Aug 27, 2013

Household Goods Weights and Measures

Here's a handy chart that I put together a few years ago when I helped down-sizers move to their new homes. It's indispensable when figuring what your shipment of household goods weighs, and how much space it will take up in the moving truck. Van lines charge according to weight and distance and this chart will help you determine if you are being overcharged. Click the Link below:

Household Goods Weights and Measures

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Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?

Your teenage grandkids probably don't want to inherit the collectibles you now cherish. But don’t despair; the value one places on family heirlooms changes as one matures. To a 15 year old, grandpa’s journal is just a dust collector. When that 15 year old reaches 45, the same journal becomes a treasure of family history.

What treasures are stored in your home that you want to pass on to members of your family? Will your family members cherish and enjoy them as much as you do?

In my business as an Estate Personal Property Appraiser, I have discovered that deciding who gets Grandpa’s baseball glove or Grandmas cookie cutters can be among the most challenging decisions a family can make.

Although these items are just “stuff”, the personal belongings of a loved one can trigger memories and feelings about the person who once owned the item. I once watched two siblings resort to shouting to see who would get moms favorite Christmas tree ornament. I have often been told by Estate Attorneys that it is frequently the personal property, not the titled property that causes the most problems when settling an estate.

There are no magic formulas available for deciding who gets what, but research has identified six steps in the process. They are:

1. Understand that the gifting of your personal property may have emotional consequences for your family.
2. Determine what you want to accomplish. Is it your goal to maintain privacy? To have an equal and fair distribution? To preserve and care for the item given?
3. Decide what is fair in the context of your family.
4. Understand that belongings have different meanings for different individuals.
5. Consider distribution options and consequences.
6. Agree to manage conflicts if they arise.

Most of all, you have to decide to decide. After all is said and done, the property is yours and you may do with it as you please. Don’t let your family fight over your possessions. Be proactive; discuss the distribution of your property with your family members, and make a list so that your wishes will be known.

My mother spent the last decade of her life discussing with her five children who would get what. She kept a list, and put a sticker on the bottom of each item so there would be no question as to what her wishes were. Although there was one item that I wanted that went to a sibling, I was comforted to know that mom's wishes were fulfilled.

For those of you with complex family issues, help is available. The University of Minnesota Extension Service has a workbook entitled Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate? that’s available by calling the Extension Service at 1-800-876-8636.

Does Debt Die With the Debtor?

Debt does not die with the debtor, but instead is placed on life support and faces the possibility of having the plug pulled at any time.

When one dies, one’s property and debts become an estate probate issue.  Each state has it's own set of probate rules to assure that the deceased’s debts are paid, and that their property is distributed according to their wishes.  Probate laws vary from state to state and can become complicated.  However, a few common-sense considerations make the whole process understandable.

Determining if debt dies with the debtor can be greatly simplified by asking the three questions below.  Regardless of what state you live in and how your property and debts are held, these questions must be answered.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume the deceased was married, is male, and had one wife in his lifetime who survived him.  In forty-one states, the house, along with all household goods and jointly titled property would go to the surviving spouse.  Answering the three questions below will clarify whether the credit card debt gets paid.

Who Owns The Debt?

When debt is jointly held, all parties to the debt are equally responsible for payment of the debt.  Married individuals who have jointly held credit cards are responsible for the debt if the spouse defaults or dies.  Joint responsibility also applies to co-signed loans; if one party dies or defaults the other must pay.   In this instance, the debt lives.

Credit card debt that was owed exclusively by the deceased will fall to the estate for payment, and the debt continues on life support.

Who Owns The Property?

The deceased’s property can be sold to pay credit card debt, so it is important to identify property that belongs only to the deceased.  In our example, all the household goods, the house, money in a joint checking account and other jointly held assets automatically become the property of the wife, so they cannot be sold to pay the deceased husband's debts.

So, if the husband had no assets in his name exclusively, there would be nothing to sell, no cash in a bank account, and no money in the estate to pay his debts.  Credit card debts owed exclusively by the deceased would die here, because there is no money with which to pay them.  If the husband had assets in his name only, those assets could be sold to raise money, so the debts would stay on life support.

Who Owns The Proceeds?

Once the deceased’s solely owned property has been turned into cash and solely owned debts have been identified, it is now time to consider who gets paid.   Each state has laws that stipulate which creditors get paid first if all creditors cannot be paid.  Administrative expenses, funeral expenses, family allowances, and taxes are a few of the priority payments.  Credit card debt is at the bottom of the priority list.  If there isn’t enough money to pay all the debts, then the credit cards either don’t get paid or they get a pro-rata share of whatever is left.  When the estate runs out of money, unpaid credit card debt dies.

