How To Identify Type Of Antique Wood: Whether you’re eager to refinish your ancestors’ old antique furniture or want to explore what options you have when selling your antique and vintage furniture to the collector, knowing how to identify the type of antique wood you’re working with is crucial for a good bargain. Most vintage and antique furniture has been made with solid wood, but that sometimes makes telling the difference much more difficult than previously imagined. The worst part is that different type of furniture was made with different types of wood which can make identification more complex.

Based on different styles and decorations found on furniture, you can tell whether it’s new, vintage, or antique type of furniture. However, refinishing or selling it won’t be easy if you can’t tell the difference between different types of wood.

Moreover, collectors won’t be too interested in just any type of antique furniture, they’re looking for mint quality, without visible wear and tear, and wooden furniture can tarnish and lose the initial shine it had when they were initially purchased or made.

That’s why anyone who wants to sell old furniture to a reputable collector or an antique store should know how to refinish it and try to restore it to its original shape and state. Maybe it’s possible to do it without knowing which type of wood you’re working with.

Nevertheless, that’s risky and any wrong move can mean that the furniture is destroyed for good. Different types of wood require different needs, care, and nourishment during the restoration process.

In this article, we’ll introduce you to different types of antique woods, as well as what things to consider when trying to identify types of antique woods. This article is fully educational and will explain how to handle different furniture based on what wood they were made of. Continue reading to learn more.

Types of Wood Used for Antique Furniture

Before we explore different techniques for identifying antique furniture made of wood, let’s first introduce you to the types of wood used for furniture manufacturing.

  • Oak: Oak is among the most popular trees for wooden furniture. However, it can’t always be used as it grows slowly and can take up to 200 years to reach maturity. It’s among the hardest trees and very pale. If you polish it and let it sit for years it’ll darken in color. It was used for drawer linings and carcasses. It was used in the late Victorian Era as well as in Georgian times.
  • Mahogany: This hardwood is native to South America, recognizable for its dark brown to red texture with spotted dots and lines. It was used for table tops, wardrobes, chairs, and other furniture that requires hardwood. Furniture made of Mahogany was used the most in the 18th century, particularly in European countries and The UK.
  • Walnut: Walnut is another close-grained hardwood. It varies in color and can be found from light grey-brown to golden brown. Walnut is a popular wooden furniture choice because of its rich grain pattern. There are different walnut types of wood suitable for different types of furniture. It was first found to be used in the 17th century mostly for decorative furniture, and then for cabinets, wardrobes, and other furniture. It was used in Southeastern Europe, Asia, and Western China as it’s also native to these areas.
  • Elm: Elm is used for different hard furniture like bed frames, chairs, tabletops, and even cabinets. It has an attractive grain that made it popular in the Georgian era. It’s quite durable and hard so it made greater furniture that could last for a very long time.
  • Rosewood: If furniture had to be very dark, it was often made from Rosewood. It has a black wavy grain which added extra beauty to the finished furniture. It was made for veneering but only started being used for hard furniture in the 19th There are different types of Rosewood suitable for different types of furniture – Indian and Brazilian Rosewood. They were mostly used for 18th and 19th-century antique furniture. Unfortunately, the Rosewood tree is considered endangered now.
  • Satinwood: Known for its yellowish color and hard structure, this tree can be found in Sri Lanka and India. It was made for veneers in the 19th century and different furniture decorations, reaching its peak in the Edwardian times.
  • Kingwood: Kingwood is a hardwood known for its dark purple-like streaks. It has a straight grain, unlike other wood that was used in France and other European countries. It is also considered a type of Rosewood, particularly among its hardest and most durable types. It was used for inlays and veneers and could be found in Brazil and Mexico.
  • Teak: Teak ranges from golden brown to medium brown. It is popularly used for painting and has a straight grain. Sometimes, it can be found to be wavy and even interlocked, and that’s when such furniture has a higher value. They can commonly be found in Southern Asia and were used mainly for veneers and other types of furniture.
  • Calamander: Calamander is known for its hazel brown color and distinguishable black straps. It’s quite heavy and hard, which was good for making large and durable furniture. All furniture made from this wood is extremely valuable and expensive because it is nearly extinct because of rapid logging and use. It was popular during the Regency era.
  • Ash: Ash is another hardwood that was used for different Victorian-era and Georgian-era furniture. It could be easy to obtain, but the furniture made with it was usually bright in design. It has a straight grain which was popularly used for wardrobes, chests, and drawers.
  • Pollard Oak: Interestingly, this tree forms on the side of tree trunks which is a result of fungus, which makes Pollard Oak challenging to obtain. During the Victorian era, new machines were introduced and allowed easier obtaining of this tree. That’s when this wood became prominent on different types of furniture.
  • Sycamore: This wood was popularly used for brighter furniture thanks to its pale wood structure. It was used to make the finest furniture in the Regency era. It was used for kitchen table tops and counters. It is durable and can last for many years without needing reworking.

