Q: I have a very old wicker chair with intricately woven back and sides. It is in need of repainting and has several layers of old paint on it already. Some of the paint is chipping. Will a prepared chemical paint remover damage the wicker, or is there a better way to remove the old paint before I apply the new paint?
A: A chemical paint remover will not harm wicker, old or new, and as far as I can see would be about the only way to remove the old paint from your chair. I suggest using a semi-paste, water-wash remover for this job. Take the chair outside, and put the remover on in thick layers. Give it time to soften the old paint thoroughly, then use a hose to flush the softened paint off. This will do less harm than trying to scrape the paint off -- which is an almost impossible task on a surface such as you describe. The water should not harm the wicker, though it may loosen glued joints in the framework if there are any. Regluing these should not be difficult.
Q: The table top in my dining room has a Formica-type plastic finish that seems to be worn. Parts of this top are rough to the touch, and feel sticky. Is there anything I can do to bring the finish back, or is it possible to put another layer of plastic laminate on top of what is already there?
A: If the top is a plastic laminate, and if it feels sticky, chances are it merely needs a thorough cleaning. Scrub with a detergent solution after first wiping down with a grease solvent or cleaning fluid to remove the worst of the grease, wax or oil causing the stickiness. As far as refinishing is concerned, you can apply another layer of plastic laminate on top of the old one. Clean the top first as described above, then sand with medium grit paper and dust thoroughly. Then apply the new plastic with contact cement according to directions on the can.
Q: We have an antique silver serving piece that has a carved ivory handle. This handle has a crack in it and we were wondering if this can be repaired.
A: I am not sure whether the crack you speak of is purely a cosmetic problem that only affects the appearance, or whether the strength of the handle is impaired. Ivory can be repaired or cemented together with a two-part epoxy adhesive, and this is what I recommend if you have to mend the handle. It is the strongest adhesive one can use for this purpose, and comes in white or clear. You may have to tint the epoxy (with universal tinting colors) or paint over it if color-matching is a problem. If the crack is small and just needs filling, the same material can be used, or you can fill the crack with artists' gesso, or with the kind of ceramic clay artists and culptors use.
Q: The room over our attached porch would make a pleasant sun deck, but the surface is tarred. We would like to cover this tar with something that would be more esthetic in appearance, that would be cooler, and that would not be damaged by deck furniture. "Plastic grass" carpet has been suggested. What do you advise?
A: Grass carpet will stand up, but the trouble is in hot wealther when the roof gets soft it may stick to the roof tar, and it will not prevent furniture legs or shoes from causing dents or other damage to the roof covering underneath. The only practical solution I can think of is to build a wood deck, or series of wood grates with closely spaced boards, on top of the roof. This should be supported on 2x4's so that water can run through and out in the usual manner.