Debt does not automatically die with the debtor; it will linger on life support until the final settlement of the estate.

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Documenting Your Possessions

Insurance companies love to accept premiums but hate to pay claims.  Recently, CNN obtained the training manuals for Allstate Insurance.  The training manuals procedures were based on the recommendations of the New York consulting firm McKinsey & Co...  The manuals outline a plan for Allstate to increase profits by reducing claims payouts.  According to reporter Anderson Cooper, the manuals train insurance adjusters to force “smaller walk-away settlements”, i.e., settle the claim quickly for less money than requested by the policyholder.  Implementation of the McKinsey plan raised Allstate’s profits by 140% from $2.08 billion in 1996 to $4.99 billion in 2006.  Apparently, shortchanging policyholders is good for the bottom line.  With each claim submitted, the insurer’s first challenge to the insured is “prove it”!

A Policyholders Best Defense is Good Documentation

The challenge to prove the value of your household contents is well met with a detailed home inventory.  A home inventory allows a policyholder to keep coverage amounts up-to-date and provides documentation in case a claim must be made.

A detailed home inventory is also useful when you relocate; with it, you will be able to calculate the value of your household goods shipment.  Moving companies charge according to a shipments weight, value, distance travelled, and extra services provided.  If you know your shipments value, you will be able to determine if the mover is charging you fairly.

How to Assemble Your Home Inventory

You will need a helper. One person sorts and counts while the other writes. Start inside the house, and work your way from the top of the house to the bottom. Go room to room with a consistent pattern so that you do not miss anything: always clockwise or counter-clockwise around the room.

Begin by taking a photograph or video of the room, and individual photos of any particularly valuable items.  Write down what is on the walls as well as what is on the floor. For small goods, write down identifiable groups of items such as 200 hardcover books, 100 paperback books, 42 nick-knacks, etc... For any item over $75, write down the brand name, price paid, where you bought it, and the item’s age.  If you can’t remember what you paid for an item, do an online search for the item and note the current price.

On your list, put a star next to any item that you think may be valuable. Get appraisals for antiques, art, and collectibles.  If the nick-knacks are porcelain and the books are first editions, they are valuable items. When you are finished, follow the same procedure for the outbuildings: the garage, shed, workshop, or whatever. If there is a rented self-storage unit, vacation home, recreational vehicle or boat, they will need to be inventoried as well.

What to Do With the Inventory

A thorough inventory is useless if it burns along with your house, or if you can’t find it when you need it.  The best way to ensure access to your inventory is to enter the information into an online inventory database.  The Insurance Information Institute offers free online storage for your home inventory via their Know Your Stuff home inventory software.   The software is easy to use and you can log in from any computer.  Software video training is offered for free on the Institutes web site.

You’ll Also Get Peace of Mind

Your possessions are a reflection of your personality; we tend to accumulate the things that we love.  A thorough home inventory won’t bring back things that are stolen or destroyed, but it will enable you to be treated fairly by your insurance company.

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Article Spinners: The Death of Originality

Imagine that you are a songwriter.  You have a musical phrase running through your head, so you pick up your guitar and start playing with the idea.  You build upon each turn of the melody, instinctively drawn to chords that lend vibrancy and mood to your music.  You have a nice hook, an interesting melody, and a catchy bridge.  You are happy with the result, so you proudly publish your song to the internet.

Two weeks later you find that someone has taken your song, randomly changed your melody and chords, and credited you as the composer.  The song that you so carefully crafted has been broken into random bits that bear little resemblance to your original work.  Such poorly conceived and executed work harms your reputation as a songwriter.

Of course, one can’t randomly change the notes in a musical melody without altering the melody beyond recognition; the result would be so bad that no one would listen to it.  Yet, would-be internet marketers destroy writers work every day with article spinners.

An article spinner is software which analyzes text, finds synonyms for selected words, and then re-writes the article using the synonyms.  The goal of a spinner is to make each variation at least thirty percent different than all others.  Where there are a lot of available synonyms, there can be many variations.   The marketer then posts these variations to directories, blogs, and websites in order to get more “coverage”.  More coverage means more page views; more page views equals more ad revenue, and more money in the pocket of the marketer.  As long as the articles are more than thirty percent different from each other, Google will not penalize them as “duplicate content”, and each spun article has the opportunity to achieve page rank on Google.

