chair dry completely (usually a day) before testing to see if it needs to be reglued. When the chair is wet from stripping the wood will swell and the joints will seem to be tighter than they really are. You want to be sure and use a dead blow hammer that will not mar the wood. Unfortunately, the dowels will often break and you will need to replace them. If you need to drill them out, this is really tough because they seem to always be at an odd angle. So be careful here or the chair will not fit back together correctly with the new dowels.
After a good glue, you need good wood clamps to glue anything properly. Make sure that the clamp will not dent the wood when clamped. I love old antique clamps, but hey have nothing covering the metal. We added thick felt to protect the wood. Most new clamps have a protective covering. I mentioned chairs, but these steps apply to any glue job. There are even some heavy rubber covers that will fit right on the jaws of the clamps. I personally don’t like the clamps where you squeeze the “trigger” to tighten the clamp, but that is a personal choice. I prefer the clamps that you crank the handle to tighten. Don’t over tighten and squeeze all of the glue out of the joints. I prefer using clamps when possible. There are belt type devices for gluing. I saw a Youtube video where someone was using a bungee cord, which I definitely do not recommend.
There are some minor glue jobs when restoring furniture. Many times a piece of trim or veneer will need to be reglued, if you have the piece. There are some instant glues that are activated with a spray on activator. Others just glue in a minute or less. Be careful when using these, especially the ones with activators. These can cause severe burns. A friend had his eyelids glued together using one of these glues. He was gluing a piece together and hit it on both sides to make it snug. When he hit it back together, some of the glue squirted out into his eyes, instantly gluing his eyelids together. Others have glued their fingers together. Many of the glues have their own glue removers since runs will harden almost immediately. A razor blade will usually remove this easily.
Since this article has gone long enough I will stop here and write other articles on restoring antique furniture that cover other areas of furniture restoration.