How to buy used wood furniture

Learn what to look for when buying used wood furniture so that you save time and money.

New furniture can be an expensive proposition, and often, even pricey pieces don't have the quality that we should expect. One can find quality used wood furniture at a variety of places, such as antique shops, secondhand stores and even garage sales. The trick is knowing how to find a good piece that will last for a long time.

The first thing you want to consider is what sort of wood the furniture is made out of. The best wood is hard wood, which doesn't mean that it comes from a hardwood tree, but that is literally very dense and hard, which results in a long-lasting piece that doesn't warp or dent easily. Good woods for furniture are oak, maple, walnut, birch and mahogany. Soft woods such as pine and cedar dent and scar easily, and generally are not attractive after years of use. You'll want to stay miles away from particleboard, which warps rapidly, and consists of wood chips that are glued together, often with toxic adhesives.

Often, wood furniture has a veneer. Veneer consists of several thin slices of wood that have been glued together. This can be an added beauty to the piece or a clever disguise to make particleboard appear to be oak. You want to find out what sort of wood is behind the veneer. If the piece is made out of a hardwood, and the veneer is also made of quality wood, then that is a sign of a quality piece of furniture. Watch out for some of the newer veneers, which are actually plastic photographs of plastic, as opposed to the slices of wood. However attractive this may be on the surface, they do not last, and generally are covering up cheap materials.

Take a close look at the veneer on antique furniture to make sure that it is not separating. Once veneer starts to crack and peel, it is very difficult to repair. Many of the older pieces have this problem, due to inferior adhesives used during that time period.

Once you have determined that the piece of furniture is constructed out of a quality wood, you want to look for signs of good craftsmanship. Make sure that the piece rests evenly on a level surface. Try to determine how the piece is put together. Tongue and groove construction and pieces joined with screws are generally put together well. Avoid at all costs any furniture where staples are apparent. This is an example of shoddy workmanship.

For a chest of drawers, make sure that the drawers slide in and out smoothly. Also check to see that all hardware is intact and is not rusting. The inside of the drawers should be smooth, and there should be no excess glue. Look for dovetailed drawer joints as this indicates quality. Also, when you pull the drawer out, there should be a dust barrier between drawers; in other words, you should not be able to see into the next drawer. This protects items from falling from one drawer into the next, and is also a sign of structural integrity.

If you are considering purchasing a chair, sit in the chair to make sure that it is comfortable, and that there is no creaking or wobbling. Make sure that the chairs have corner reinforcements to give the legs stability. Also, as with any piece of furniture, look for detailing, as it usually adds value.

Tables should also demonstrate stability, and if you are buying a dining room table with leaves, make sure that the table slides apart smoothly to allow the easy addition of the leaves, and that the leaves match the table exactly. Table corners should be reinforced with blocks of wood to prevent wobbling.

When looking at older wood furniture, it can be tempting to tell yourself that if the piece was simply refinished, then it would be a wonderful addition to your home. Some individuals are very good at completing these projects, while others give up after stripping off the third layer of paint. If you are considering purchasing a piece that needs work, try to determine the amount of time that it will take, which is often more than you think, and decide if you really have that time available. Also, when purchasing wood furniture that has been painted, think about why it may have been painted in the first place. In addition to hiding problems with the finish, it can also hide problems with veneer. You do not want to spend a lot of time working on a piece of furniture only to find that your antique table was actually being held together by multiple layers of paint!

Buying used furniture is an adventure, and you may make some mistakes along the way. You can minimize errors, however, by familiarizing yourself with the different types of wood, and styles of furniture from different eras. Have fun on your furniture hunt!

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