How to Find Good Used Furniture

One of the questions I get all the time is “How do you find such good furniture?” I’m not going to lie, I do find really good, well-made furniture to refinish. But all this luck hasn’t come without a few bad buys to learn the lessons I’m going to share with you today. I have spent a couple hundred dollars making mistakes and buying furniture I sent to the curb because they just didn’t meet the standards I want for my brand. Hopefully this post will help you to avoid them!

This post contains affiliate links. You don’t pay any more from ordering from these links but I earn a small commission so I can continue to bring you more fun projects! They also allow me to show you exactly what I use so you know what I’m referring to!

My main goal is to purchase pieces that are structurally sound. I avoid buying pieces that “need” a paint job. In fact, if I’m looking on marketplace and the listing says “Project piece,” or “Needs some love,” I avoid it! These type of listings are usually cheaper to purchase, but take a lot of valuable time to fix and I am not in the business of fixing furniture. My talent and focus is in restoring furniture and giving it a high quality, artisan finish. This means that many of the pieces I buy don’t actually need a paint job– they are usually very nice wood pieces. I know this methodology upsets some people who don’t like painted wood. But those people just aren’t my clientele (or yours either if you want to be a furniture artist). The paint finish we create as artists is much more valuable than wood. This is an example of a piece I purchased that didn’t “need” a paint job. I paid more than most would for this piece, but I was also able to give it a finish that my client will love for years to come.

So, what exactly are the physical features I look for? This is my basic list: dovetail drawers, drawer stops, flush drawer fronts, wood runners, wood panels, clean drawers, veneer attached, and finally, does it have all the hardware?

  1. Dovetailed or Tongue & Groove Drawers– To check for this, slide the drawer out and look for a pattern like the one in the picture below. This is something I always look for because it’s a sign of good craftsmanship. This type of build also makes it easier to fix the drawers if, say, they fall apart. Some of the pieces I work with are 100+ years old! Dovetail drawers are easy to glue and clamp back together to last another 100 years!

2. Drawer Stops– I always pull a piece apart to see if the drawer stops are in. They are little wood or metal pieces that make the drawer stop flush with the front. If they aren’t there, I can always replace them. To do so, I cut a square wood doll rod into small pieces. I glue and clamp them on the mark where the stop used to be. Then I file them down.

Example of a missing stop that needs to be replaced.

Example of the drawer stop that should be there. The missing on can be replaced with a wood block.

Example of a wood block.

3. Flush Drawer Fronts – I always check to see if the drawers are flush with the shell, or body, of the piece. Sometimes they just need a drawer stop, but sometimes the issue is beyond the easy fix of a drawer stop. In the pictures I’m going to share with you here, the part I circled has a drawer stop and it still doesn’t sit flush. This is something you may not notice when you purchase a piece, but you will definitely notice it when you go to paint it! So be sure to check before you start!

4. Wood Runners– When I have the choice, I always prefer wood runners. They run smoother, and always end up sliding super nicely after I butta them up with Big Mamma’s Butta. I do also buy furniture with metal runners, but I have found that they usually come with more problems. Metal runners are not a deal breaker; wood runners are just a quality bonus.

5.Wood panels between the drawers. This is also a sign of well built furniture. It is just that extra step of protection for your goods. It helps keep everything tight and sealed. This is not a deal breaker though. Just a preference.

6. How does the piece smell? How clean is the interior? – This is important! If a piece has any sort of smell that I don’t think I can get out, I don’t buy it no matter how bad I want to! I stick my nose right in there and get a good whiff. If I smell nicotine…bye Felicia!! If it smells like it was in a wet or damp environment…see ya! My ideal piece will need to be cleaned with white lightening, and then treated with Big Mama’s Butta to restore the wood. Sometimes I will make exceptions and buy pieces that I know I will have to paint the interiors or drawer sides on. But if it smells odd, I pass no matter what.

7. Is the Veneer Attached? – This is a BIG one! If your veneer is falling off, it is going to take a ton of time and effort to remove it. If it can easily be glued then I will buy it. If it all has to be removed, it’s a deal breaker. Many times, pieces are just chipped. Chipped veneer is easy to fix. You can see how I fix chipped veneer here.

This is an example of loose veneer. This is on the inside of the drawer so I will glue and clamp it. I will also do this on the outside of a piece. Most of the time this is an easy fix.

8. Hardware– Lastly, I look for the hardware. If it has all the hardware it’s a bonus! If it is missing some, I have to factor in how much it will cost to replace it. I usually paint the original hardware. You can see how I restore hardware for a lasting finish here.

These are just a few of my tips for finding great pieces to finish and sell! My goal is always to deliver the best product possible to my client. It starts with finding the perfect piece. I always prep my piece really well and make sure everything is in good working order. I also use the highest quality paints and products on the market for a lasting finish.

One last thing! I know you’re going to ask me WHERE I find my furniture. Well, I find it all over. Many times I like to say it finds me. As my business has grown, friends and family have starting helping me find stuff. I use Facebook marketplace, thrift stores, and many times, people contact me when they are selling stuff. It’s trial and error– you have to find what is the best way to purchase furniture in your area!