Wondering how to create that perfect, invisible china plate, cup, or statue fix? China and crystal repair expert Dean Schulefand explains repairing china in 5 steps.
For the last 32 years, Dean Schulefand, a china and crystal repair expert, has stood as the last line of defense for broken, sometimes shattered, vases and platters, statues and cups, that seem destined for the dump. He’s no miracle worker, mind you–just a detailed restorer who can turn back the clock on even the roughest-looking treasures.
What goes into creating that perfect, invisible fix? Schulefand broke it down for us.
1. The First Fit
Schulefand begins with a dry fit, reassembling the item without any adhesive to see how it comes together, numbering each piece. Then he pulls it apart and begins gluing the item back together with a special nontoxic cement. The key here is a steady hand, brushing the cracked sides, lightly and evenly. With certain items, on fragments that form the inner section of the work, Schulefand leaves the last eighth of an inch dry. Why? “The cement clogs up the ends, and the pieces never go together perfectly,” he explains.
2. Piece by Piece
Schulefand doesn’t glue a single item back together all at once. Instead, it’s done in pieces, two or three at a time. “You start on one part, go work on something else, and then come back to the item,” he notes. To ensure the fit, Schulefand sometimes uses clamps, but his preferred tool is something that essentially amounts to a giant sandbox. He stands the glued section up inside the box–similar to putting a plate in a dishwasher–so that the crack sits just two inches above the surface. From there he waits from 24 to 48 hours and lets gravity do its work.
3. Filling In
Once the glue has dried completely, Schulefand preps the piece further with a grinder, wearing down both sides of each crack so that the glaze in those areas has a rough finish. Again, a gentle touch is paramount. “The less I take off, the less work there is for me when I start to do the [refilling],” he explains. Refilling comes in the form of creamy porcelain, which Schulefand applies carefully to the cracks and pores with a small spatula-like tool.
4. Sealing the Deal
Schulefand finishes the surface work by hand-sanding the worked areas and then applying a clear sealant, repeated up to seven times. “I’m looking for a glass-like finish with no pores,” he says.
5. Finishing Touch
The work at this stage is also the most exacting because it requires Schulefand to perfectly match the older work. Style, color, and even the order in which those colors were applied must be indistinguishable from the original finish. “That’s how you get the shading and the look, so that it looks as though it was never restored,” he says. He concludes his work by glazing the restored sections. “It requires patience and a strong eye for detail,” he says.