Estate Sale Tips - Identifying Antique Wooden Furniture Beforehand

30 January 2015
 Categories: Entertainment, Articles


If a parent or other family member has recently passed away, then you likely have many things you need to take care of. If you have financial concerns due to funeral costs and other bills, then it may be in your best interest to arrange an estate sale. Estate liquidation experts and appraisers can help you to price the items appropriately in the home. Before you start considering the sale though, you should find out if wooden furniture items are antiques. These items can be sold to private collectors or at auction, so look for the following characteristics to identify an antique furniture piece.

Investigate Joints

Many newer furniture pieces are constructed with machinery, and the precise cuts of the machines can be seen when you inspect the joints that hold drawers, furniture legs, and arms together. Butt, bridle, dowel, finger, mortise, and dovetail are a few examples of the joints that may hold the furniture piece together.

If you notice that these joints are clean, precise, and evenly spaced, then it is likely that your furniture item was constructed after 1890 when machines were first used to mass produce wooden items. Also, the presence of a joint other than dovetail indicates that the wooden piece was constructed within the last century.

If the furniture item appears to have uneven dovetail joints across the piece, then it may be antique. Inspect the joints further for imperfections and look for small nicks or cuts surrounding the outsides of the joints. Cabinet makers and woodworking experts commonly used chisels, small saws, and other hand tools to create antique joints. These tools helped to create tight connections, but the joints were rarely perfect or free from wood damage.

Inspect the Finish

If you want to identify a wooden piece of furniture, then you can inspect the finish as well. Antique furniture makers used natural shellac finishes to produce a shiny and luxurious finish across tables and chairs. Shellac is a resin material that is created by bugs who suck sap out of trees and cover branches. The material is removed from the trees, processed, and crushed into flakes. These flakes are then heated and the resin material is used to cover wood.  

Shellac was considered an easy and inexpensive material to work with, but the finish can be easily damaged. This is one reason why more modern furniture items are covered with lacquer and polyurethane materials. You can sometimes identify a shellac piece of furniture by the cracks and chips in the finish.

Testing for Shellac

If your wooden piece of furniture is in great condition with very few imperfections in the finish, then you can test the finish to see if it is covered with shellac. Locate an inconspicuous area on the bottom or back of your furniture item that appears to be covered by the finish. Place a single drop of denatured alcohol on the wood and let the alcohol sit for several minutes. Afterwards, run your finger over the area to see if the finish is sticky. If it is tacky, then it is covered with shellac. Allow the area to dry and harden to prevent finish damage.

If the alcohol test does not soften the finish, then place one drop of turpentine or paint thinner on the area. If this fluid causes the finish to become tacky, then it is likely that the finish is made out of an oil based lacquer or polyurethane material. If this is the case, then the furniture item is likely not an antique.

If you want to hold an estate sale after a family member passes away, then it is wise to hire an expert to handle the event so you can get as much money as possible. You should make sure there are no antique wooden furniture items in the home before you contact a liquidation or estate professional though. These items can be sold separately by you or by your appraiser.

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