Here’s an example of how an article spinner recently re-wrote an article review.  Names have been omitted to protect the innocent:

Here’s the original: 

"Responses to (authors) guest column published in last week’s issue are coming in fast and furious. It seems (author), struck a nerve in both veteran and novice dealers alike with his comments on (subject).

Here’s the spun version:

"Responses to (author’s) bedfellow cavalcade appear in aftermost week's affair are advancing in fast and furious. It seems (author), addled a assumption in both adept and amateur dealers akin with his comments ..."

Wow.  How many variations of the review had to be spun in order to turn “guest column” into “bedfellow cavalcade”?  And what the devil is a “bedfellow cavalcade”?  Would anyone find this variation informative?  Who can even understand it?

Reputable article directories insist that the articles they accept be original and that they be distributed unchanged.  Google and other search engines do their best to provide their users with up-to-date, original content.  But, the open nature of the internet and the ease with which text can be copied leaves all online authors vulnerable to plagiarism.   Aggressive marketers, who are eager to spread their message in order to make a few bucks, regularly steal content.   Once they copy the content, they paste it into an article spinner to satisfy the “originality” requirement.

Originality does not reside in the words on the page; it resides in the thought process of the author.  An author chooses words to evoke in the reader the same thought process experienced by the author when the piece was written. Like a musician choosing notes, an author will toss words around, say them out loud, and re-arrange them.  He will find words that evoke a certain emotion; she will find a turn of phrase that excites the mind.

Change the words on the page, and you change their effect on the mind of the reader.   Article spinners do not create originality; they destroy it.

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Appraisal vs. Opinion of Value

My friend Jennifer, a Port Shopping Ambassador on a cruise ship, related the following story: a passenger purchased an antique clock from a store in Amsterdam, Holland for around $3,000 USD. The following day, the passenger got a serious case of buyer’s remorse, and sought to return the clock on the basis that the item was misrepresented and overpriced.

To prove the item was overpriced, she took the item to a second antique shop to ask the shopkeeper to appraise the item. The appraisal offered was nowhere near what she paid for the item. In fact, the second shopkeeper told her that she had over-paid, and that she should return the item and then come back, because he could offer her a higher quality item at a lower price.

I'm sure that this situation is as transparent to you as it was to me: the second shopkeeper was trying to make a sale at the expense of the first shopkeeper. That this sales tactic could work is rooted in the passenger’s ignorance of the difference between an appraisal and an opinion of value. A consumer’s ignorance of this difference can result in lost insurance claims, missed opportunities, and much aggravation. Knowing the difference between an appraisal and an opinion of value is a great advantage to a consumer.

An “opinion of value” is a personal opinion offered on the basis of experience and expertise. Such opinions may or may not be valid, depending on the qualifications and ethics of the person offering the opinion. The persons offering such opinions are not required to be independent, impartial or objective. They can, and often do, have conflicts of interest and hidden agendas.

An opinion of value has no requirements for documentation or evidence. Those offering an opinion of value are not held to the same legal and ethical standards as a certified appraiser. For example, let's say that you took a Picasso etching to an art dealer who gave you his opinion of its value, called the opinion an appraisal, and then offered to buy the etching for his “appraised” value. The dealer would have offered you no evidence to back up his claim of value, and clearly had a conflict of interest. His opinion of value is worthless.

The value offered in a certified appraisal, on the other hand, has been researched and evidence is offered to support the value claimed. Most often, evidence is offered in the form of comparable sales; that is, what items like yours have actually sold for recently in your market.

In addition, a certified appraisal follows the format of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) which has been authorized by Congress as the source of appraisal standards and appraiser qualifications. USPAP is generally recognized by the courts and by the IRS. A USPAP-compliant appraisal clearly establishes the details of the appraisal, the appraiser, the intent of the report, assumptions, limiting conditions, and all evidence supporting the conclusion. When done, the appraiser must sign and certify the report. Such a report will stand up to legal and IRS scrutiny and the value offered can be trusted.

Now that I've established what an appraisal is and isn't, let me throw a wrench in the works. If you called five appraisers to appraise the same item, you may get five different appraised values for the item.

How can that be? An appraiser must make certain assumptions and adjustments in arriving at the value of your item. Unless sales evidence can be found for an item exactly like yours, adjustments will have to be made to compensate for differences in age and condition. Making adjustments is more art than science, and ultimately depends on the skill and experience of the appraiser.

