$econdhand First Class

A thrift store fanatic shares her shopping secrets

What’s What with Wood Furniture

Every well-furnished home needs tables to eat at, chairs to sit on and end table to put stuff on.

The first decision you’ll want to make is what type of material you want: solid wood, veneer, or laminate. To identify the type of material, look at a corner, especially near the top of the piece.

Solid Wood

Example of a solid oak table

Solid wood furniture can be made from hard wood such as oak, maple, ash, or walnut, or soft wood such as pine. Here’s what to look for:

  • Surface: Run your fingers over the surface. You should feel grooves and uneven areas.
  • Grain: The grain should be irregular and uneven. You might even see knot holes.
  • Edges: The edges should have a grain pattern, but look as if the grain was cut off.
  • Uses: Good for quality furniture, such as tables, chairs, cabinets. Solid wood generally refinishes more easily.Do not use soap and water on solid wood. True solid wood pieces are around but are scarcer every day.

Veneered Wood

Example of veneered door. Notice the edges.

Veneer wood is a thin sheet of real wood is glued or sealed to particle or fiber board or cheaper wood.

  • Surface: Should feel and look the same as solid wood.
  • Edges: There is usually a thin dark line just under the top of the plank. It looks layered, like a layer has been glued down, which in fact it has. Also, the edges and side grain may not match the top grain.
  • Uses: Veneer wood can make good quality furniture, such as tables or cabinets. Make sure the veneer is in good shape, smooth with no cracks, splits. You can refinish veneers but they require a lot more care.


Example of laminated door. The laminate sheet wraps from the side to the top.

A laminate is a sheet of plastic or vinyl printed with a wood grain pattern. The sheet has been pressure sealed or glued to particle or fiber board.

  • Surface: The texture may be flat, like paper.
  • Grain: The grain pattern repeats like a print. The end and sides of the piece may look “wrapped” in the paper. The side grain and end grain are the same.
  • Uses: Laminated furniture is useful for any piece you need to be able to scrub with soap and water, such as a child’s play table. If the finish is scratched but the laminate is in good shape, consider painting the piece.

Want to dig a little deeper into this topic? Check out Wood Furniture Definitions.

You’ll find all types of furniture: solid, veneered, and laminated at thrift stores. Veneered furniture is most common, followed by laminated, but every once in a while, you’ll stumble on that special solid walnut bookcase that will send you running to the register, pronto.

Happy thrifting!


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