Reader seeks advice on how to repair a roll top desk

Q. Do you have a recommendation for a person or company that will fix the tambour on a roll-top desk? The backing is deteriorating.

Alexandria

A.

Companies that specialize in repair of wooden furniture, including antiques, should be able to do this for you. The basic procedure is often relatively simple, because antique roll-top desks were made to be disassembled. Once you take off the top, which might be held on by bolts through the desk-top or by straps on the back, the tambour section usually slips right out. For the simplest repair, you then remove and replace the canvas. On antiques, the fabric was typically attached with hide glue, which warm water softens. Today, white woodworking glue is more common. Stefan Ohmke, owner of New England Antique Furniture Repair Shop in Arlington (703-528-1800), softens that with vinegar.

However, repairing a roll-top isn’t always so simple. Sometimes the tambours are wired together. And Willie Conley, owner of Furniture Doctor in Alexandria (703-379-1954; www.furnituredoctor.biz) says he’s seen roll-tops with no easy way to remove the tambours. “On pieces made overseas, they often didn’t have that foresight,” he said. “I’ve had to do some fairly radical surgery.”

Ohmke and Conley both said repairing tambours usually runs about $500. Thang Tran, owner of Tran’s Furniture Repair in Lorton (703-203-3990) said that sounded about right to him, too. All three said they could give a more precise estimate if they saw the desk.

What is the best product for cleaning plastic lawn furniture?

Martha Chapin, the consumer education manager for the American Cleaning Institute (formerly the Soap and Detergent Association), has an answer that’s a little surprising, given that the organization represents manufacturers who produce a wide array of specialty cleaning products. Use mild detergent and water, she says. Avoid abrasive powders, chlorine bleaches and silicone cleaners.

Grosfillex, which makes resin plastic furniture, also recommends mild detergent — meaning hand dish soap — for routine cleaning. If there are stubborn stains, the company suggests testing more powerful cleaners in an inconspicuous spot. It suggests Windex, Fantastik, 409, Star Brite, WD-40 and Goo Be Gone, as well as vinegar or bleach mixed in a ratio of 1 to 10 with water. For oil-based stains, it recommends careful use of mineral spirits or rubbing alcohol followed by immediate rinsing.

When plastic lawn furniture is left outside for a long period, mildew and grime become embedded, and no cleaning removes it all. At that point, you might want to paint the chairs. Krylon Fusion, available in spray cans as well as in a brush-on product, works without sanding or priming. Or, if you want a wider color selection, you can prime with a product such as Rust-Oleum Plastic Primer (also available in spray cans or as a brush-on) and then top that with whatever latex paint you want.

YOUR TURN:
Removing soap scum

A reader in Rockville gives advice in response to a recent column on how to remove soap scum on glass shower doors.

De-Solv-It has worked for me. I have to add that we now squeegee the shower doors after we shower (we call it “shower duty”), but even with that, some scum eventually appears at the bottom of the doors. So every four or five weeks, I spray on De-Solv-It, let it set for a minute or two, rinse it off and sometimes follow it with a damp cloth dipped in the cheapest hair shampoo I can find. The shampoo really seems to cut through any remaining soap scum. Then I squeegee the door or wipe it with a dry cloth, and we’re good for another month or so.”

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in November including how to check smoke detectors and changing fireplace inserts at washingtonpost.com/home.

 
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