拆开 (Chāi kāi) essentially means to “take apart” and people often don’t realize that when you restore a piece of Chinese antique furniture, usually in addition to carefully cleaning it, it also usually must be taken apart and entirely refitted back together. Since Chinese furniture rarely uses nails, and instead uses a complex system of pegs and joints, the item can be completely disassembled, with the pieces spread out over the workshop floor.
This serves a few different purposes. First and foremost, it allows the carpenter to tighten/re-peg the joinery. This in turn stabilizes the entire structure, as joints may gradually become loose over the years due to changes in climate, shrinkage in the wood and/or excess handling.
At the same time, gaps, larger cracks, splits or shrinkages that have developed over time can also be eliminated. Refitting the pieces back together, allows these gaps can be closed, (though at the same time essentially also reducing the piece in overall size though only by a few millimeters).
Even in the case of genuine antiques, its not uncommon for them to have had varying amounts of work done to them over the years (regardless of whether those repairs occurred over hundred years ago or thirty years ago). Then there are also outright fakes as well as part old-part new pieces reassembled or repaired using other antique components/spare parts. Sometimes this is not so obvious even to the trained eye. However, when the piece is taken apart, areas that have been replaced or repaired will become much more obvious and easy to spot.
Cleaning, (often involving a careful wet sanding) is another important step and I cannot imagine when customers tell me they would like to take the piece home “as is.”
Final steps usually involve stain or lacquer and almost always some amount of wax – always applied 100% by hand.
And finally, in the end, the piece is completely reassembled and ready to go. Often the end buyer has no clue as to the hours of skilled work put into bringing these pieces back to life! No excuses anymore though! 😉