Identifying Whether It’s a Solid Wood

When you suspect that some wooden piece of furniture is antique, the first step you need to take is to confirm that it’s a piece of furniture made of solid wood and not of some synthetic combination. Below, we listed what you have to focus on.

Find the End-Grain

How To Identify Type Of Antique Wood - Find the End-Grain

Some of the easiest ways to identify a solid wood is by focusing on finding the end grain. The grain is formed as the tree is growing and can give a hint at how old is the tree. If there are growth rings that you can easily detect, you will be able to confirm that it’s solid wood.

In case the wooden furniture was manufactured with manufactured wood such as particleboard, MDF, or OSB, it will be easily recognized that it’s not a solid wood because the end grain is particularly nonexistent.

Painted Vs. Printed

How To Identify Type Of Antique Wood - Painted Vs. Printed

The best way to look at the difference between solid and manufactured wood is by looking at whether the wood was painted, printed, or laminated. Manufactured woods have a lamination that consists of plastic that has been painted to look like wood.

The real wood won’t have such a distinct look, but will rather feel a bit rough despite the fact it may have been polished in the reworking process. Check thoroughly for the use of glues and resins, and there should be a clear distinction between colored plastic and actual solid wood.

Identifying Based on the Color

As trees age, they change color, even after they were cut and turned into wooden panels for antique furniture. That’s why identifying based on color is very important.

Natural Color

If the wood has been painted heavily over the years it decreases the chances of identifying the right tree species that were used to manufacture the ancient furniture. However, if the wooden panels retained the original colors they had, it gets significantly easier.

Always confirm that the color is natural and not stained, otherwise, you’d face more difficulties and will have to look at the other details to confirm whether it’s some other wood.


As the wooden surface interacts with oxygen and air in particular, it begins to change color and catch on the patina. It happens to trees in nature, which will cause them to start fading their colors and become a bit greyish. However, it can still happen inside if there is a lot of humidity.

It’s worth mentioning that patina will always cause a tree to turn darker with age. Eventually, it may turn towards a reddish hue and some species may even begin to lose their color. Some trees used for veneering, will likely get lighter with age, so it’s good to explore which wood has the trait to get darker and which gets darker to have an easier time identifying it.

Inspect the Wooden Grain

Wooden grain is extremely helpful in determining which wood in question you’re working on. Every tree used for working on antique furniture had different wood grain patterns and being able to tell a difference between them will make the process of identifying which wood you work with easier.

Porous Texture

If you’re working with a softwood, you will notice that there are barely any grain changes and textures on the wood. It feels rather smooth and soft to the touch.

On the other hand, hardwoods have a texture with open pores. If you’re working with an oak tree or mahogany, you will be able to feel the pores with your fingertips as you run your hand across the furniture or wooden panel.

Keep in mind that not all softwood trees have smooth texture, some harder woods also have them, so you should focus on other details too.

Type of Grain (Straight, Curly, Wild, Knots, and other)

Some trees have a curly grain, while some have straight grain. To recognize which trees have what, you will have to note the possibility of other wooden structures being involved in your antique furniture. Some trees have curly grain that is very strong and pronounced, with curls being closely knit together.

On the other hand, some softwood trees may have a curly grain that is less pronounced than some other harder woods. While there is a typical pattern in softwood and hardwood, there are still some exceptions.


In combination with the aforementioned details, hardness also makes important information about the identity of the tree. Below we’ll explore the traits that make one wood hard or soft.


If your antique furniture has been sitting in an environment with high humidity, it’ll likely feel moist. Sometimes, the moisture will trap itself in the wooden components and inflate them, accounting for more than its weight.

