One question I get asked rather frequently from ambitious DIYers is how to know if a piece is worth restoring. I am a big believer of “where there’s a will there’s a way.” If I fall head over heels for a piece, chances are I am going to buy it! The reality of this impulsive, purely emotionally driven decision is, we may end up sinking a significantly excessive amount of time and money into my rickety find.
To make a more calculated decision, the first thing to look for is if the piece is made of solid wood. Solid wood furniture allows for greater variety in how the piece can be restored or refinished. You can stain, paint, sand, embellish, and reconfigure real wood, additionally, if you mess up on your refinish you can sand down and start over.
Okay, so let’s say you find a piece and THINK it’s solid wood. There are three camillians to look out for which might trick you into thinking your restoration piece will be a snap, however, don’t be deceived.
1. MDF or Particle Board
3. Wood Veneer
MDF or PARTICLE BOARD:
Think Hobby Lobby quality. I am not dogging on HOB LOB, but you and I both know the quality of their furniture isn’t going to be handed down to the next generation. To see if your piece is made of either of these materials, check the weight of the item and examine the wood grain. MDF and Particle board have little to no wood grain AND they are incredibly light-weight. This material can receive a light coat of paint, however, I don’t recommend it. The board could warp or bubble when receiving paint, and there is most certainly no sanding, distressing or reconfiguring happening with this material.
Think builder grade cabinets. Plywood is solid and it will support your woodworking needs. It can receive paint, stain, and a light sanding, however, as for a beautifully refinished project this would not be my pick. Plywood is excellent for supporting, layering or serving as a backboard, but it is not the show stopping, face-framing material you want to show off in your home.
Wood veneers are a thin piece of wood about the weight of a heavy piece of cardstalk. You most commonly find these delicate coverings on the top of a vintage desk or table. Wood veneers are solid wood and can take paint and stain beautifully, however, the wood grain is so thin that a light sand could remove the grain entirely. If you come upon a piece of furniture with a warped or chipped veneer I would recommend re-considering the purchase. They can be a pain to remove and expensive to replace, however, it can be done! If you find yourself melting over an item with a chipped veneer, I have compiled some helpful tips on how to go about replacing it.