Also, the intent of an appraisal will have a bearing on the value. Appraisals for insurance replacement, estate liquidation, fair market value and gift value will all yield different numbers.

If the value of your tangible personal property is important for insurance, estate, tax, divorce, or other legal consideration, please don't rely on an opinion of value to make your claim. Call a certified personal property appraiser.

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Remove Water Rings from Wooden Furniture

Most water rings on furniture can be removed by spraying the affected area with a product called No-Blush, available online or at most commercial refinishing supply stores. Sometimes, water rings can be removed by denatured alcohol. In rare cases, it is necessary to bleach the affected area. The technique used to repair water rings will vary with the type of finish and the type of water ring.

Repairing Water Rings Requires Little Skill

Professional refinishers state that water ring removal is a common and simple repair. Often, their customers remark that if they knew how easy the repair was, they would have done it themselves. In truth, water ring removal does not take a lot of skill. What it does require, though, is a basic knowledge of finish chemistry and the nature of water rings. With such knowledge, water ring repair can be easily accomplished.

First, Understand the Nature of Furniture Finishes

A successful water ring repair begins with knowledge of the type of finish that is damaged. There are more than fifteen types of furniture finishes currently in use, but to repair water rings you only need to know two things: evaporative finishes and reactive finishes. Evaporative finishes are easy to repair, and reactive finishes are difficult to repair.

Evaporative finishes are a mixture of solids and a solvent. Once applied to wood, the solvent evaporates, leaving the solids to form the furniture finish. A characteristic of an evaporative finish is that it can be re-melted by its original solvent. The most common evaporative furniture finishes are shellac, lacquer, and wax.

Reactive finishes dry by chemical reaction; as drying occurs, the molecules in the finish bind together to form a hard and durable finish. Reactive finishes cannot be re-melted by their original solvent. Common reactive finishes are polyurethane, varnish, epoxies, and common house paint.

How to Tell What Kind of Finish is on Your Furniture

A reactive finish that is in good condition is extremely resistant to water rings. If you have water rings, chances are you have either shellac or lacquer as a finish, too much wax on your furniture, or a finish that is thin and worn. You can test a finish by rubbing an inconspicuous spot with a rag moistened with either denatured alcohol or lacquer thinner. If finish can removed by the alcohol, the finish is shellac. If finish can be removed by the lacquer thinner, the finish is lacquer. If the finish cannot be removed by either of these solvents, you have a reactive finish.

The Nature of Water Rings

There are two types of water rings: blush rings and mineral rings. Blush rings are the most common and are caused by placing drinks or hot/moist items (like a pizza box) onto furniture. Blush rings are white, and appear as cloudiness in the finish.
Mineral rings are caused by leakage from houseplant pots. Water leaks through the pot and picks up minerals from the dirt, which is carried into the wood. Mineral rings are dark colored because minerals from the water have been absorbed by the cells of the wood. Such a ring is a permanent stain. The only way to repair mineral rings is to bleach them, which requires completely stripping and refinishing the furniture.

How to Repair Blush Water Rings

Blush rings are caused by moisture trapped in the finish. The repair can be made by softening the finish enough to allow the moisture to escape. Begin by making a smooth-surfaced ball out of linen or cotton. Moisten the ball with denatured alcohol and tamp it into the palm of your hand to be sure that it is simply moist, not wet. Carefully wipe the alcohol across the blushed area. Repeat as needed, but allow the alcohol to dry between swipes; drying will only take a minute or two. Ninety percent of the time, this repair technique will work. If it does not work, I suggest buying a can of No-Blush and spraying the damaged area lightly. No-Blush will chemically soften the finish, and contains a retarder to slow down the drying time enough to allow the moisture to escape.
Repairing water rings can be easily accomplished if one knows what kind of finish is damaged, how the ring occurred and what solvent will soften the finish.

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Three Ways to Cover Scratches in Dark Wood Furniture

Few things are as disappointing as that first nasty scratch on a new piece of furniture. No matter how beautiful the piece is overall, all you see when you look at it is the scratch. Of course, it’s natural to believe that the scratch is the only thing your guests notice, too.

Short of having the whole piece refinished, what can be done about an unsightly scratch? There are three touch-up techniques used by professional furniture refinishers that can be safely adapted for home use. The supplies needed are easy to find and the techniques are easy to learn.

