Furniture Woods





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If you own an antique piece of furniture or are looking to buy one, you might be curious about the type of wood it is made out of. Although, this might sound like a simple thing to identify, it can become very tricky due to a number of factors. However, you can use some techniques in order to figure out which kind of wood your furniture is made out of.


The type of wood will help to determine the value of the piece, especially, when we consider imported woods as opposed to types of wood that could have been grown locally at the time.

How To Antique Wood Furniture

First, to distinguish types of antique woods you’ll need to know the difference between hard and soft types of wood. Hardwoods were generally used in order to make sturdier pieces of furniture, but softwoods might have been used due to inexpensiveness or widespread availability. Softwood doesn’t hold up as well over time, especially if it has been exposed to harsh conditions or extreme weather, so these pieces are usually worth less as antiques. That doesn’t mean that you can’t find beautiful softwood antiques, but make sure that you know the market price for it.

How People Cheat To Make Cheap Wood Look Antique and Expensive

Because people wanted their softwoods to look more expensive and durable, they might have stained the wood in order to look like rosewood or mahogany. This common practice can sometimes throw people off as they try to identify their antique furniture.

Remember that, although pine and cedar are both soft woods, they might be a different color than you would expect, because someone has stained it in order to look classier. You can test whether the wood is hard or soft by gently pressing your fingernail into the wood to see if it has any give, and this is a good way to tell if you are looking at a softwood piece of furniture that has been painted.

The same thing goes for elm, maple and oak woods. Furniture sellers and buyers might have stained furniture made out of these types of woods in order to make them seem like rosewood or mahogany. However, it can be more difficult to tell with these pieces because they are all hardwood furniture. The fingernail test won’t work here. Instead, you’ll have to look at what kind of grain the wood has.

How To Recognize Furniture by Grain

Close grain, also known as tight grain, wood can identified by looking to see if the age rings in the wood are very close together. This wood will seem smooth, even when recently cut, because the grain remains so tight. Close grained woods can be carved with greater detail because they hold together easily.

Coarse grain is exactly the opposite. The age rings in the woods are spread farther apart, and the appearance of the wood is generally uneven or rough. This is also known as open grain since there are many open spaces between the age rings.

Imported Wood Values

Some types of woods were (and still are) more valuable than others. This is because they would have to be imported. People wanted their furniture to look classy and exotic, so these valuable woods imported for large, expensive pieces. It was certainly a sign of wealth and dignity if a family could afford to have furniture made from woods that could not be grown in their own country. Other woods could be harvested from a nearby forest, so they were much less expensive to buy. They were also easily made in short periods of time, so travelers that needed cheap furniture quickly would often only buy furniture made from local wood.

Take a look at this list of woods that were commonly used for antique furniture. Use their descriptions in order to help you identify your own antiques and estimate their value.

 

Oak

Because oak is commonly found in both North America and Europe, you can find many examples of furniture made from this wood. It was easy to find and use to build things, so it was one of the most common woods used for furniture for average families.

  • Hardwood
  • Coarse grain

Pine

Furniture that is made from pine is generally painted or might have a veneer. We say that something is “veneered” when a less expensive wood is covered with very thin sheets of more expensive wood in order to make it look like a high-quality piece of furniture. Pine wood itself is pale, and you’ll be able to see plenty of knots throughout the furniture. It’s native to both North America and Europe, so there are many examples of pine furniture.

  • Softwood
  • Close grain

Cherry Wood

This wood is very hard and can be sanded down to a fine finish, almost to the point of looking shiny. The color can range from red to light pink, depending on whether you are looking at the heartwood or sapwood.

  • Hardwood
  • Close grain

Mahogany

This wood is native to North and South America and the Indies. This means that it was an exotic piece of wood for families in Europe, so these pieces of furniture were treasured and cared for. Mahogany can come in either red or brown, and the color is always dark and rich.

  • Hardwood
  • Close grain

Rosewood

This wood is often confused with its other expensive companion, mahogany. However, rosewood is generally much heavier than mahogany, and there are thin black or white rings in the wood.

  • Hardwood
  • Close grain

Maple

Although you might find that there are two types of maple, hard and soft, they are both considered hardwood pieces. Soft maple just refers to its hardness in reference to hard maple, so they are actually both very similar in structure. Because it was a very common wood in the Americas and Europe, it was often veneered in order for maple furniture to look more expensive.

  • Hardwood
  • Coarse grain

Elm

This wood is very similar to maple, especially in the sense that it was a very common wood and would often be “dressed up” with stain or veneer so that people would be more proud to show it in their homes.

  • Hardwood
  • Coarse grain

Some types of woods were (and still are) more valuable than others. This is because they would have to be imported. People wanted their furniture to look classy and exotic, so these valuable woods imported for large, expensive pieces. It was certainly a sign of wealth and dignity if a family could afford to have furniture made from woods that could not be grown in their own country. Other woods could be harvested from a nearby forest, so they were much less expensive to buy. They were also easily made in short periods of time, so travelers that needed cheap furniture quickly would often only buy furniture made from local wood.

Take a look at this list of woods that were commonly used for antique furniture. Use their descriptions in order to help you identify your own antiques and estimate their value.

Although you might find that there are two types of maple, hard and soft, they are both considered hardwood pieces. Soft maple just refers to its hardness in reference to hard maple, so they are actually both very similar in structure. Because it was a very common wood in the Americas and Europe, it was often veneered in order for maple furniture to look more expensive.

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