Checking the Condition of Old Furniture


The way a piece of furniture is used and sometimes abused determines the type of damage or wear you can expect to find. Naturally this is also affected by the way the piece has been constructed. Within this site, I will tell you what pointers to look for when choosing your piece.

Regardless of its age or style, the average dining chair will have been put to hard use. Not only will it have been subjected to the strain of countless sitters shifting their weight onto the back legs as they lean back after a meal, it will also most likely have been used as a makeshift stepladder to reach a high place. A well made chair is immensely strong for its weight, but concentrating loads on to one or two legs puts undue strain on the joints, especially those between the back legs and seat rail. Before you buy any chair always check these joints for signs of weakness. With one hand on the backrest, tilt the chair onto its back legs, and then press down on the front edge of the seat with the other hand. Any movement between the rails and back legs suggests loose joints. Loose joints can be reglued quite easily, but if you detect excessive movement it is quite possible they will have been eaten away by woodworm and will need rejointing or doweling to make rigid again. This especially is the case on Oak or Beech constructed furniture.

Place the flat of your hand on a tabletop and try to slide it from side to side. A strong rigid frame will resist any movement, but one that has slack joints or missing stretcher rails will most likely move back and forth. Tables with any mechanical joints or moving part are more prone to wear, so do put them through some hard tests before you buy.

In a similar way, look for signs of wear along the runners of drawers and doors of cupboards. It is always worth trying to move back and forth a cabinet to see if the backboards are fixed securely.

Woodworm will attack any piece of furniture, but more so on the woods mentioned above, mainly because they stand undisturbed for long periods. It is essential you check behind the piece and all around to see any signs of infestation in the wood. If there are any holes in the wood, tap that area quite hard. If a fine dust falls out that is a good indication that the worm is active. This must be treated before you place it near any other furniture, as it will spread. There are a number of treatments on the market, usually in the form of a liquid that will need to be squirted into all the holes.

Don't let woodworm put you off if you really like the piece of furniture and its not too badly infested. Treatment is quite easy but must be done thoroughly.


The condition of a surface is quite obvious, but there is hardly ever a reason to reject the piece on the bases that it needs re-polishing.

With some practice it is possible to strip off a surface and re-polish or perhaps even French polish, if you are prepared to put in the time to master the technique. This may not have to be the case and one doesn't have to go that far, all that maybe needed is a good clean to remove minor blemishes and a surface dressing, and finally a wax polish.

I have published some before and after photographs and methods of restoration on the following pages, to help you.

Antique Chair Restoration Antique Chest Restoration Antique Sofa Restoration Antique Table Restoration
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Checking Furniture Condition
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