Furniture Polisher/Finisher/Restorer

The Job and What's Involved

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:

  • Discussing customers' requirements.
  • Removing objects such as knobs or hinges.
  • Preparing the wood by smoothing it, either by hand with abrasive paper or by machine.
  • Stripping old paint, varnish or lacquer, using paint stripper, wire wool or sandpaper.
  • Filling holes and preparing and sanding the wood, sometimes using power tools.
  • Mixing colours or stains and applying them with a brush or rag, or spraying on lacquers.

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.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

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.

Education and Training

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.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

The Diploma in manufacturing and product design may be relevant for this area of work.

Some people have relevant qualifications before entering employment, including:

  • City & Guilds Level 2 Certificate or Level 3 Diploma in furniture production.
  • NCFE Awards at Levels 1 to 3 in creative craft using furniture crafts.

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:

  • Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) in furniture, fine craft and restoration or furniture restoration.
  • Foundation degree in furniture design or furniture restoration.
  • Honours degree in furniture, furniture restoration or furniture conservation, restoration and decorative arts.

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.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

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:

  • Level 2 in making and installing furniture, furniture making, finishing furniture or restoring furniture.
  • Level 3 in making and repairing hand-crafted furniture, restoring furniture or design in the furniture, furnishings and interiors industry.

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.

Featured Job Guide - Ambulance Technician

Ambulance Technician

As an ambulance technician you would respond to accident and emergency calls, as well as a range of planned and unplanned non-emergency cases. You would usually work in a team, providing support to a paramedic during the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of patients at the scene of an incident and during hospital transfers.

You may use life saving skills as part of your day-to-day work.

________________________________________________________________________________

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A furniture polisher/finisher/restorer should:

  • Have good hand skills.
  • Be patient and methodical.
  • Be able to pay close attention to detail.
  • Be able to interpret drawings and designs.
  • Have an eye for shape and colour.
  • Be good at dealing with customers.

Your Long Term Prospects

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.

Get Further Information

British Antique Furniture Restorers' Association,
The Old Rectory, Warmwell, Dorchester,
Dorset DT2 8HQ
Tel: 01305 854822
Website: www.bafra.org.uk

English Heritage, Kemble Drive,
Swindon, Wiltshire SN2 2YP
Tel: 0870 333 1181
Website: www.english-heritage.org.uk

National Trust, PO Box 39,
Warrington WA5 7WD
Tel: 0844 800 1895
Website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Proskills UK, Centurion Court, 85b Milton Park,
Abingdon, Oxfordshire OX14 4RY
Tel: 01235 833844
Websites: www.proskills.co.uk and www.prospect4u.co.uk

Rycotewood Furniture Centre,
Oxford and Cherwell Valley College,
Oxpens Road, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 1SA
Tel: Tel: 01865 550550
Website: www.ocvc.ac.uk

Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers,
Furniture Makers' Hall, 12 Austin Friars,
London EC2N 2HE
Tel: 020 7256 5558
Website: www.furnituremkrs.co.uk

Other Related Jobs

Additional resources