Furniture polishers/finishers/restorers repair and protect pieces of modern and old furniture, returning them as closely as possible to their original condition. They normally work with wood, but some pieces may include other materials such as glass and metal. As well as furniture, they may work on other objects made of wood such as musical instruments.
Restorers repair and renovate furniture. The work can range from minor repairs, such as re-gluing an arm or drawer, to completely rebuilding a piece, including making missing parts. They sometimes work on old pieces, but very rare or expensive items are usually dealt with by conservators.
The job combines practical skills, such as upholstery and polishing, with specialist knowledge of certain types of furniture or periods of furniture making. Restorers also need to understand why furniture deteriorates, and often keep written and photographic records of projects, including before and after photographs.
Some restorers who work on valuable or antique furniture may need to be skilled in marquetry, which involves the use of small pieces of inlaid wood, or gilding, which is a process of adding gold paint or gold leaf.
Polishers and finishers prepare and treat wood to give it a smooth finish and bring out its natural beauty. With antique furniture and some specially commissioned modern pieces, polishing and finishing are carried out by hand. Building up layers of polish is a slow and methodical process. With mass-produced items, restorers usually use a pressure spray-painting method. Polishers and finishers may also be involved in carrying out simple repairs.
Some tasks are common to furniture polishers, finishers and restorers, such as:
Some furniture polishers and finishers specialise in polishing by hand, using shellac (a type of resin) dissolved in methylated spirits, a technique known as French polishing.
Furniture polishers/finishers/restorers might be part of a team or work on their own.
Self-employment is possible, particularly for French polishers.
Furniture polishers/finishers/restorers work on a wide range of furniture from offices, shops, private houses, hotels and historic properties.
If they work for manufacturers or other organisations, they usually work standard office hours, Monday to Friday. Their hours of work vary and they may have to work during evenings and weekends in order to meet deadlines.
Most polishing and finishing work is carried out in workshops, where conditions may be dusty and where some lacquers and varnishes are toxic and strong smelling. Fume or dust extractors should be fitted. When necessary, workers wear overalls, dust masks and goggles. Polishers also wear gloves.
The work involves a lot of standing, bending over the work and sometimes lifting heavy furniture.
Sometimes French polishing is carried out on customers' premises.
Usual starting salaries may be around £12,500 a year. With experience, this may rise to £25,000, or more.
Very experienced, specialist restorers may earn £40,000 or more.
Self-employed polishers and restorers set their own fees or negotiate prices for individual jobs.
There are around 11,000 furniture polishers/finishers/
restorers working in the UK. Although jobs are available throughout the country, they are scarce and there is often strong competition for them.
Employers include furniture manufacturers, small businesses specialising in French polishing or restoration and specialist organisations such as English Heritage and the National Trust. Restorers may also work for museums, auction houses and antique dealers.
Job vacancies are advertised in the local press, in Jobcentre Plus offices and on the websites of employers and recruitment agencies.
There are no set entry requirements to become a furniture polisher/finisher/restorer, although some employers prefer applicants with GCSE's (A*-C). Useful subjects are design and technology, history and art.
Some employers offer Apprenticeships in:
- Wood machining
- Making and installing furniture
- Making and repairing hand-crafted furniture and furnishings
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Diploma in manufacturing and product design may be relevant for this area of work.
Some people have relevant qualifications before entering employment, including:
Higher education courses are also available and are often taken by people who intend to run their own restoration businesses. These cover design, as well as practical skills, and include:
Entry to a Higher National Certificate/Diploma (HNC/HND) or foundation degree course is usually with a minimum of one A level or equivalent. Entry to a degree course is usually with five GCSE's (A*-C) and a minimum of two A levels or equivalent. Those without the usual entry qualifications can take an Access course. It is important to check specific entry requirements with individual colleges and universities.
Postgraduate qualifications in furniture conservation and restoration are also available.
Normal colour vision is essential.
Self-employed polishers and restorers are likely to need a driving licence.
Restorers working for museums and heritage bodies often receive specialist training, while restorers/polishers/finishers working for small craft shops often train on the job, learning from a more experienced colleague. Day release for training courses is also common.
There are NVQ's covering furniture and practical skills. These include:
The British Antique Furniture Restorers' Association runs training courses for people working with antique and historic items or for Associate members seeking to enter the field.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A furniture polisher/finisher/restorer should:
Experienced furniture polishers/finishers/restorers who work for manufacturers and large conservation organisations could gain promotion to supervisory, managerial or training roles.
Those who are self-employed could work for, or in association with, a furniture restorer or antique dealer.
British Antique Furniture Restorers' Association,
The Old Rectory, Warmwell, Dorchester,
Dorset DT2 8HQ
Tel: 01305 854822
English Heritage, Kemble Drive,
Swindon, Wiltshire SN2 2YP
Tel: 0870 333 1181
National Trust, PO Box 39,
Warrington WA5 7WD
Tel: 0844 800 1895
Rycotewood Furniture Centre,
Oxford and Cherwell Valley College,
Oxpens Road, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 1SA
Tel: Tel: 01865 550550
Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers,
Furniture Makers' Hall, 12 Austin Friars,
London EC2N 2HE
Tel: 020 7256 5558
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.