Is refinishing wooden furniture worth it?

How to tell if a piece of wooden furniture is finished for good.

Whether it’s a vintage piece that has been in your family for generations or something that just caught your eye at a flea market, it can often be tricky to place a value – either sentimental or monetary – onto items of furniture.

Is it worth the effort of refinishing?

Would I be better off replacing it?

Could I get something better elsewhere?

These are all valid questions to ask yourself, but is there an easy answer?

Realistically, it all depends on you, and how much you are willing to give to an item – but there are ways that you can help assess what the best step is for you.

Our furniture restoration experts have come up with a list of questions to help you determine whether or not there is any value in refinishing an item of wooden furniture.

How old is the piece?

You may think that the first question you should be asking is about price, but in the case of furniture restoration and refurbishment, there is often something far more important to establish: age.

Depending on how old the item is, it can tell you the best course of action and how to treat it. As a general rule of thumb, if a piece was made before 1850, then you may want to consider conserving it instead of replacing it. Especially in the case of pieces that have been long-time family heirlooms, getting an evaluation of the item’s age is the best first step as you want to avoid any damage to the original craftsmanship.

Pieces made after 1850 are a different story. Though the definition of an antique is a piece that is over 100 years old. In particular, wooden furniture made between the years 1850 and 1960 is considered an ideal candidate for restoration processes like refinishing as they were made using more complex processes that make them more durable and able to stand the test of time.  

How well is the piece constructed?

Now that you’ve assessed the age of the piece, you can look at its craftmanship in more detail. Before deciding on whether or not to go ahead with refinishing a piece of furniture, you should think about how well it is made. Construction standards for wooden furniture have altered a lot in recent years, so knowing the age of the furniture can help with this significantly. As stated above, an item’s age has a lot to do with its quality, and pieces made after 1960 are likely to be less enduring and well-made than those between the ideal period of 1850-1960. These items have stood the test of time for a reason, and are generally better constructed compared to their post-1960 counterparts.

An easy way to check the construction of an item is to check its sturdiness by very gently feeling how it feels under the weight of your hands if you shake it lightly back and forth. By doing this, you should be able to feel any movement of any loose joints that might be present. If they are, it’s probably better to avoid this piece, as it could mean a lot of extra work as you’ll have to spend time re-glueing the joints to the frame.

Is the wood real?

Related to the timing and construction of a wooden item is its material. Post-1960s, manufacturers began to replace real wood with what is known as MDF, which stands for medium density fireboard. MDF is not real wood, but a more cost-effective industrially produced alternative. Whilst this makes it stronger than the real stuff, it is covered with a wood laminate – so is less ideal than real wood for refinishing. In general, if you are purchasing furniture at a mass retailer – the likelihood is that it was made with MDF. To test whether an item is made with MDF, Guardsman recommends sanding down a small section of the item that is well hidden to check the underlying grain. If it is not the same as the wood underneath, it is artificial.

Has the piece been painted over?

In some cases, a piece of wooden furniture may have become damaged from scrapes, burns, and other wear and tear. Previous owners may have been sly in their approach to this and used paint to try and cover up and hide the damage. It’s worth getting a close look at the piece to assess the quality of the paint job and whether it has been used as a coverup.  

How much will it cost?

Of course, the decision of whether or not to refinish a piece of wooden furniture is in part a financial one. The cost of refinishing an item will naturally depend on factors that we have previously mentioned such as age and condition. However, should a piece need repairs from wear and tear or damage from hazards like fires or flooding, our Furniture Medic team will be able to carry out the necessary repairs, along with our refinishing service.

For a free, no-obligation quotation for repairs or refinishing of a wooden furniture item, do not hesitate to get in touch with your nearest Furniture Medic business today.      

By Tom Page, Digital Content Writer