Some woods that have been stored for a long time, and in dry areas will feel much lighter than their initial weight upon cutting and assembling. Dryness accounts for the weight of the tree, which can make the identification process a bit more difficult. Then again, it could also say a lot about which tree is more susceptible to absorbing moisture.

Editor’s notes: It’d always be good to compare the wooden panel in question to the wooden panel of other tree species that you may have already identified. For example, if it’s heavier than oak or other hardwood, or lighter than softwood. You can also search the average weight of different wooden planks and use that information to compare your wood.

Softwood Vs. Hardwood

How To Identify Type Of Antique Wood - Softwood Vs. Hardwood

In this situation, you have to consider how density compares to the hardness of wood. They are both closely tied, so a tree that is quite heavy is likely to be denser in the process. This is an extremely valuable way to compare the wood in finished furniture that you can’t measure easily.

Another indication of whether you’re dealing with hardwood or softwood is also which furniture it was made for. Softwood plans and panels won’t be used for sturdy tabletops, cabinets, drawers, bed frames, and other items. Oak and Redwood will likely be used for heavy-duty furniture like kitchen counters, drawers, cabinets, wardrobes, and other furniture.

Editor notes: The best way to tell whether you’re dealing with softwood or hardwood is by inspecting the hardness with a fingernail test. The fingernail test means pushing into the edge of the wood and seeing if it makes it slightly bent or shows a dent that protrudes into the wooden surface. Hardwood wouldn’t allow for the fingernail test to pass so easily.

Other Ways to Identify Type of Antique Wood

If the previous ways of checking the wooden furniture didn’t help you identify which tree it came from, here are some other ways to identify the type of antique wood.


If you know the origin of the furniture and what was its first intended use, you’ll have an easier time identifying it. For example, if the tree was sourced from a lumber mill that means that the tree was processed locally, which is not possible for many types of trees.

If the tree was sourced from a local builder, be it a carpenter or a boat-builders, it’s more likely to be limited to some other sources. Finally, if the furniture came from a particular country or a state, then it’s probably limited to a few species unless it came from a mass-manufacturing process.

Is it Large?

Some plans and panels are rather thin and small, while some other ones are significantly larger. Panels that belong to the largest tree species will likely be dark, sometimes even black, while on other occasions, they will even be stained. Smaller wooden panels are usually more expensive.


How To Identify Type Of Antique Wood - Odor

Some wooden furniture still retains its original identifiable scent. If you’re well-knowledgeable about trees, you will be able to identify wooden structures that haven’t been too stained, polished, or altered. For example, Rosewood is called that for a reason, it has a recognizable smell that reminds people of roses.

Even though it may sound difficult and almost impossible, people who have worked with wooden furniture before, can easily tell the smell and identify the tree based on other traits too.

Fluorescence Testing

Another way to test the tree and potentially identify it is to expose it to certain specters of light and see whether the fluorescence it gives away will make it easier to identify it. Trees are known to absorb and emit light in the visible wavelength.

Some tree species have fluorescent qualities and traits, so if you expose the wood to some different wavelengths you could compare it to other known tree species and recognize just how much light they absorb and emit.

Chemical Testing

Another way to identify the wood is by using chemical testing that is specialized for each wood type. However, it’s only recommended to use this approach when you’re confused by two species that look and feel alike.

The chemical testing will help unveil the composition of the wood and help you tell the difference. It works by applying a reagent that was previously dissolved in water. After that, you should observe the wooden surface and check whether there was a chemical reaction that is characteristic of the wood type you suspect.

Sometimes, the color will change as a result of the chemical reaction. Usually, this test is used to separate different oak and maple species.

Check End-grain With Magnifier

How To Identify Type Of Antique Wood - Check End-grain With Magnifier

Finally, another way to check for differences between tree species and identify them properly is to check the wooden surface with a magnifier. Particularly, you’ll have to check the end grain. It focuses on observing the grain texture and pattern which only appears in certain wooden species.

The magnification range should be from 8x to 15x. In most cases, the magnifier won’t need to be more than 10x, as it’s the ideal setting to help identify the wood you’re suspecting.

Lastly, a trained eye of an appraiser or an antique expert could also be with you when identifying the wood type so no mistakes are made when examining the identity. It’s always good to have someone who can identify and recognize different textures, shapes, lengths, colors, and other properties.

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