Invisible to the Casual Observer

The goal is to repair the scratch well enough so that it does not draw attention to itself; you want the scratch repair to go unnoticed by your guests. In the refinishing trade, such repairs are said to be “invisible to the casual observer”. That is, close inspection will reveal that a repair has been made, but the otherwise the repair goes unnoticed.

A Natural-looking Repair

The easiest way to achieve a satisfactory repair is to mimic the natural markings in the wood grain. Mineral streaks, small knots, grain and color variations, sap pockets, and flecking give each cut of wood a unique personality. By matching the color of the grain or other markings instead of the overall color of the wood stain, a more natural look can be achieved.

Acrylic Artist Paint Technique

From your local art supply or craft store, purchase several small artist brushes, a small bottle of clear flat liquid acrylic, and four tubes of acrylic artist paint: raw sienna, burnt sienna, raw umber and burnt umber. With these four colors you can match almost any wood grain.

Using a piece of cardboard or a paper plate as a palette, squeeze out a small amount of the four colors onto the palette. To mix your color, start with either umber and gradually lighten the color by mixing in one of the siennas. A few minutes of trial and error will bring you to an acceptable color. The color will darken as it dries, so make your final color slightly lighter than what you want.

When you are satisfied with the color, use the smallest artist brush to apply the color to the scratch. If you make a mistake, wipe out the color while it’s still wet and try again. Artist acrylic paint is very forgiving. When the repair dries, paint over the scratch with the liquid flat acrylic. The flat sheen will reflect less light and make the scratch less noticeable.

The Crayon Technique

Colored wax repair sticks are commonplace; they can be found in almost any paint store. The problem with these sticks is that they only come in a few colors, and it’s difficult to find one that will match wood grain. This problem can be overcome if you remember that these sticks are just wax, like a Crayola crayon. Crayons come in many more colors, and work just as well. If your scratch is very deep, a crayon is your best choice for repair.

To make this repair, you will need the appropriate color crayon, an old credit card or piece of stiff plastic, a rag, some naptha (lighter fluid) and some 0000 grade steel wool.

Rub the crayon into the scratch; the goal is to slightly overfill. Using the credit card, scrape the wax level to the surface. To remove the excess wax from around the scratch, dampen the rag with the naptha, and clean around the edges. Naptha is benign and will not harm the finish. If you push too hard with the credit card and scuff the finish, remove the scuffs by buffing lightly in the direction of the grain with the 0000 steel wool.

The Touchup Marker Technique

Touchup markers by Minwax and Guardian are available at most paint stores. These markers are similar to Magic Markers but they are filled with furniture stain rather than ink. Like Magic Markers, touchup markers have wide felt applicator tips. Usually, these tips are much wider than a scratch, and tend to make scratches more obvious rather than less obvious.
To use these markers to the best advantage, rub the marker along the length of the scratch until the color fills the scratch. Then, quickly lick your finger and rub the excess stain from around the scratch. This technique will minimize the scratch and not make a mess on your furniture.

These three techniques will enable you to make acceptable repairs to most scratches on your furniture. You will still know where the scratch is, but chances are your guests won’t.

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Aug 26, 2013

How to Fix Scratches in Leather Upholstery

Often, the difference between an amateur repair and a professional repair is having access to professional supplies and knowing the tricks of the trade.  This is especially true in leather repair, where having the wrong supplies can result in making an absolute mess of your leather upholstery.  Home remedies like olive oil, milk, and shoe polish will eventually cause your leather to rot and smell.   Attempting to “eyeball” a color match using the repair products available at the hardware store will make a scratch look worse, not better.

My intention in this article is to share with you where to find the right products to repair scuffs and scratches in your leather, and a few tips to ensure a successful repair.

First, Identify the Leather

Upholstery leather comes in many different types and finishes.  If you are repairing furniture upholstery, lift up the seat cushions and locate the tag that lists the cleaning code.  The code will be “A” for Aniline leather, “P” for Protected leather, and “N” for Nubuck leather.  If you are repairing auto upholstery, the leather will always be “P”, Protected leather.  The repair techniques will be different for each type of leather.

Second, Identify the Damage

Leather is finished in a manner similar to wooden furniture: the unfinished material is stained or colored and then a top coat is applied.  A scuff is damage to the topcoat; no color is removed.  A scratch goes through the topcoat and removes color.  Cuts, burns, tears and rips are more serious damage and require more serious repair than scuffs and scratches; those repairs are beyond the scope of this article.

