How to Identify an Antique Carved Wood Coffee Table

There is a thriving market for antique furniture, including coffee tables.

Subtle evidence can help you identify a coffee table as an antique.Subtle evidence can help you identify a coffee table as an antique.
Anyone who wants the look of an antique without the antique price tag may find some very convincing reproductions on the market. A few of these reproductions even find their way into low-end antiques stores after having been mistaken for authentic antiques. If you are a novice antique collector, you may worry about being taken by a convincing reproduction. However, certain signs will mark the age of a true antique from a reproduction. If you look for these signs, you can easily tell the two apart.

Look closely at the carvings of an antique coffee table. The way in which the wood was carved is an indicator of the tools used to carve the table. As tool technology changed, the patterns left by tools on the carved wood also changed. Asymmetrical carvings and hand saw marks are an indication that the table was carved by hand. Perfectly symmetrical carvings or circular saw marks are usually made by machines, meaning that the piece is not an antique.

Touch the surface of the table. An antique wooden coffee table will show signs of wear in the patina and the edges will be smooth. Wood also shrinks with age, leaving more prominent tree rings.

Examine the underside of the table for a manufacturer's mark. The manufactuer's mark and date are a good indicator of the table's age.

Look at the joints where the wood pieces were joined. The style in which joints were made changed as woodworking technology improved. For example, prior to the nineteenth century, carpenters used one or two large, uneven dovetail joints per side of furniture. After the nineteenth century, dovetail joints were smaller, more even and there were more per side.

Hold a magnifying glass over screws or nails to check for signs that they were machine-made. Handmade screws and nails have an imprecise appearance. For example, the slot on the head of the handmade screw may be off-center and the grooves may not be even. Newer furniture uses machine-made screws, which have even grooves and centered slots on the screw head.

Things You Will Need

  • Magnifying glass


  • A pattern or style of furniture can give you a basic time period that the coffee table may date from. However, this can be an inexact measurement as reproduction furniture is often made to resemble older furniture styles.

About the Author

Tracy Morris has been a freelance writer since 2000. She has published novels and numerous online articles. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers including "Ferrets," "CatFancy," "Lexington Herald Leader" and "The Tulsa World." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Arkansas.