Antique Furniture – Identifying Types of Wood

Antique wood restoration

Each type of wood has different qualities, and furniture makers and restorers understand which wood is best for which piece. There are many ways wood can be stained and cut, making it the ideal material for creating beautiful antique furniture. Many items of antique wooden furniture have retained unique beauty with simple carving and staining, and this is often down to the right choice of wood.

It can be tricky to identify a wood type and link it to a specific period. Many books and websites are available to assist you with this, but nothing beats the wisdom of experience! It is always best to consult an antique specialist, such as Abbey Antiques, for help with identifying antique furniture. Here, we look at a brief overview of identifying wood types and recognising antique characteristics.


Pine is a common, lightweight wood that does not swell or shrink. It does, however, split. Pine is often used to build the skeleton of a piece before later being veneered. It is white or yellow in appearance, although this darkens over time.


Oak – A solid, durable wood, often used for cabinets and sturdier pieces. Oak can be red or white, and various cuts and grains are highly sought after. Ash is sometimes confused with oak and is often used to replace it.

Walnut – Common for cathedral patterns, walnut has many colours. It can appear black, brown, white, grey and even purple. Antiques made from walnut are often yellow-brown as this type of wood will lighten as it ages.

Cherry – A hardwood, often used for American antiques. When it is first cut, cherry is a pink colour, darkening as it ages to stunning reds and browns. It is a durable wood that is commonly used for cabinets.

Mahogany – A popular wood for European style designs. Its unique grain pattern may be red or light brown and may include a ribbon effect. It is commonly used for pieces such as dressers and dining tables.

Rosewood – Rosewood has a unique floral aroma when first cut. It is similar in appearance to mahogany but with fine white or black rings.

If you want to care for your antique furniture correctly and ensure you get the most from it, you will need to establish the type of wood it is made from.

If you would like advice on antique wood, or antique restoration, contact Abbey Antiques on 01708 741135.