Dirt, dirt and more dirt – cleaning a late Ming table via wet sand as part of the antique restoration process

restoring chinese antiques - wet sanding

late ming dynasty chinese antique square table from Shanxi

Recently we restored a late Ming dynasty square table from Shanxi province. Beautiful table and I thought it might be interesting to show the images of the cleaning process occurs which primarily involves a careful wet sand. Known in Chinese as 打水磨, its a unavoidable part of any antique restoration.

restoring chinese antiques - wet sanding
What a nasty mess! Removing about 300 to 400 years of accumulated dirt on this late Ming table is a time consuming process, which takes several hours at least. Patina? I think not – this is nothing but several hundred years of pure filth…  The beautiful underlying patina and original lacquer will only be revealed when the grime is removed.

wet sanding to clean antiques

Tools of the trade…. using a wet sand to remove grim looks easy. Its NOT.. Too much pressure and you remove the finish. Not enough pressure and you simply move the dirt around. Not enough water and you leave scratches. Wrong direction and you leave scratches… Oh and after a few minutes, anyone’s back will start to ache.
A careful gentle wet sand using a very fine grit paper reveals not only how filthy this table became over the years but also the beautiful deep burgundy original lacquer below. I always chuckle when a customer considers placing an item in their home without any any cleaning. Mud is mud is mud..!
Chinese_antique_restoring_dirt_removal process
In addition to the lower legs, obviously the top of the table would have accumulated quite a bit of grim over the years. Fruit juice, broth, oil? Your guess is as good as mine…
top section of ming table before cleaning and after-resized
Once the dirt has been removed, generally a coat of wax or a coat of stain is reapplied depending on the desired final look. In some cases a very light wax for a raw look is desired. In others, a more refined look is preferred. In this case a light coat of shellac and a wax was chosen. The completed piece is now restored to its original glory while retaining the character and wear accumulated over the years (but MINUS the dirt 😉 ). On a side note – note the heaving thick frame on the top. Always a good indicator of age as the earlier the piece, the thicker more robust the construction and materials.
restored chinese antique furniture
On a side note, a similar table can be found in C.L Ma’s Book “Traditional Chinese Furniture From the Greater Shanxi Region.” Great book – one of the bests, especially if you like Shanxi furniture. Highly recommended and one of the best reference books on Shanxi Furniture.



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