How can you tell if a piece of furniture is sturdy or cheap?


I have several pieces of furniture that has been passed down to me. Some are solid, heavy pieces and some are not. What is a foolproof way to tell the difference?

  10 answers
  • Lifestyles Homes Lifestyles Homes on Feb 03, 2020

    Certain pieces, like tubular steel, that has been chromed, have telltale caps on the end of the tubes.

    Other pieces that are wood: don’t be concerned if it is veneer as veneer has been around for hundreds of years in one form or another.

    Pieces made during the Depression, are all cheaper construction, but that’s because people had no money for furniture- they were focused on staying alive.

    The drawers should be dovetail joints, and the connections between legs and tops or seat pans should have dowels and or screws.

    Photographed wood, or 100% construction of particleboard called MDF, will be signs of newer pieces and cheap pieces.

    let us know more specifically, with some pics, so we can be more help

  • Cynthia H Cynthia H on Feb 03, 2020

    I don't think there is a foolproof method. The heavier the piece, the older it probably is. But, that doesn't tell you its value. Experts do research and look for markings that help identify who made the furniture. I look for solid, fitted joints, a finish that wasn't sprayed on at a factory, that the piece is solid. Does it matter if it is the real thing? For price, sure. I go in with research and knowledge of what I want, if I am buying. If it's what I want and can be used for what I want, I figure out what I am willing to pay depending on the condition and how I feel about it. If you want to sell, you should do some research and see what a dealer is willing to pay, remembering a dealer is going to mark up the price to make a profit. If you want to keep the pieces, keep what you like, want and need. I'm not a purist about painting furniture, nor always going to paint, since I like a good wood finish. Decide what you want and use that as a yardstick to measure what it is worth to you. If you have pictures, receipts or anything else that helps date a piece, it will help value your piece. Even a real, well made antique is worth what someone is willing to pay. Good luck!

  • Megan Megan on Feb 03, 2020

    Also look for stamps from the makers on the inside of the drawers or the back of the furniture. Good furniture companies often put a stamp.

  • Johnavallance82 Johnavallance82 on Feb 03, 2020

    Hello there,

    Quality and price do not necessarily go together. Some quality items or Antique items may not be worth as much as they used to be (at the moment) but prices rise and fall with the market and fashion. Quality will always sell, but not necessarily now! Quality is in the finish and the overall balance of the item. Best to keep it all until you can get an expert to look at them for you or try - looking on eBay, it might help or better still borrow a book from the Library...........Good wishes - furniture lover................

  • Gk Gk on Feb 03, 2020

    You don't mention what you think the age of your furniture is. The older it is the less chance it is a knock off. I would say that the solid heavier pieces are older, however, I am just guessing. It's hard to tell just from a question what you actually have! A picture would help-we could look at the style and give a good guess regarding age.

  • Jody Jody on Feb 03, 2020

    Depending on where you live there should be someone who auctions/sells antiques. A good interior decorator should be able to lead you to someone. Some of your local woodworkers or cabinet makers should be able to suggest people. There are lots of websites you can check. Look for pictures of pieces similar to yours, that will give you a name of style. Then you can check the history of that style. And then last. An older wooden piece should weigh less than a newer identical piece. But depending it’s age and how well it was taken care of, it could have repairs made. I paid a professional to come appraise the contents of my mother’s extensive collections because I had no idea where to start. I got yelled at because a chair had been refinished in 1949- i was 2 thank you. And a foot stool repaired and refinished in 1953. But, I showed her a pair of candle sticks my dad always referred to as cheap pot metal. A wedding gift in 1920. Her comment was it was a shame I didn’t have the clock. I reached up and felt for the hidden clock. $1500. And thank heavens no one had polished them and removed that desirable patina 🙄. I’m sitting here looking at a drop leaf table that a grandmother started housekeeping in 1898. The 28 coats of paint and been removed, a small repair to a leaf I had to point out to her done in 1957. It’s covered in tung oil. She pointed out places that proved the hand work building it. It’s heavy for its age but it’s made from Tupelo pine (?). At least $750. The wooden dough bowl from another grandmother who started housekeeping also in 1898, in beautiful shape, close to $1000. Now there were brass oil lamps made into electric but done so they remain usable as oil lamps. And lots more stuff. Hope mentioning some of these details will help when you find someone to help you. These kinds of things need to be mentioned by the person- before you need to ask.

    This lady drove 2+ hours to get to me, she charged $250/hr. Highly recommended in NC and SC to appraise more than one kind of item. My table has handwriting underneath by various family when we were kids playing in the kitchen. Daddy didn’t remove those. Those plus some marks burned or stamped into the wood verified what she needed. The footstool has several marks, some initials and the year 1827 stamped underneath. It has a beautifully done repair to a handle- it’s a gooseneck- but it was refinished, a new needlepoint cover, and a thin piece of plywood carefully screwed underneath. The chairs also have the plywood screwed in. People are a lot heavier now than the 1800’s. I had mine appraised in order to figure out how to divvy up mother’s stuff. It helped me to make decisions. Mine was not to sell but to divide as equitably as possible. She did call someone to clarify some points on the furniture pieces, not her specialty. But I got what I needed. Except I still have a large collection of items like doilies, table cloths, bedspreads, tatting, etc. I’ve had 5 different people try to help me with these pieces. One auctioneer actually asked his audience to bid on pieces as if money was no object and they really wanted an item. The audience was so very nice and thought that a good idea. Not sure how realistic but at least an idea of what appealed to that particular that night- 15 years ago. Best wishes with your hunt. Btw, how much someone charges you is no indication of how good they are. Would love to know what you learn and if any of this is useful.

  • Sharon Sharon on Feb 05, 2020

    Its all about the construction of the piece, older hand-made furniture has various construction methods that shows craftsmanship vs. factory manufacturing.

  • I would think it is pretty obvious if it is sturdy or not by the feel of it (does it feel sturdy when you sit on it or open a drawer, etc.)? And, what type of wood it is made out of (real wood? oak? or a softer wood?) and the condition it is in for what age it might be.

  • It would be hard to answer this question without actually being able to see the pieces. Are you asking how to determine if its real wood or not?