Used Wood Furniture Checklist

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This vintage mahogany armoire, found in an antique shop, was less expensive and of higher quality than its modern-day counterparts.

This vintage mahogany armoire, found in an antique shop, was less expensive and of higher quality than its modern-day counterparts.

You’re in the market for wooden furniture, have a budget, and want to get the best-and longest-lasting-furniture your money will buy. If you’re unhappy with the quality of new furniture in your price range, consider shopping consignment stores and online ads for used furniture. You can buy with confidence when you follow these tips on how to tell the good stuff from the bad.

Hard wood, soft wood or laminated wood. Good furniture is made of solid wood. Cherry, maple, oak, mahogany and pine are the most common. Cherry and maple are the hardest; pine is the softest, the most vulnerable to nicks and scratches. Much new furniture comprises several pieces of wood laminated together, which is sometimes more stable than a single, solid piece of wood.

Check the furniture hardware. The way a piece of wooden furniture is held together tells you a lot about how long it will last. Antiques and finer furniture are usually joined by some combination of mortise and tenon, dovetailing (in drawers) and dowels (to hold chair rungs in place). Most new furniture is joined by—in descending order of quality—pegs, screws, nails or staples. These features help hold the furniture together when the wood expands and contracts due to climate changes. A good piece should be screwed and glued together. If a table has a metal brace holding the legs to the underside of the top, the brace should be anchored by nuts and bolts.

Inspect the drawer pulls. Make sure the metal is heavy enough not to bend. Details on the drawer pulls of better pieces are cast, not stamped.

Try moving the moving parts. A quality chest has a separate wooden cavity for each drawer, with “guides” on the bottom or side of each cavity. Drawers should glide easily in and out of their cavities. Open and close doors, lift and lower table leaves and pull out adjustable shelves to make sure they function properly. On pieces with paneled doors (such as armoires, entertainment centers and other cupboards), the panel should “float” in a mortise-and-tenoned frame instead of being glued. That way, expansion and contraction from temperature and humidity changes won’t blow apart the door.

Check the wood finish. Beware of streaks, globs of finish or lack of uniformity in color. These tell you either that the finish is of poor quality or that it was applied poorly-or both.


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