7 Pitfalls when Buying Vintage Furniture

Updated: Feb 10, 2021

Furniture hunting is such fun and if DIY vintage is your style, it opens up a different avenue of hunting spots.

There are a few critical points to keep in mind when making the purchase so that you understand what you are getting into, and are able to assess the amount of work that is required. Remember that vintage furniture is already decades old and can be prone to creaking, weakened joints, sticking, jamming, marks, dents, major damage and more. This can often add to the character of the piece. Too much of the above and you may be better off looking for something else or roping in an experienced restorer.

Structural integrity

  1. Loose joints - the most common issue in chairs. A way to quickly check for loose joints is to apply pressure to the seat frame area and gently move left and right. If the legs are loose, you will see movement at the joint.

  2. Loose sections or panels of wood, such as a door panel, drawer front or top section,

  3. Doors open and closely relatively easily,

  4. Drawers open and close relatively smoothly and don't dip too far backwards,

  5. Chips, holes and deep scratches. Softer woods like backing boards, plywood and pine tend to damage more quickly over time. They are also prone to the worst kind of damage, such as holes. Check the back, inside of drawers, door fronts and side panels for obvious damage.

Stains and marks

The common ones are oil, coffee, tea, ink and pot stains. Some add to the character of the piece and others should be removed. Although, if drawers could talk, they would tell some interesting stories!

Wood borer beetle

Borer beetle is quite common in household furniture in both soft and hard woods.

Evidence of beetle is easily identified by very small round holes the size of a pinhead, long tunnels on the surface of the wood or white wood dust.

The wood dust can often be found on the bottom of cupboards or the floor of the surrounding area. While it sounds really serious, it can be treated.

Veneer and laminate wood

LEFT: Veneer showing bubbling

It wasn't until 1950's where veneer production reached it peak and went from being an artist expression of the most exotic woods and burls, to super thin wood that was simply used to cover supawood or chipboard.

It was here where it developed a bad reputation. Veneer in particular is known to lift and bubble with time, often, as a result of age, and expose to sun or water.

When purchasing veneer to revamp is it important to understand if it is veneer or solid wood.

Cut to 0.6mm thickness

There are two ways to be sure:

1. The thin layer of wood is visible from the side.

2. If you look below the surface or behind the panel, you should see superwood, chipboard or other wood that looks significantly different from that on the surface.

Restoring veneer can be really tricky due to the sheer thinness of the wood and the damage it can incur through its lifetime.

Moulding or carving damage

Carved sections or embellishments are often damaged in vintage pieces, so ensure that all of the sections and pieces are in place. Alternatively, if the piece is heavily carved, you might not notice the missing piece or pieces.

Repairing carved pieces is tricky and very time consuming.

Warped wood

Wood that is very warped or skew can make using a piece of furniture like a table-top very difficult to use, frustrating to work on and dangerous. Be very careful when taking on a project like this, as repairing warped wood is not a simple fix.

Free to a good home!

So often I have come across those tempting 'free to a good home' ads and cringe. If it is in great nick, then grab it with both hands. If the piece is falling apart or is visibly broken, please take my advice and walk away.

From personal experience, they often turn out to be an absolute nightmare, where you invest hours and hours of your life, only to move from one problem to the next!!

Happy furniture hunting!



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