How to Repair Scuffs in Leather Upholstery

Soft, natural Aniline leathers are finished with wax.  To repair a scuff in Aniline leather, all you need to do is redistribute the wax.  This is done by warming the leather with a hair dryer and rubbing your hand over the scuffed area.

Most upholstery leather is “P”, or protected leather.  Protected leather is essentially painted; sometimes it is dyed through and then painted, and then topped with a clear coat of water-based lacquer.  Scuffs occur when the lacquer top coat is damaged.  Sometimes, scuffs can be buffed out using a quality leather cream and a rag.  If that doesn’t work, it will be necessary to re-apply lacquer to the topcoat.  Re-apply lacquer by misting the damaged area with nitrocellulose or acrylic lacquer, which can be purchased in a spray can at your local hardware store.  Test the spray in an inconspicuous area to make sure the sheen is correct.  Spray in short bursts; do not soak the area.  It’s best to apply the lacquer in thin layers.  Be sure the leather surface is clean and allow the lacquer to dry thoroughly between applications.

How to Repair Scratches in Leather Upholstery

Scratches are marks that have gone through the leathers’ topcoat and removed color.  If color is removed, chances are you have protected leather; Aniline and Nubuck leathers are through-dyed and a scratch would not remove color.  To repair, it is necessary to replace the color.  The key to successfully repairing protected leather is to have a color that matches your upholstery perfectly.  The only way to assure a perfect color match is with a custom-formulated, computerized color match.

The primary manufacturer of leather and vinyl coloring products in the US is a company called SEM.  SEM paints are flexible and will not split and crack when used on a flexible surface.  Many leather repair professionals purchase SEM products online from Vinyl Pro of Western PA .  Vinyl Pro has a computer color matching service; simply send them a swatch of your leather and they will match the color.  When you order your custom-matched color, get it in an aerosol sprayer.

Where to Find a Leather Swatch

To find a swatch, flip your furniture over and peel back the black dust cover from the bottom of the chair/sofa, or look under your car seat.  With a razor knife, cut leather from behind the staple line.  You will need a swatch about one inch square in order to match the color.

How to Make the Repair

Fortunately for leather repair technicians, cowhides are not perfect.  Cows get scratched by barbed wire, stung by bees and bitten by mosquitoes.  All of these will leave scars on a hide.  It’s not necessary to match the grain on a simple scratch; re-coloring the damage will look natural enough.

If the edges of the scratch are rough, carefully trim the loose edges with a razor knife and sand slightly with 400 grit wet-or-dry sandpaper.  Clean the area well with denatured alcohol.  If the scratch is deep, use an artists’ brush or foam brush to dab some of the color into the scratch.  Wipe any excess paint from the edges with a Q-tip; be sure to get all of the excess paint from the grain.  Dry the paint with a hair dryer.

When you are satisfied that the scratch is adequately filled and the dabbed paint is dry, spray the area using the aerosol sprayer filled with your custom color.  Spray using short, quick, misting bursts, and feather the edges out slightly from the scratch.

With these “few tricks of the trade” and professional quality supplies, you will be able to make professional-looking repairs to your scratched and scuffed leather upholstery.

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Care and Cleaning of Leather Upholstery

When I told him the damage to his new leather sofa probably wasn’t covered by his warranty, I thought he was going to cry.  Or hit me; I couldn’t tell which.

“But I used a leather cleaner” he pleaded.  In fact, he did use leather cleaner; he bought it at an automotive supply store, and it said right on the bottle “Leather Cleaner”.  Had he read the cleaning code tag on his sofa as closely as he read the label on the bottle he was holding, he would have known that his sofa was Nubuck leather, and couldn’t be cleaned with the same cleaner as auto upholstery.

Leather is a beautiful and durable upholstery fabric.  It will last a long time if it is properly cared for.  The keys to properly caring for your leather are to know what kind of leather you have, and what the appropriate cleaning and conditioning methods are.   Those keys will be covered in this article.

Upholstered Furniture Has a Cleaning Code

The American Furniture Manufacturers Association recommends that upholstered furniture manufacturers place a tag on their products that contains the product’s cleaning code.  The tag is most commonly found on the decking fabric under the chair/sofa cushion or underneath the chair/sofa attached to the dust cover.  Although all types of fabrics will have a cleaning code, here I will focus only on leather products.  The cleaning codes and characteristics for leather upholstery are:

“A” code for Aniline Leather; also known as Naked, Natural, and Unprotected leather

Analine leathers are colored with transparent aniline dyes. Because the dye is transparent, you are able to see the actual surface grain and markings in the leather.  The identifying characteristics of Aniline leather are that it is very easy to scratch; water drops will darken the color and then dry back to its’ natural color. These leathers have very little or no protective treatments applied to them.  Aniline leather is especially sensitive to sunlight and should not be placed in front of windows or under skylights.

