Even fire restoration professionals know that when fragile, antique furniture is on the docket, they need to call in a conservator – but when the furniture is only mildly damaged and not an antique, they can provide numerous strategies that save the insurance company serious replacement fees. For example, let’s say the fire fighters scratched some dark wood furniture – not much, just a few small abrasions. A fire restoration professional may simply use the meat of a walnut or pecan to rub the scuff marks. The oil from the nut will darken it in so that even an owner would be hard pressed to find them. If the scratches are numerous but shallow, a good, hard, paste-wax often does the trick and if the scratches are few in number, but deeper, they might use furniture repair or “patching” sticks. These come in a variety of colors and most hardware stores carry them. The “putty” or “wax” fills in the scratch, then can be flattened with the edge of a plastic spatula or even a credit card. Once it dries, it can be polished with a soft cloth until it is virtually invisible to the naked eye. When water gets trapped under the shellac or lacquer, it makes white spots. These can sometimes be polished out with a good furniture polish, but when it cannot, they switch to denatured alcohol – but the alcohol can only be used by a professional because too much of it will actually damage the surface. Of course a furniture repair shop can perform the same services, but fire restoration professionals have trained personnel who can do it in their facility at a significant savings over the cost of replacing.
On a different subject one of our earlier editions of The Bayou Brief we told the story of a fire restoration team that cleaned all the coins in a bank with ultrasonics. What wasn’t included in that article is the fact that when they are dealing with antique coins, they don’t clean them with ultrasonics, they don’t polish them with silver polish, they don’t dip them in restorative silver cleaners – they don’t even use tooth brushes or cotton swabs (micro-scratches might be acceptable on a brass doorknob, but not on an antique coin). Coin collectors prefer the genuine surface on a coin – not one that has been thoroughly cleaned and polished – they don’t even like fingerprints! So what can a fire restoration professional do? They handle the coins by their edges, over a soft towel (in case they are dropped). If the surface is occluded with mud or soot, they will gently swish them through a solution of soapy, non-abrasive, non-etching liquid – but, as mentioned before, even the acids from a “fingerprint” can eventually etch the surface of a valued coin. When in doubt, the fire restoration professionals turn to their “million dollar rolodex” and such organizations as the American Numismatic Association or the Professional Numismatic Guild to locate a local conservationist who can restore the coins to their exacting standards.