How to Restore Old Picture Frames

Written by patti perry
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How to Restore Old Picture Frames
Old picture frames can be restored with a multitude of speciality products. (old gold picture frame image by Paul Hill from

Restoring old picture frames is a time-intensive process that involves recreating the original patina and shape of the frame. Keeping the old patina, created over time, intact is preferred as you clean the frame, so proceed slowly and carefully. Examine and determine as many of the original characteristics of the frame as possible before you begin cleaning. There are many speciality items for particular frame surfaces; these range from cleaners to sealers and all the conservation materials in between.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Concentrated liquid oil soap
  • Mineral spirit base cleaner
  • 0000 grade steel wool
  • Small paint brush
  • Sharpened 1/4 inch dowel
  • Rags
  • Paper towels
  • Soft cloth
  • Cotton gloves
  • Paste wax
  • Sandpaper
  • Paint stripper
  • Gold leaf powder or liquid
  • Fillers
  • Wood stain
  • Finish

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  1. 1

    Check the corners of the frame by wiggling it and seeing if any of the corners are loose. If it is necessary to pry the frame, do so on the back, never on the surface or from the outside. Repair the corners in a method similar to the original construction.

  2. 2

    Test any chemicals and restoration methods in an inconspicuous area to see effects.

  3. 3

    Clean with a mineral spirit-base cleaner, orange oil or other concentrated liquid oil soap. Use a small paint brush to apply cleaner to tight areas and allow it to penetrate before removing.

  4. 4

    Sharpen a 1/4-inch dowel and use to clean in deep crevices.

  5. 5

    Use 0000 steel wool to remove old finishing products. Remember, be certain that you like the effects of this process from your test area before you begin on the front of the frame.

  6. 6

    Dry with rags and paper towels.

  7. 7

    Clean a second time to be certain you have all old wax and polishes removed.

  8. 8

    Buff with a soft cloth and examine the cleaned surface. Put cotton gloves on and see if you feel any snags as you rub the frame. If you like this appearance, you may be finished.

  9. 9

    Apply paste wax at this point if you prefer to give a slight lustre to the frame; apply and remove this wax with a soft cloth.

  10. 10

    Dry for 24 hours.

  1. 1

    Sand any rough areas with fine sandpaper; work on small areas at a time. Thoroughly clean all dust off the frame before proceeding.

  2. 2

    Apply a paint stripper, if necessary.

  3. 3

    Determine if there is any gold leaf missing from the frame and replace with a powder or liquid product.

  4. 4

    Use a filler that is compatible with your frame to fill any missing areas.

  5. 5

    Stain with a colour you prefer.

  6. 6

    Finish with your choice of products, from lacquer to polyurethane. Boiled linseed oil was the preferred finish on many old frames. If you choose lacquer, do not over-brush or apply too thinly.

Tips and warnings

  • Wear gloves to keep any harsh agents from your skin.
  • A toothbrush makes a fine stiff brush for cleaning frames.
  • Shellac finishes can not be cleaned with denatured alcohol, as it is a solvent for shellac.

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