“P” code for Protected Leather; also known as Finished, Pigmented, or Painted leather.

Protected leathers are colored by the application of pigments to the surface of the leather. The leather then has a clear finish applied to the surface, making it more resistant to scratching.  The identifying characteristics of Protected leather are that it has uniform color and grain patterns, it will not scratch easily, and water drops will not change color.  Protected leathers are the most common leather; they are found on over 90% of upholstered furniture and all automotive upholstery.

“N” code for Nubuck Leather; also known as Bomber, Brushed, Buffed, Split Grain, or Suede

Nubuck leathers are actually Aniline leathers whose surface has been brushed to create a texture similar to velvet.  The identifying characteristics of Nubuck are similar to Aniline; it is very soft to the touch, it will scratch or scuff very easily, and water drops will darken the leather but return to its original color upon drying.  Although Nubuck is usually very expensive leather, it is not as durable as “top grain” protected leather.

How to Properly Clean Leather Upholstery

This may be self-evident, but a reminder is in order:  automotive leather cleaners are too harsh for upholstered furniture.  Buy the cleaner that is recommended for the type of leather you are cleaning.  Always pre-test in an inconspicuous area for colorfastness with a soft, clean, white lint-free cloth

When it comes to cleaning any type of leather, liquid is the enemy.  Turn your cleaner into foam before putting it on the leather.  Foamers can be purchased at Bed, Bath, & Beyond or similar stores.  Simply pour the cleaner into the foamer, and then pump the trigger; it will dispense foam similar to shaving cream.  It you don’t have a foamer, pour the cleaner onto a sponge and rapidly squeeze the sponge until foam is produced.

Apply the foam to soiled area in a gentle circular motion.  Wait a few minutes, then blot with a soft, clean white lint-free cloth and reapply if area is heavily soiled.  If your leather extremely dry and the leather cleaner absorbs quickly, then add 20% distilled water to the leather cleaner to slow down absorption.  When the leather has dried, rub a cream leather conditioner into the leather to keep it soft and supple.  These instructions apply to both auto and furniture upholstery.

Special Instructions for Nubuck

Since Nubuck has a nap, the foam must be worked into the nap of the leather. After cleaning, use a hair dryer and rub a soft bristle brush or Nubuck Cloth against the grain to raise the nap. If the Leather is not very dirty, use the Nubuck Cleaning Cloth only.

With proper care, your leather upholstery will stay supple and durable for years.

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How to Clean Antique Furniture

Grandma goofed!

Imagine that your great-grandmother owned a lovely mahogany buffet. She loved the piece; she waxed it twice a year and dusted it regularly, which was the highest standard of care in her day. Would great-grandmother be shocked to discover that her regular waxing and dusting created the dingy, dirty finish that is on the buffet in 2010?

Antiques Are Covered With Old Wax and Dirt

You see, once you put wax onto wooden furniture, the only way to get it off is with a chemical remover. Each time the furniture is waxed, you put new wax on top of dirty wax and just move it all around. Every time the piece is dusted, some of the dust is picked up by the dust cloth, and some of it is rubbed into the accumulated wax. Over time, the finish begins to lose its’ shine and become dingy looking. The once-beautiful buffet becomes covered with a layer of dirt and wax.

The Wax and Dirt Must Be Removed

The key to cleaning antique furniture is to remove the old wax and accumulated dirt without damaging the underlying finish. This can be accomplished with a little patience and few supplies which can be purchased at any hardware store. Simply re-waxing the furniture or applying furniture polish will only add to the problem; if you want the antique to glow, you must remove the old wax and dirt. Of course, this cleaning technique assumes that the furniture’s finish is still intact; a finish with significant chipping and peeling should be refinished.

Your Antique Furniture Cleaning Kit

The first item needed is a solvent that will remove the wax without removing the furniture finish. The solvent for wax is mineral spirits, and mineral spirits will not harm any of the finishes commonly found on antiques. Next, you will need 0000 (“four-ought”) grade steel wool; other grades are too coarse. In the refinishing trade, 0000 steel wool is known as a polishing pad; the longer you rub a finish with it, the shinier the finish gets. You will need Q-tips, absorbent rags, and a bucket of water or a sink. For the final polishing, you will use a burnishing cream. Liberon makes a fine burnishing cream that can be purchased from several online distributors.

