Is Your Furniture Worth Refinishing?

If you bought furniture in the last 20 years, especially if it was from IKEA, chances are it’s not worth refinishing. But the old table you were thinking of getting rid of might actually have old-world charm that can brighten up the room if properly refinished. 

So how do you tell? Here’s our guide.  

How to Tell if Your Furniture Is Worth Refinishing

All furniture is not created equally, and many pieces are not suitable for refinishing. Luckily, deciding whether refinishing is viable isn’t too difficult.


Furniture that is 100 years old or older is considered an antique and requires special consideration before refinishing. While antique furniture is often a good candidate for refinishing, extra care may be necessary during the process, and trying to refinish antiques at home can damage them and lessen their value. Contact a professional to assess the strength of the furniture and ensure a damage-free refinishing process.

[Related: How to Care for Antique Furniture Before and After Restoration]

Furniture Made Between 1850 and 1960

The best candidates for refinishing are pieces of furniture that were made between 1850 and 1960

During this time, manufacturers used solid wood rather than plywood, and tongue-and-groove and dovetail joints rather than glue to attach the wood pieces to each other. This made for sturdier, longer-lasting furniture than what we see today. 

The dovetail joints typical of furniture manufactured prior to 1960 made for sturdier and longer-lasting pieces.  | Image via Pixabay

If you know that your furniture was made sometime between 1850 and 1960, refinishing is likely a good option for you. If you aren’t sure when your furniture was made, check the hardware. You can also check the wood by sanding an area that’s not usually visible, such as on the back of the furniture or underneath it. Real wood will have the same grain throughout the entire piece, so ensure that the surface area and the sanded area match.

Fiberboard Furniture

Starting in 1960, the production quality of wood furniture was drastically reduced when manufacturers started using glue and nails instead of tongue-and-groove and dovetail joints and medium-density fiberboard (MDF) instead of solid wood.

MDF is synthetically produced wood covered with a wood laminate, which is essentially a picture of wood. While MDF endures fluctuations in humidity and heat better than natural wood, its main benefit to manufacturers lies in its cost effectiveness.

Most furniture for sale at mass retailers today is made from MDF, and MDF is not a good candidate for refinishing. To determine whether a piece of furniture is made from MDF, perform another sanding test. This time, if the sanded area is not the same grain as the surface area, you’ll know that it is artificial wood.

Related: When to Reupholster vs. When to Buy New]

Additional Tips

A few more simple tests can help you determine if your furniture is worth refinishing:

  • Is the furniture sturdy? Shake the furniture, rock it back and forth, test the drawers — even sit on it. If the piece sways or shifts under the weight of your hands, it likely needs reglued. This could either mean that the furniture isn’t of sufficient quality to warrant refinishing, or that it will need reglued before being refinished, which is difficult to do at home and expensive to have a professional do.
  • Is the furniture painted? Paint is usually there for a reason: often to cover stains, water damage, filled holes, burns, and the like. Furniture with a varnish is a safer bet because varnish can’t hide this kind of damage, allowing you to assess the piece without stripping or sanding.
  • Is the furniture made of different kinds of wood? Different kinds of wood — and even different ages of wood — will look different after being refinished, so if your furniture comprises more than one wood type, the results may not be what you were expecting.

Benefits of Refinishing Your Furniture

Revitalize Worn Furniture

Most people turn to refinishing because their furniture is showing signs of age. After being refinished and polished, old, worn furniture can look brand new. Refinishing will also protect the wood and prevent it from becoming dull and stained in the future.

Fight Throwaway Culture

Another benefit of refinishing is that it’s much more sustainable than purchasing new furniture.

When you buy a new piece of furniture, you contribute to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions associated with manufacturing and transporting the product. Making things worse, your old furniture will end up in a landfill, where it will decompose and emit harmful gases that further contribute to global warming.

These are the negative consequences of throwaway culture: society’s tendency to purchase cheap products with short lifespans, and then throw them away and purchase new items when they wear out. The poorly made furniture typical of today’s manufacturing contributes significantly to this cycle. 

Refinishing, on the other hand, can extend the life of existing furniture by up to 30 years or longer, keeping it out of landfills and eliminating the need to purchase new furniture.

If your current furniture is not a good candidate for refinishing, you can still fight throwaway culture by investing in new furniture that is high-quality and built to last. Estate sales and auctions are also excellent places to purchase quality antiques that can be refinished.

[Related: Three Greener Ways to Be Environmentally Responsible]

Preserve Precious Memories

Whether you’re having family movie night on the sofa in the living room or family dinner in the dining room, furniture brings your loved ones together. During these simple, everyday activities, your family creates memories that the furniture itself will remind you of for years to come.

When furniture holds so much value for your family, disposing of it isn’t an option. Refinishing is the only way to preserve those memories while also ensuring that your family has quality furniture for your home.

[Related: Furniture: Part of the Family]

Give Your Furniture a Makeover

Even furniture that isn’t showing signs of age can benefit from refinishing. 

Many of our customers choose to refinish their furniture in order to match it with the rest of their home decor. Imagine a living room where all of the wood furniture is the same color except for one piece. Refinishing is a convenient option to bring cohesion to this room.

Refinishing also allows you to keep up with changing trends without purchasing new furniture. 

At the end of the day, the surest way to decide whether you should refinish your furniture is to consult a professional. At Queen Anne Upholstery, we’re happy to assess your furniture and help you make the right decision. We can also review your finish, polish, and color options to give you an idea of what the finished product will look like.

For more information, get an estimate, give us a call at (425) 777-9150, or visit one of our showrooms today!