Introduction: Restoration of an Estate Sale Find... a 100-year-old Antique Picture Frame.

My wife and I received this 100-year-old picture frame as a gift from our friend, TR, from his 50+ year-old collection of estate sale finds. Darlene fell in love with the frame, even though it had been damaged - losing much of of the gold gilt carvings along the outer edge. She saw it for what it - once again - could be... rather than just disgarding it as damaged goods.

Darlene commented that she remembered the stories I had told her of my friend Jim’s restoration abilities (Jim has been a restorer of antiques for more than 30 years) and felt I should consult Jim’s advise on restoring the frame. As I mentioned in the previous post, I had watched Jim do many repairs using Bondo - so, I gave him a call.

This restoration calls for a commitment of time, as well as, trial and error. But, as you can tell by the photo of the restored frame, it is well worth it.

If you are not already familiar with using a compound like Bondo, please refer to the manufacturer’s label for instructions on mixing and time allowed for the setting, or hardening, as well as, any information about the correct handling of Bondo.

Step 1: Getting Started

To begin the project we started with a thorough cleaning of both the remaining gold gilt carvings and the area which had lost the carvings, breaking loose any pieces which looked like they might come off eventually. We also cleaned the outer wood molding with mineral spirits and #0000 steel wool to prepare for a  new top coat of sprayed on Delft clear finish (from a aresol can.)

Step 2: Making a Mold From the Good Parts of the Carvings

After choosing an area of the frame within the gold gilt carving, which we wished to copy, we applied to that area (and a little beyond) some Johnson’s paste floor wax. Applying the wax very generously on the surface of the carving, without letting it build up in any crevice that would alter the carving, will allow the mold created with the Bondo to peel off - before it sets to hard - leaving the carving underneath undisturbed.

Step 3: Preparing the New Mold to Pour First Replacement Piece

Cleaning out this mold, scraping or cutting any areas where there might have been an air bubble, filling these areas with more Bondo, and then coating it with a light layer of the floor wax, will give us a mold we can use to pour more than one section. This is because, if you look closely, you will notice that most of the carving is a repeat pattern and may be duplicated by repeating the molding process.

Step 4: Pouring the First Pieces and Fitting Them Into Place

Once the mold we have created with the Bondo has been peeled from the frame, allowed to harden, cleaned, and more wax applied, we are ready to pour our first replacement molding. Again, we don’t want the pour (Bondo) to fully harden before we peel if from the mold (see manufacturer’s label for hardening times and conditions.) Cutting the pieces to fit the areas, such as the corners and large gaps, are easily accomplished with any fine toothed saw, such as a flush-cut or miter saw. After fitting each piece for its particular area, apply wood glue to the backside of the new moldings and fix them to the bare wood frame.

Step 5: Cleaning Up the New Fixed Moldings

Now to clean up the new fixed moldings, look for areas that may have had an air bubble - or any area that just doesn’t look like the rest of the carvings. Clean these areas by cutting, scraping, or sanding away the raised imperfections and filling (with Bondo) the low areas, as well as, the places where the different poured pieces join together (along the edge and at the corners.) When you are finished and have done well, you should be able to distinguish the old from the new only because the new still lacks a finish. :-)

Step 6: Applying the Gold and the Antique Finish

At most hobby stores you can find a gold glaze that behaves like a paste. This is what we want to use for the finish, rather than any spray (or brush on) paint. This glaze will have a luster to it that's hard to achieve with paint. We used an artist’s brush to apply the gold glaze - working it into the crevices of the carvings. If we stopped here we’d have a finish that was easily detected as newer than the rest. So, after the gold glaze has fully dried, we apply a coating of antiquing glaze (experimenting with an area not easily seen to check blending with the old finish) and then wipe off the glaze - wiping off the highlights - attempting to blend the depth with the old finish.

Step 7: Finishing Up

The final step is to reassemble the cleaned and newly blending pieces of the frame (don’t forget to touch up any wood parts that may have knicks in the stain) and applying a light coat of Delft clear varnish to the frame.

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Bio: Steve is a retired commercial photographer, who specialized in marketing antiques, fine furnishings, and objects of art for more than 30 years, now teaching others ... More »
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