How to Tell If Wood Furniture Is Worth Refinishing

When you find a piece of wood furniture that needs a little beloved, it ‘s actually alluring to just fork over the cash and take it home as your following positron emission tomography project. But wait, says woodworking adept Teri Masaschi, author of Foolproof Wood Finishing. There are some things you need to consider first before you decide to refinish .

Main Bedroom With Black Four Poster Bed

Stately Four Poster Bed in Cottage Bedroom

A large bedroom with a four post horse bed and grey walls is a retreat in this East Hampton home .

From :

Hyphen & Co

Julia Robbs

Is the Piece Painted?

“ Beware of things that are painted, ” Masaschi says. “ There ‘s normally a rationality for that. ” key can hide a multitude of sins, including burns, missing veneer and water stains .

“ You ‘re far better off buying something that has erstwhile dirty varnish on it that barely needs to be stripped, ” she says. “ It ‘s clear, you can see through it to whatever ‘s underneath, and stripping erstwhile polish is actually easy — it typically comes right off with products you can buy at the hardware shop. ”

Is the Construction High-Quality?

front for signs that the piece was made before 1950, possibly even 1960. “ That ’ sulfur when particleboard and laminate surfaces and cutting corners came along, ” Masaschi says. Generally, even mass-produce furniture from before 1960 is sturdier and better made than today ‘s cheap furniture — your line up does n’t have to have antique prize to be a capital vintage while that will give you years of serve .

still, you should be careful with in truth old pieces, by and large those made before 1850, because refinishing them yourself can hurt their prize. If you have any questions at all about the respect of your objet d’art, consult an adept before you get started. “ The basic convention of ovolo is, if the objet d’art was made before 1850, you want to do some homework on whether it should be conserved preferably than restored — think of to preserve and stabilize the piece as it is now, ” she says. “ If it ’ mho been in the family a while, it ’ south worth finding out before you do some wrong. ”

To muddy the waters a bit, there are some more late pieces by big makers — for model, from the Art Deco, midcentury mod, and Arts and Crafts periods — that command high prices and shouldn ’ thyroxine be touched. If you suspect there ’ s something unusual or distinctively well-made about your man, go with your catgut and ask person who knows .

What to Look For

Dovetail joints. This construction detail is your first key to the nibble ’ sulfur historic period and choice of craft. Dovetail joints are hard and command skill to produce, so they ’ re by and large a sign of a well-made nibble. Hand-cut dovetails can date an older american english piece to before 1890, although hobbyists and specialization makers distillery use them. “ There ’ s no hard and fast predominate, but hand dovetail was actually nobelium longer done in factories after that date, ” Masaschi says. Hand dovetails are slightly irregular and the pins are thin and tapered. Wider, uniform machine-cut dovetails were coarse in factory-made pieces from 1890 until the modern earned run average .

If a nibble has no dovetails, it can still be a campaigner for refinishing if it ’ randomness hardy and well-designed, but it ’ s not probably to be an honest-to-god piece with antique value .



Hand dovetails ( top firearm ) are slenderly irregular and the pins are thin and taper. Wider, consistent machine-cut dovetails ( bottom slice ) were common in factory-made pieces from 1890 until the modern era .

Scott E. Kriner, Fox Chapel Publishing
Hand dovetails ( circus tent piece ) are slenderly irregular and the pins are reduce and taper. Wider, uniform machine-cut dovetails ( buttocks piece ) were coarse in factory-made pieces from 1890 until the mod era .
Solid wood or plywood backing. Look at the buttocks of your piece, including the insides and backs of drawers if applicable. solid wood back indicates a piece is likely pre-1880s ; plywood came into vogue around the turn of the twentieth hundred. Particleboard means you probably have something made in the 1960s or late — the era of “ cutting corners, ” as Masaschi says .

Inscriptions or manufacturer’s stamps. If you ’ rhenium lucky, a piece will have a scar on it indicating its origin. early pieces that were handcrafted will sometimes bear an inscription from an individual furniture manufacturer, a hint to its value that should be examined by a professional appraiser. “ If they ’ re actually old, it could be just a pencil touch on the inwardly of a drawer, ” Masaschi says. “ But by the time you hit the turn of the twentieth hundred, makers were using newspaper labels, which then progressed into boldness plaques tacked onto the insides of drawers or on the spinal column of a objet d’art. then in the 1950s and 1960s, they were using spray-on stencils. ” Keep in thinker that sometimes suites of furniture had lone one objet d’art marked, so if your man got separated from its mates, you may have nothing to go by .

Stickley label

Stickley label

mass-produced pieces from the turn of the twentieth century ahead will much bear a tag from the manufacturer, such as “ Larkin Soap Co. ” or “ Cadillac Cabinet Company. ” This is a courteous little musical composition of history — but besides tells you how common the objet d’art is, which can help you determine whether you should refinish it yourself. by and large, mass-produced pieces up until the 1950s and 1960s ( when particleboard and cheaper, flimsier construction techniques became popular ) are great candidates for refinishing .

Look for original hardware and other details. Does the piece have its original hardware ? What style is it ? solid cast-brass or wooden pulls mean the assemble is likely old ; using a collectibles mention steer, you can identify their style and hence their historic period rate. Common style examples are Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Sheraton, Federal, Depression-era, Victorian and Queen Anne .

