Friday, 10 June 2005

How to stop your antique furniture turning to dust

Español | Deutsche | Français | Italiano | Português

Originally uploaded by Christopher Proudlove.

by Christopher Proudlove©

It's that time of year again: High Noon either for your antique furniture ... or the beetles eating it. But action now can prevent the worst.

Fact is, between now and the end of August, the tiny larvae of the Common Furniture Beetle, Anobium punctatum, that have been chewing their way through your woodwork, emerge as adults. They then either fly or walk to the next piece to find a mate, lay their eggs and start the process all over again.

The result in the best-case scenario is a piece of furniture whose strength is seriously undermined by the tiny tunnelling and chomping, or worst case, a piece reduced to a pile of dust.

Restoring antique furniture is generally something best left to the experts, but eradicating woodworm is a relatively straightforward job that even a novice D-I-Yer can handle.

Woodworm is one of the worst enemies of fine furniture. On acquiring a new piece the first thing you should do is inspect all surfaces for the peppering of tiny holes, about 1-2mm in diameter, that say "woodworm has been here".

These are the exit or flight holes, meaning that the adult beetle has emerged from the piece after spending up to five years tunnelling through it as a grub.

The telltale signs of active woodworm are tiny piles of light coloured powder, known as frass, which appear on the carpet. Frass is made up of the "leftover" bits of wood that the woodworm couldn't digest.

If you're in any doubt as to whether the dust did, in fact, come from the piece of furniture in question, tap it sharply and if the grubs are active, you'll see powder spill from the holes.

The common furniture beetle is choosy about what it eats. It prefers timber that is more than 15 years old.

Softwoods, particularly the old-fashioned three-ply wood from cheap deal bonded by animal glue is top of the menu.

However, one wood that is usually safe from attack is mahogany - too rich perhaps! But don't let that lull you into a false sense of security. It is only solid mahogany that the beetles pass by.

Most mahogany furniture is, in fact, mahogany veneer laid on a less important, cheaper wood that is just what the woodworm ordered.

I treat all new pieces of furniture with woodworm killer before it comes into the house and infects other furniture or the fabric of the building. Better to be safe than sorry.

Using one of the reputable brands of woodworm fluid, inject each hole with a liberal dose of fluid and brush it on unvarnished surfaces, such as the underside and inside of drawers. The fluid seeps into the wood, protecting it and killing any beetles that come into contact.

Even though flight holes may not be visible, a piece may still contain eggs waiting to hatch and, anyway, almost any piece of furniture is vulnerable to attack, so treatment in either case is a safeguard.

Start by turning the piece upside down and brushing the fluid into all the cracks and crevices with a stiff brush.

Susceptible to attack

Make sure any glued blocks are treated because these are often of softwood and particularly susceptible to attack.

Don't forget the surface that is usually in contact with the floor - the rough end grain is an ideal spot from eggs to be laid.

A word or two of warning: woodworm fluid is most unpleasant when inhaled, so use it in a well-ventilated room.

And when squirting it into the flightholes, watch it doesn't squirt back into your face out of another hole. It sounds funny... until it happens to you, so wear goggles to be safe!

You should also allow furniture to dry thoroughly - preferably outside in the fresh air - before using it.

Having treated all the old pieces of wood in your home with a proprietary woodworm killer, what next?

First off, the beetles' old flightholes might need filling and concealing, particularly if they are situated in an area that is noticeable, such as the arm of a chair.

Best plan is to use a beeswax stick, which should be melted and coloured to match the wood to which it is being applied.

The wax and dry pigments are available at hardware shops and some antique shops. Alternatively you could use plastic wood, which comes in several different colours.

If years of attack by woodworm have gone unchecked, it might be that the strength of a piece of furniture - the leg of a chair, for example - has been weakened unacceptably.

This could result in nothing more embarrassing than helping the boss's wife to her feet in the middle of a dinner party!

In this case, you have a choice: either replace the part in question - a job for a specialist and, therefore, potentially a costly exercise - or you could try strengthening it yourself, although this might try your patience.

If you fancy putting it and your D-I-Y skills to the test, here's how to proceed: first, a "collar" should be fashioned around the affected part in something like plasticine or clay.

Next, mix a synthetic glue - they can be bought from good DIY shops - and pour it gently on top of the area being treated.

Your glue should be fairly runny, so it seeps into the honeycomb of holes. The patience comes in to ensure that the wood gets a liberal soaking.

Heat can help achieve full penetration but take care, as the glue is usually highly flammable. The excess should be wiped clear and the area left long enough for the glue to set hard.

Thereafter, you should "feed" the wood with a good wax polish. Some brands contain insecticidal additives that deter attack by the pests. They should be used periodically after a fluid treatment, but don't expect them to kill off any woodworm already active in the wood - they won't.

Pictures show, top: The Common Furniture Beetle, Anobium punctatum

Below:Dealing with woodworm is a job anyone can handle

woodworm low res

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home