Virtually every type of wood has been used to make furniture over time. Each time period tended to use a different type as fashion, trends and supplies would allow. Before the 1900’s a lot of the everyday household pieces were made from oak, mahogany and fruitwoods. The colonial time period used what seemed to be local and readily available. Finding an item from before 1900 is worth purchasing and restoring if it is in decent shape, since the quality of the production was generally higher in that time period. As time passes the extraordinary wood types get scarcer and less popular as a raw material. As a result a lot of today’s furniture is made from oak, pine, poplar, and other inexpensive woods are used.
Deciding whether to refinish what you have found in an estate sale can be decided by if the wood is strong or valuable enough to withstand the process. Things like wood grain and color and hardness are two of the deciding factors on what should make or break your purchase of a vintage piece. Hardness is simple in the sense, is the piece made from hard or soft wood, which can be tricky to decipher sometimes. Hardwoods are flowering trees and softwoods are conifers. Hardwoods are generally more expensive than softwoods because it is harder to find. Wood grain and color is the other way to understand the piece of furniture and its worth. The different type of tree, species, and pores in the wood all determine the wood grains hue and appearance. If the cells of the wood are small and it has a smooth feel to the hand, it is close grained. The majority of hardwoods are close grained. Softwoods are absent of vessel cells, and these wood grains can be found on the inside pieces of furniture most of the time. Most quality furniture tends to use close grained woods like mahogany, cherry, etc.