How to Identify Different Types of Wood in Antique Furniture


Antique furniture is expensive and that’s why it hurts your wallet dearly when they get damaged. If your antique furniture is damaged, you can get it fixed by a professional by searching for “furniture repair near me”. However, if you plan to fix and refinish your antique wood furniture you need to know exactly what kind of wood it’s made from. Let’s figure out how you can identify different types of wood in antique furniture:

The Types

1. Oak – Oak is old wood. An oak tree takes hundreds of years to reach full maturity and there are hundreds of varieties of this tree. Usually, oak wood is pale in color and extremely hard. However, it can be polished to a rich brown finish. You can identify this wood by feeling its texture with your hand. If you sand down the wood to the fresh wood grain and it’s smooth, it isn’t oak. 

Oak can also be identified with the grain pattern. White oak may have tiger-striped or yellow flecked grain while red oak has a swirling wavy grain pattern. If it’s oak wood, you’ll also see small and dark horizontal lines throughout the piece. These lines are known as rays. While red oak has shorter half-inch lines, white oak boasts longer lines.    

2. Maple – Maple is a very common wood that has been used in hardwood furniture for hundreds of years. While working with it is tricky, it can be identified easily. Maple has a light brown color. Maple also has a tight and straight grain pattern that can be felt by running your hand over the piece of wood. Sometimes birch is stained to look like maple. Sanding it down to expose the bare wood and checking the color and grain helps to identify the wood correctly. 

3. Cherry – Cheery is one of the best and cherished hardwoods for making high-quality furniture in America. It starts with a light pink color that darkens with age to a dark reddish gradient. It’s also a photosensitive wood. That means it darkens proportionately with exposure to light. That’s why the true color of cheery can differ from tree to tree in the same region of the forest or plantation. 

When it comes to the texture, cherry is smooth to the touch and differs from other types of wood with distinct “pitch pockets” or “gum pockets”. They are naturally occurring mineral deposits that show up as black flecks on the wood. They are almost impossible to fake on other types of hardwood and add random character to antique furniture made from cherry wood. 

4. Mahogany – If you have an exotic piece of antique furniture, it’s probably made from mahogany. The tropical hardwood has a distinct swirly grain that looks like ribbons. You’ll also find mahogany in outdoor furniture due to its uniform pores and smooth texture that make it highly resistant to moisture. You can easily identify mahogany with its interlocking grain pattern that’s also responsible for making the wood extremely strong. 

 Despite its many accent colors of white, peach, pink, brown, and gray, mahogany is mainly reddish-brown in color. Another identifying factor of mahogany is its weight. Despite being as strong as oak, it is very lightweight. 

5. Walnut – Walnut is another strong yet lightweight wood used in antique furniture. Walnut also has the most striking look with its straight grain pattern and marvelous chocolate brown coloring. It also has unique dark streaks and figured grain on burled pieces. However, don’t dismiss walnut as the wood piece in antique furniture if you don’t see the straight grain. If the wood is sourced closer to the roots of the walnut tree, it will have a wavy grain pattern. 

That’s not the only reason why identifying walnut wood is so difficult. Furniture makers used to and still prefer to use extremely patterned burls and knotted pieces of the walnut tree. That’s why you need to rely more on the color while identifying walnuts. The color ranges from chocolate brown to a dark tan with very few purple and green spots or streaks. 

6. Redwood – Redwood is usually reserved for the most expensive furniture pieces even hundreds of years ago. Redwood trees are one of the tallest tree species on the planet and their heartwood ranges from light pink to deep red-brown. On the other hand, its outer sapwood is yellow or pale white in color.    

It usually has a very straight and fine grain with spots or burls along with a wavy grain being very rare. Redwood is good at resisting rot and despite being a softwood, it’s strong for its weight. As long as it’s softwood with the above-mentioned hues and grain pattern you can be sure it’s redwood. 

7. Poplar – Most people confuse polar as a softwood species. That’s because it’s the softest among hardwoods and also the most inexpensive among the lot. You can identify poplar in your furniture with its yellowish-brown heartwood. You may also find gray, green, and purple streaks on the wood. After you’ve identified the color, you can feel the wood for wooly type grain. That’s why the wood also looks a bit hazy. 

8. Hemlock – This is another contradicting wood. It is one of the hardest softwoods with a nice straight grain texture and uniform color for both the sapwood and the heartwood. Since it is resin-free it readily accepts stains, clear finishes, and paints. That’s why you won’t find hemlock in outdoor furniture either. 

When you sand down a softwood antique furniture to expose the bare wood you can easily distinguish it from pine, spruce, and other kinds of softwood due to the uniform pattern and color.   


Now that you know how to identify different types of wood in antique furniture it’s easy to fix and refinish it. You can identify it from the wood grain, growth rings, burls, and more such details. However, refinishing isn’t an easy job. To get your antique furniture professionally finished by a professional search for “furniture repair near me”.