I was recently asked this question by a reader and thought it would be a great blog post topic: how to tell if wood furniture is real or fake. It’s something that I have wondered about in the past and had to learn more about as I started refinishing furniture. So, how can you tell if your furniture is solid wood versus laminate or veneer? There are several ways to determine this.
Solid wood furniture is heavy. Really heavy. If your furniture is fairly light-weight, it’s probably not solid wood.
A great indicator of solid wood is dovetail construction. Your furniture may still have veneer fronts, but it’s most likely constructed of solid wood if you see that tongue and groove construction where the drawer connects to the drawer front.
Take a look at the sides and underneath your piece of furniture. If there is a veneer, you will be able to look at it from the side and see where the sheet of veneer attaches to the front of the piece. Also, if you see unfinished wood underneath the furniture, it’s probably wood and not laminate which tends to cover the furniture from top to bottom. Veneer will also have a horizontal grain pattern on the edges, whereas solid wood will have no grain on the edges.
If you can feel the grain and see a varying pattern, it’s probably solid wood. Sometimes it’s hard to feel with your fingertips if it has been sealed, so you will have to use several ways of inspecting the piece to know for sure. If you see the grain but the pattern tends to repeat and it lacks texture and feels perfectly smooth, it’s probably veneer. If it lacks grain altogether, it’s most likely laminate.
This is our cheapo filing cabinet made out of particle board. This “fake” is easy to spot because of its light weight and overall poor quality construction. No dovetail joints, no grain, and when you open it you can see the particle board on the back of the drawer.
If the wood has an ornate or carved detailing, it is wood. Laminate and veneers cannot be carved.
Plain and simple, solid wood costs a lot more.
Many veneers are made of real wood, and just because a piece of furniture has veneer on it does not mean it is not good quality or durable. Real wood veneers can even be stained. Just be careful sanding veneers, as you do not want to damage it or sand it off completely.
I hope this is helpful. Let me remind you that I am not an expert. I am simply learning as I go and sharing tips that I’ve picked up along the way. If you have any questions, or anything to add to this, please let me know!
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