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How to Choose Wood Types in English Antique Furniture

How to Choose Wood Types in English Antique Furniture
June 3, 2011 Chris

Many people ask us for advice on which wood types to choose for their English antique furniture. Basically, which wood you choose depends on the context: mahogany, walnut, yew, and elm, for example, are generally considered more “formal” wood types. Cherry, oak, and especially pine are usually used in country style furniture. However, these are only trends and guidelines—not rules. You can definitely mix different wood types as long as the style of the furniture and the color match (color is determined by the stain, not the wood). Of course, being able to identify wood types certainly helps.

Similar Wood Types

The first of the two following tables is mahogany, and the second is cherry. As you can see, they are both beautiful, formal tables and the wood looks relatively similar (the difference is in the grain). Thus, depending on the style of the pieces that you’re dealing with, you can substitute cherry for mahogany and vice versa.

Similar Styles

In contrast, consider the following two tables, which are identical models but have different wood types; the oak table is also hand-planed and distressed, giving it a more country style appearance. Oak is also generally considered to be a “less formal” wood, although whether you’d use an oak table or a walnut table depends entirely on the style of your home and the furniture within it.

A Little Banding Goes a Long Way

Adding banding to the edge of a piece can make it look slightly more formal without overdoing it. So, as an example, consider the following picture in comparison with the above banded cherry pedestal table. One shows plain cherry, and the other shows cherry with yew banding. A nice touch, isn’t it?

More Common English Woods

Beyond these three basic wood types (cherry, mahogany, and oak), the other two most common woods used in English furniture are elm and yew, which are represented in the following bookcase and cabinet, respectively. Note how they don’t really look all that different from the other wood types, at least insofar as color and style are concerned.

In Summary…

The most common English woods are mahogany, cherry, walnut, oak, yew, and elm. Occasionally maple, rosewood, pine, and ash are used; satinwood and rosewood are relatively common inlays. Knowing this can sometimes help identify “fakes” that are represented as genuine English furniture; for example, teak is highly unlikely to be used in English furniture, as it is principally an Asian wood. We hope that we’ve answered some of your wood type questions. As always, feel free to leave any additional questions and concerns in the comments section below!