Mending Antique China Plates: A Clean Break

One of the great pleasures of owning old china and porcelain is that unlike many antiques, you get to use it in the same manner as the first hands that held it. It is a wonderful sensation to take a moment at a holiday dinner served on old china and contemplate the number of families that have done precisely the same thing.

The food served might be a little different, the style of dress might have changed, but the essential elements remain the same. The serving bowls have been passed countless times and the distinct bell tones of silverware on porcelain have rung for generations of families. Old china, more than any other antique brings us closer to the past and the simple domestic rituals we share with those who have gone before.

However, the rosy glow of nostalgia comes to an abrupt end when one of those Staffordshire plates slips from a dishwasher’s hands and hits the floor. Regular use of a china plate might be a pleasure but it is also a risk, to the plate itself and the peace of mind of the owner.

If you are planning to use your china, you had better also have someone handy that can perform simple repairs. Many simple breaks can be repaired, with relative ease, to such a degree that it will be hard to tell it has been broken at all.

Now it is important to remember that few repairs will keep forever. Hot water will break down most adhesives over time and grime frequently accumulates in the seams and on the glue. Many repairs will have to be separated and redone from time to time. Once a plate, or any other piece for that matter, has been mended it is probably best to avoid using it as much as possible.

So while, we will hope that the first repair job holds and lasts a lifetime we will have to assume that the piece being worked with has been repaired at least once and an old glue job will have to be dismantled.

Dismantling an Old Mending

Place the piece in a large plastic bowl and fill it with enough nearly boiling water to completely cover the china. Now you should go read a book, watch a movie, or any other activity that will occupy you sufficiently to leave the china to soak for several hours. There is a fair chance that one soaking will not be sufficient and have to be repeated several times.

In some cases the soaking will not work at all and sterner measures will have to be taken. A small amount of water-soluble paint thinner should be brushed across the seam. If the joining is unusually stubborn you can place the treated piece in a plastic bag to prevent evaporation. Check the piece every half hour or so to see if the pieces have separated.

After the pieces have come apart there will still be glue residue on each side of the seam that will have to be removed to ensure a snug fit when they are re-attached. You can do this by applying paint thinner to each edge and allowing it to sit for ten or twenty minutes.

The Repair

You should now have two pieces of clean china ready to be reattached. The best adhesive to use for your repair is a slow setting resin epoxy. Generally these epoxies are available in a two-tube combination and have to be mixed together to create useful glue. Make absolutely sure that the epoxy you select is safe for food surfaces as many epoxies are toxic to humans. Do not use any epoxy containing the chemical bisphenol A as it has been shown to cause a variety of frightening reproductive and other health problems in both men and women.

Mix your glue first on a note card or similar surface and have it handy through the rest of the process. Cut yourself about 15 pieces of clear tape and have them readily available before you beginning applying the glue. You will not have enough hands to hold the china plate while trying to tear off tape strips.

Many epoxies will come with application sticks but if not – don’t worry, a clean popsicle stick or similar item will work just as well. Apply the glue evenly across the surfaces of breaks. You want to be sure that the epoxy covers the entire break but a thin layer is better than a thick one. A overly thick layer of glue will not dry as hard as a thin one and will retain a certain amount of flexibility.

Carefully press the two pieces together. It may take adjusting to endure the pieces fit as snuggly together as possible. While applying pressure use the strips of clear tape to hold the sides together. Be sure to use strips on both sides of the china plate.

Using a piece of cloth or ace bandage and a stick you can make a tourniquet to hold the two halves firmly in place while they dry. Tightening the tourniquet without separating the pieces can be a trick and may require resetting the piece a few times the first time your try. However, with a little practice the tourniquet is one the best ways to hold mending porcelain.

After twenty-four hours have passed remove the tourniquet and tape and get a look at your freshly mended china. There may be a little residue left be either the epoxy or the tape which can be easily cleaned off with a careful application of acetone.

—-Posted on October 12th, 2006
Silas Finch is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Collectible Antiques Etc. He can be reached at Content and Solutions.

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