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How to Buy Used Wood Furniture

October 31 2010

Furniture is your home’s declaration of style, and nothing has the elegant look and feel of wood.  Finding the right piece of pre-owned wood furniture on a budget can be fun and rewarding, if you know what to look for – a bargain. 

Generally, you get what you pay for. Furniture that’s cheap often has something wrong with it. The question is can you live with it or fix it? Or do you even want to?

Used wood furniture that’s been painted the wrong color can be repainted. Moth-ball smells can come out with a good furniture soap and polish. And garish upholstery can be ripped off and replaced with a stylish contemporary pattern.

Not only will you have a bargain, you’ll also have a great story to tell your friends as they gasp and cluck over your fabulous camelback sofa. You’ll love telling them that when you found it, the legs were broken off and springs were coming out of the seats, and now it’s a priceless gem of restoration.

As you browse flea markets, garage sales and consignment stores, you may find good buys in solid wood or veneers. First rule – a well-made piece doesn’t wobble, no matter what it’s made of. All four legs should touch the ground at the same time.

It’s a fact of life that much furniture is made with veneers to save costs, so when you’re buying used furniture, make sure the veneer is overlaid on wood and not particleboard, when tends to fracture when damaged, or bloat when it gets wet. You’ll know a poor veneer because the edges are frayed, much like chipped nail polish on an overdue manicure.

Look for strong woods like birch, oak, poplar, or anything else that isn’t particleboard, which tends to fracture when damaged, or bloat and distort when wet. These are especially important for beds, cribs, and chairs.

When you spot a piece you like, examine the quality. Naturalhomemagazine.com suggests you look at both the wood used to make the piece and how the joints are assembled. These factors will tell you about craftsmanship, and the care with which the piece was constructed. Bolts and  clean application of glue are good indicators that the person who made the piece knew what they were doing.

Machine manufactured materials tend to have simple screw in joints that are not sturdy.

Extension.usu.edu says quality joints come in 7 basic types: tongue and groove, mortise and tenon, rabbet, butt, double dowel, dovetail and corner block.

It’s important to know about joints and construction because chances are, the used furniture you’re buying may have already changed hands several times, and it certainly doesn’t come with a warranty.

Chances are you may find a great piece of furniture that has a joint issue. There’s a reason why used furniture costs less than new, and this is one of those times to weigh the cost of repair with the cost of the piece. If it can be fixed with a little wood glue, or a screw in the right place, you may have a bargain.

Some pieces may need refinishing to buff out drinking glass rings or nicks. Again, you’ll have to weigh the cost of refinishing (supplies, labor) with the cost of the same piece purchased as new. Some furniture can be painted, some restained.

And what’s great about wood furniture is that you can refinish most pieces to the color you want. Refinishwizard.com quotes Peter B. Cook as saying “well conceived and well-executed refinishing and restoration usually enhances the value of just about any piece of furniture.” 
If the piece is unique, adorable, perfect in every way, and priced right, you should have it.

You may find that friends and family get into the spirit of rehabilitating an old piece of furniture, and will offer to help. Make an event of it – invite everyone over with their ideas, and pass out the lemonade and the sandpaper.

You’ll be glad you did.