Wood is a versatile material for construction and design. Depending on the colour, staining, and variations within types, it can make a place look rustic or elegant, cosy or formal. However, this variety can make it challenging to trace a type of antique furniture to a specific period. Plenty of vintage home décor from various eras use wood parts or are made entirely of the material.
If you want to learn how to identify types of wood and their characteristics, look no further—today, we are breaking down the basics of identifying wood in antique furniture.
How to Identify Types of Wood
The first thing to do when identifying types of wood is to determine whether you’re looking at solid wood or a veneer stamped on plywood or composite board. This is easy enough with a visual inspection—the grain in artificial veneer does not match up at the edges. It also tends to have repetitive patterns.
If you’ve determined that the furniture is solid wood, you can start assessing it based on other characteristics. You can divide types of wood into two general categories—hard and softwood. The former is from deciduous trees, while the latter is from conifers. Softwoods are supple and easier to form, but they are not less resilient than hardwoods.
After you identify the type of wood, note the alterations the furniture maker has done on it. Paint and staining can change the grain and colour of the furniture, so you must know that you’re looking at the actual surface. Sanding the furniture helps; it removes applied layers and lets you see the authentic appearance of the wood.
Types of Wood Typically Used for Furniture
At this point, you should be able to identify the kind of wood it is. Some common types of wood that antique furniture is made of include pine, mahogany, oak, walnut, rosewood, and cherry. Let us look at each of these below.
Pine is a lightweight softwood and is very common. It resists swelling or shrinking, but because of its softness, it is prone to splitting. Its timber is usually white or pale yellow when new and has a straight grain. This wood is mainly used for interiors and building the carcass of pieces and would often get a veneer during finishing.
Mahogany is a type of wood native to the West Indies, Central America, and South America. Its distinctive grain pattern creates ribbons on furniture, and the timber ranges from light brown to red. You will often see mahogany dining tables or dressers, especially in traditional builds.
Red or White Oak
Both red and white oak are popular varieties in furniture construction. It is because oak is solid, versatile wood. It is commonly used for flooring, panelling, cabinetry, decking, and veneers, among many other things. Some furniture makers substitute oak with ash—the two have a similar look.
This type of wood is known for its rich and detailed grain. Walnut comes in a range of colours. In contemporary builds, black walnut is common because it is a sleek, shiny counterpoint to the greys and beiges of stone and concrete. Black walnut looks grey or purple in its raw form, but antique walnut wood is usually yellow-brown since this material lightens as it ages.
When cut, rosewood gives off a scent similar to the flower with which it shares its name. It looks like mahogany but is much heavier. It also has fine white or black rings. This wood is sought after because of its dark red colouring, density, and suppleness.
Cherry is almost pink when you first cut it, but it darkens into a beautiful brown or red with age. Cherry wood is both solid and easy to work with. It has a smooth grain and rich colour, and it is frequently used in cabinetry, toys, flooring, and panelling.
Buying and Selling Vintage Home Décor
Antique furniture, especially wooden ones, have rich and beautiful histories. If you’re unsure what type of wood your antique piece is made of, visit your local second-hand furniture store. At an antique store, you can get a detailed appraisal on your heirloom or collector’s item—no more wondering about the provenance of your piece!
At Cavalier Antiques and Restorations, we offer the finest quality antique furniture and collectibles. We are a vintage store in Adelaide, offering top-quality collector’s items and furniture dating back to the 1700s. Contact us today for enquiries!