Basic Tools for Repairing Antiques

Regardless of what you’re working on, having the right kind of tools makes everything that follows easier. Today, we’re going to talk about some of the basic tools you might need if you plan on repairing an old piece of wooden furniture. There are many different types of repair you might make, depending on the construction and period, i.e., replacing veneer, touching up grain painting, gluing a split chair seat or table top, replacing a stretcher bar, or generally just tightening up or replacing lost screws.

Before attempting any repair, it is good to know a few things about old furniture and what to watch out for.

1)  Don’t tighten screws too tightly, this may cause the wood to split. Also, if you are replacing an old screw with a Phillips head, be sure the length and diameter are correct or there might be damage to the surrounding wood or other side if the screw is too long.

2)  Use a good quality wood glue, some glues will expand or not dry clear causing more problems than they fix. Always wipe up excess glue with a damp cloth. Once excess dripped glue dries, you will not be able to get it off without causing surface damage.

3)  If using clamps to hold pieces together while gluing, always use a pad of some sort between the clamp and the wood. This padding might be pieces of old leather, cardboard, folded fabric, etc. Not doing so may result in permanent damage, i.e, dents, cracking or splitting to the surface wood or veneer. Again, if using glue, don’t allow the glue to come in contact with the padding.

4)  Use good quality wood dowels or shims where needed, i.e. in a screw hole to replace a wobbly screw, underside of chairs to steady. Folded pieces of paper or cardboard should never be used for any repair job as it will eventually compress or deteriorate over time and you’ll have wasted your time repairing the piece.

Cutting Tools

Box cutter – excellent for cutting out pieces of veneer to be replaced

Exacto blade – good for lifting veneer edges, removing old glue from cane or dowel holes

Drilling Tools

Hand drill – great for drilling out holes where old wood remains (have good assortment of bits available)

Push drill – lots of control for making holes in wood or plastic

Awls – good for starting holes (screw or nail)

Gripping Tools

C clamp – provides light manual pressure

Spring clamp – these come in a variety of sizes and are easy to use

Mitre clamp – good for frames and chairs

Straps with ratchet – good for odd shaped pieces of furniture, chairs and anywhere else you can’t afix a manual clamp

Bar clamps – these can be adjusted to any length and are made by purchasing the clamp parts that easily slide onto metal pipe. Excellent for over-sized items and can be adjusted to any length by sliding the clamp up and down the pipe.

Sawing Tools

Razor saw – good for fine cuts or mitred cuts

Coping saw – when curves are needed

Hack saw – when you need to cut metal

Scraping Tools

Various sizes of scrapper (putty knives) are handy to apply fillers, glue, mix paints, etc.


Standard slotted tip – most common screw found on old furniture. Have a variety of screwdriver sizes as you want to match the screw size as closely as possible so no damage is caused to the screw shoulders.

Ratchet screw driver (spiral) – drives screws easier

Ratchet screw driver (fixed handle) – drives screws easier without altering your grip

Jeweler’s screwdriver – for very small screws, i.e., locks, hardware


You may have noticed that most of the tools discussed are hand tools, we rarely use power tools when repairing old furniture . . . there’s not enough control. Obviously if you were cutting a large piece of wood, a power saw would be helpful. Also, when sanding, the initial sanding is done with a power sander , however, following the application of the finish (Tung Oil) , all sanding is done with fine grit sandpaper. And finally, a power drill can be used, but we find using a collar to limit the depth a real plus.


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