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Solid Wood, Plywood, Particle Board…

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I have had a few friends lately ask me to look at a piece of furniture before they updated it. All of them thought that they had solid wood furniture and did not want to ruin it. As I looked at the pieces I have had to be the one to break the news to them that although it was beautiful, it was not made of solid wood boards. Most of the furniture I look at these days is partially solid wood, and partially wood veneer. Even brands of furniture that are associated with quality furniture probably have some pieces that are not solid wood. Veneered furniture has been around for a loooong time. A thin layer of pretty solid hardwood is glued to a piece of plywood or particle board. Because the surface is a hardwood solid, it can be sanded, stained, varnished and look amazing. You just must be careful not to sand off too much wood. Not knowing the true make up of a piece of furniture can cause you to ruin it when you decide to repurpose the piece. If it is veneer, you need to check to see that the veneer is on securely. If it has peeled off in places and you are going to paint it, no big deal. Sand it, fill the area with wood filler and then once it is dry sand again. if there is particle board involved, it has to be sealed anywhere that the particle board will come in contact with something wet. ( FYI- paint is a liquid.) I recommend a primer applied lightly in coats over these areas. Get a really thick primer like Zinzer bonding primer or Glidden Gripper. Both of those product state that they also seal.

Here is my tip on how to tell what the makeup of your furniture is:

  • Look at it where it was not varnished or stained. Under the piece, the back inside the drawer space. You will get a better idea in those places.
  • Pick it up. If a piece is unbelievably heavy for its’ size, it is 99% sure not to be solid wood. All that glue and pressed wood is heavier than a solid wood piece would normally be. Solid wood furniture is generally not super heavy for its size.
  • Check the edges if there is a veneer ( thin skin of solid wood over something else) the place you can most easily tell is on a sharp edge.

A piece not being solid wood never scared me off, but knowing what something is made of does affect how I re-do it. Even Ikea furniture can be painted, but it takes the right materials and you cannot sand through the plastic-ee coating or the particle board insides will puff when they get wet.

Even antique furniture my not be solid wood. About 20 years ago we bought a church pew from an antique store. It was pretty oak wood but needed some work. We decided to have it stripped so that we could re-stain it. We found out the hard way that it was really plywood with an oak veneer on top. When we got it stripped professionally, the glue holding veneer on also dissolved and we have a few places on it even today that has a wrinkled look. Lesson learned.

This really old, pretty serpentine dresser that is going to be my kitchen island is an example of veneered wood. Serpentine oak dresser

The mirror frame is solid wood. I am still thinking about what to do with that part. Any suggestions for me?

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The drawers are solid wood.

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The dresser cabinet is another story. The top is veneer in fact the reason I got this piece for a song is because the previous owner put screws in the top trying to keep the veneer down at the back of the piece. The side panels are veneer. Look at it. basically the way that veneer is created is that they shave a log in a circle so that they create a continuous piece of hardwood that is way wider than the actual log would have been. (Think unrolling a cinnamon roll.) That means that the grain looks funny when you actually study it. The legs are solid wood. If I were going to refinish this piece I would have to be careful with the side panels and would have to replace the veneer on the top. I am going to paint the body, leave the drawers stained wood, and put a butcher block top on it that follows the serpentine shape.

These French Provincial side tables are veneer over particle board. It was no big deal because they were going to be painted, but I did have to make sure that we kept the inside area dry. I only use Gripper primer on particle board furniture. Get the grey tinted variety if the color you are painting is dark.

French Provincial Side Tables

There are times when I have been pleasantly surprised too. This table ended up being solid wood. I was shocked. We bought it for $20.00 and it is getting cut in half, length-wise for a sofa table in my new family room. I did not know it was solid wood until it was flipped over to take home. I am sanding the top down and staining it now that I know!

solid wood table

French Provincial Bedroom Furniture

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20130703-143807.jpg   The post on Craig’s List said that it was a solid wood bedroom set, the price was $80.00 and based on the photo that was posted above, she was for sale at but not sold in a garage sale before being posted on CL.  Of course I was skeptical, but, the dresser,  was the right shape and size, the mirror looked ok, the headboard would work for a while and I wanted to at least look it all  over.  We drove across Houston to see about the furniture where my suspicions were confirmed.  There was a dresser, headboard and mirror waiting for us to take home.  Not solid wood and a really bad faux burled walnut finish on the furniture, but the shape of the dresser was great and I thought I could work with it.

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The finish had been compromised on the top of the dresser and there were a few spots where it had gotten wet and was a little swollen.  A little research on the internet led me to Glidden Gripper primer.

Anything that says it works on glass tells me it will hold to the laminated finish on particle board surfaces.  I sanded the top down where the top was swollen and sealed those spots by applying wood filler then sanding again.  The dresser, headboard and mirror got two coats of primer, then the furniture was painted.  It was great to find out that the drawers had a separate top piece.

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The white spot was a gouge in the top that I filled with wood filler then gave it a first coat of primer.

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It is odd to me that the only solid wood part of the drawers were the sides and the top panel.

The two parts meant that two separate colors would be easy to do, and I LOVE easy.  I chose two colors on one paint chip card for the dresser.  Almost all the dresser was painted with Behr Ocean Pearl. The only parts painted a different color were the top and drawer front panels.  I love ocean pearl!  it is a soft gray with a brownish undertone.  The separate top piece of the dresser was painted the lightest color on the paint chip card, Sea Salt.  So that the dresser fits into the green bedroom with a black chair rail I painted the top of the dresser Behr Black Suede.  (The lady bugs and flowers are stickers, so only the green paint and rail will be in the room.)

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( This will be our guest room soon!)

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I was thrilled with the combination.  It will be very restful in a guest room.  After I got it all painted, I used Bona Floor Finish in satin finish on the top of the dresser.  It is a hard surface that will be easy to clean and hopefully will not chip off easily. Even though I selected satin finish, be warned that it is still pretty shiny!   I painted the mirror and headboard the oyster pearl color and accented the ornate decoration on both with sea salt before glazing them.  I coated the rest of the dresser along  the mirror and headboard with water based clear poly because I was worried that the floor finish would yellow on the grayish dresser paint.  The hardware was brass plated and coming off in places.

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A couple of coats of flat black spray paint that works on metal made the hardware fit in perfectly with the dresser.

painted French provincial hardware

I used a charcoal colored glaze on the dresser to give the piece some age.

Glazed French Provincial Leg

French Provincial ornate

 I love how it turned out.  It is going to look great in our new house guest room. 

Behr Black Suede

Behr Oyster Pearl

French Provincial Dresser

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Painted French Procvincial Mirror

Painted French Provincial Headboard

A super big thank you to my Hubby for dragging the dresser outside in 90 degree heat so I could get some good photos.  The Garagemahal is gross right now!

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