A custom sculpture and zebra rug stand out in the foyer.

An Elegant Foyer With a Zebra Rug

Kay and Hooff like to make first impressions in the anteroom, and here they conveyed the owners ‘ preference for relaxed elegance and strange combinations. They achieved this by angling a zebra rug on the colored oak floor, leaning a bombastic painting on an antique chest, adding a french moderate with an overstuff cushion and choosing a sisal runner for the step. “ A successful design depends on contrasts and textures while being adventurous in combination, ” says Kay .

From :

Carter Kay

Emily Followill Jenkins

A few other details can help you date a piece:

  • Marble-top dressers and what Masaschi calls “battleship” beds with giant headboards and footrests are almost exclusively from the Victorian era (late 1800s). If you feel comfortable with handling any ornate detailing on these pieces, they’re usually fine to refinish yourself.
  • Any piece on casters (wheels) is typically pre-1930s.
  • If you have a dresser with a mirror attached on a harp, your piece was made around the turn of the 20th century. If you have a set with a separate mirror that hangs on the wall above the dresser, you can date that to the 1940s or later.

Is It in Good Condition?

When deciding if your furniture nibble is worth refinishing do what Masaschi calls “ the rickety test. ” Put your hands on it, rock it back and forth, and test the drawers, if there are any, to see how much swing is going on. If the objet d’art is n’t hardy, you ‘ll probably have to take it apart and re-glue it using clamps, and not everyone has the skill for that — or the workspace, for that matter .

If you need an expert to re-glue your piece for you, expect to pay based on how complicated the piece is. “ It takes clock to knock the piece apart and completely remove the old glue and begin over, ” Masaschi says. “ Re-gluing a chest of three drawers could easily cost $ 400 to $ 500. ”

What Will It Look Like When You’re Done?

When a man has been neglected for decades, it ’ sulfur bully to tell what it will look like once it ’ second refinished. To get an theme of what your part will look like refinished, find a protected descry where the master wood is visible, such as the spinal column of a solid-wood draftsman front, underneath the top surface of a thorax of drawers or the buttocks of a leaf in a drop-leaf postpone. Make sure that you like the look of the grain and that you understand what coloring material you ’ ll come out with in the end — previous wood frequently finishes much darker than newly milled wood .

here are the characteristics of several coarse types of wood on older furniture pieces :

Fox Chapel Publishing

Fox Chapel Publishing

Fox Chapel Publishing

Cherry wood sample


Walnut wood sample


Mahogany wood sample


Cherry ( Image 1 ) is a very politic woodwind with a mild grain that can be stained in a variety of colors. “ But if it ’ s 100 years old and you ’ ve stripped it, it ’ south going to be very blue, ” Masaschi says.
Walnut ( Image 2 ) has a more lively grain than cherry or maple, ” Masaschi says, “ but it ’ mho one of the few wood types that actually gets lighter over the years. ” The natural rich brown color limits the range of tones you can achieve with stain.
“ With honest-to-god mahogany ( Image 3 ), there ’ s no way around it — it ’ s going to be very red, ” Masaschi says. “ You can go red crimson or brown red, but you ’ ll never get anything else out of it. ”

Fox Chapel Publishing

Fox Chapel Publishing


Pine wood sample


Maple Wood Sample




Most old pine ( Image 1 ) pieces were painted right away, so it ’ s rare that you ’ ll come across one you ’ ll want to strip and refinish. But if you do, expect a honey brown semblance that ’ s dark than fresh pine.
Maple ( Image 2 ) pieces made from the 1890s through the 1920s are frequently a beautiful calculate bird ’ s eye or tiger maple and will have a potent jaundiced note if you refinish. Plain maple from the 1960s, which was frequently stained an orangey color, can be stripped and made more modern with a lighter brown stain.
Oak ( Image 3 ) is the staple wood of priggish furniture. “ Old furniture is frequently made of quarter-sawn oak with bluff spot in it, ” Masaschi says. “ If you refinish it, you ’ ll experience that actually beautiful old tiger oak grain that ’ s gold in color. ”

How Complicated Is the Refinishing Going to Be?

Make sure you ‘re fix for the grade of participation it will entail restoring the patch to its early glory. here are some signs that your project may require extra steps or promote techniques :

  • It features deeply carved or applied filigree. It’s usually very time-consuming to strip out the old finish from all the nooks and crannies, and refinishing it will also be very tricky.
  • Different parts of the piece need different applications. For example, a chair with ornate sides or slats may need a delicate touch on the ornamental parts, but multiple coats of polyurethane on the arms so they’ll be durable.
  • It has slats or spindles set close together. To strip that off and refinish it, you almost have to use a spray gun.
  • It’s made from random boards not all from the same tree. That’s one of the ugly surprises you sometimes get after stripping. You’ll either have to like it the way it is or spend a lot of time trying to stain it to make it look more uniform. That’s a pretty complicated finishing process.

penetrate line : If you are n’t certain what you have, consult a competent professional for advice. And fair because a firearm has potential, do n’t feel obligated to bite off more than you can chew. “ I constantly tell my students, be prepared to walk off, ” Masaschi says. “ Buy the piece for what it is rather than what you think you can make it — you can get lost in the fantasy about what it used to be. ”

source :
Category : Antiques

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