The Cleaning Technique

Begin by pouring about a half-cup of mineral spirits directly onto the furniture’s top. Using the 0000 steel wool spread the solvent over about a two-foot square area. Always rub in a straight line in the direction of the wood grain; rubbing across the grain will create visible scratches. Apply a slight downward pressure to the steel wool; your objective is to loosen the wax. Continue this procedure over the entire piece of furniture, using as much mineral spirits as is needed to keep the surface wet.

The drying time for mineral spirits is about 45 minutes. As the solvent dries, you will notice a dirty grayish film forming over the furniture. This film is the loosened, dirty wax that you have lifted from the surface. When the solvent has thoroughly dried, use a damp rag to wipe up the dried wax. Clean the rag often. Use Q-tips to get into corners and grooves.

Repeat the above procedure with mineral spirits and clean steel wool until no more waxy dirt dries on the surface. When the furniture is free of wax and dirt, apply the burnishing cream with a soft cloth, and rub until you are satisfied with the shine.

Ongoing Maintenance

To keep your antique furniture beautiful, polish it once a year with a good quality cream polish. If the finish is significantly worn and you have a few bare spots, treat the bare spots with a light coat of paste wax to protect the wood. Dust regularly. Never use spray polishes, dusting sprays, treated dusting cloths, or any product that touts its ability to make your furniture shine. Chances are those products contain silicone, and polishing your furniture with silicone is like spraying it with WD-40 lubricant. Proper care will keep your antique furniture looking beautiful for future generations.

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French Polishing: It Isn't Even French

French polishing has always had a certain “romance” about it. Antique dealers speak of French polishing as if it represents the pinnacle of finishing mastery. I’ve been told by more than one antique dealer that the secrets of French Polishing are held by a select few and that it is a difficult skill to master.

Nothing could be further from the truth. French polishing is a skill that can be acquired with a few hours practice using ingredients that can be purchased from Home Depot. Moreover, once one understands the process of French polishing and why it was developed, one will understand why French polishing fell out of favor. Today’s refinishers will tell you that French polishing makes for a very beautiful but very bad finish.

The Basics of French Polishing

French polishing is a process used to apply a coat of liquid shellac (shellac mixed with alcohol) onto wood. The shellac is applied to the wood with a pad made from a ball of wool wrapped in fine cotton or linen. Shellac is poured into the pad, absorbed by the wool, and squeezed out as the pad is moved across the surface of the wood. The skill in French polishing is to apply the shellac evenly, leaving no pad marks. Layers of shellac are applied until the desired finish depth is achieved. To fill the grain of the wood, pumice is sprinkled onto the surface prior to each layer of shellac. To keep the finish smooth, mineral spirits or light oil is applied to the pad.

So Why Not Just Use A Brush?

If you’ve ever painted your house, you know that brushes leave brush marks. Even today, modern spray and application systems will leave an uneven surface. Brushes and sprayers distort the liquid finish; after application, the surface must be leveled. Today, uneven finish surfaces are leveled and polished with fine sandpaper and abrasives; the result of this rubbing process is called a hand-rubbed finish. Sandpaper fine enough and consistent enough to achieve a hand-rubbed finish was not available until the late 19th century. Three hundred years ago, French polishing was the only way to get a beautiful finish onto a piece of furniture.

The Drawbacks of French Polishing

French polishing provides a very beautiful but very fragile surface. Shellac scuffs easily, and is sensitive to heat, cold, and moisture. Most of the “old wives tales” about never placing drinking glasses on furniture were developed over hundreds of years of dealing with shellac finishes. If one prefers the look of a shellac finish, there are better ways than French polishing to apply shellac. French polishing takes a long, long, time to build up significant layers of finish. Allowing for dry time between coats, one could spend an entire day French polishing the top of the average sized coffee table. Spraying or brushing shellac to the same surface and then hand-rubbing and polishing could be accomplished in less than two hours.

It’s Not Even French

The “romance” of French polishing will likely remain, especially in the antiques trade. After all, anything French is considered to be artsy-craftsy. I don’t have the heart to tell antique dealers that French polishing isn’t even French; it was developed by the Chinese about 7,000 years ago.

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