Today’s finishes range from clear and natural to gleaming and polished to rubbed and aged. Photo: Stanley Furniture
The quality of wood furnishings, and how they're made, affect their prices. Learn more about the many different types of wood furniture. Photo: Stanley Furniture
When shopping for wood furniture, be sure to open the drawers and look underneath the chairs and tables. Photo: Stanley Furniture
Be Wary of Wording
To be a smart shopper, you should understand the wording of wood furnishing descriptions. A piece described as having a “cherry finish” may not necessarily be constructed of cherry wood. It may simply refer to the color of the stain applied or even to the color of an artificial surface.
Top Grain, Top Dollar
Wood furniture is priced according to quality, so here’s how to know what you’re getting.
- by Trisha Kemerly
Bookshelves, desks, dining room tables and chairs—you can find them at almost any store these days. But can you find quality wood furniture anywhere? Wood furnishings can be a beautiful addition to your home with a variety of tones, stains, carvings and designs, but how can you tell if you’re buying quality casegoods?
Here are a few tips on how to judge the quality of the wood furniture before you buy.
Know Your Materials
- Hardwoods: Hardwood comes from a broad-leaved, non-needled tree, such as maple, cherry or mahogany. These woods have strength and stability, but those qualities can make hardwoods difficult to work with for intricate carving and detail work.
- Softwoods: Softwoods come from conifer trees such as pine or cedar. They are easily carved or worked, which makes them more susceptible to marks and dings as well.
- Solid wood: The term “solid wood” indicates that all exposed pieces of the piece are solid and do not have hollow spaces—however those areas hidden from view may be another material. Solid woods are very attractive and have the advantage of being easily refinished. Many of today’s wood furnishings are a combination of solid woods (which provide strength to the frame, legs and other supporting components) and veneers (thin layers of solid wood or wood composition material applied to exterior surface for maximum beauty and finishing).
- Plywood: Plywood is a type of manufactured wood made from several thin sheets of wood glued together for greater strength. Unlike solid woods that can expand and contract as the humidity changes, plywood won’t split easily because of its cross grain plies and cross-directional strength.
- All wood: “All wood” describes engineered wood, including plywood, particleboard and fiberboard. Fiberboard is created by breaking down wood chips into fibers and mixing these with an ultra-strong adhesive. When fused under intense heat and pressure, the resulting panel has consistent, uniform strength, is resistant to warping, cracking and splitting, and has no knots or other surface imperfections. Used in many categories of furniture, this wood can be found in many furniture styles and price points.
- Veneers: A veneer is a thin layer of decorative wood, chosen for beauty and character, that is glued or bonded to another wood surface. Veneers are used to create beautiful finishes and decorative patterns and inlays that do not occur naturally in solid woods.
How’s it Finished?
The quality and appearance of a furnishing’s finish can also impact its retail cost. Clear finishes allow the wood’s natural markings and grain to show, while stains and painted finishes alter the wood’s appearance. Today’s finishes range from clear and natural to gleaming and polished to rubbed and aged. Naturally, more complex finishes add to the cost of the furniture. Keep in mind that a piece described as having a “cherry finish” may not necessarily be constructed of cherry wood—it may simply refer to the color of the stain applied.
Examine the Joints
A joint is the critical area where two pieces of wood are joined together. The strength of a joint determines the stability and durability of furniture. The best joinery is also glued, locking the pieces together and increasing glued surface areas. Corner blocks glued into corners add even more stability. Two of the best joints are dovetail and mortise-and-tenon.
- Mortise and tenon: The end of one piece (tenon) is inserted into a hole cut in the other piece (mortise).
- Dove-tailing: A series of pins are cut to extend from the end of one board and interlock with a series of tails cut into the end of another board.
“When shopping for wood furniture, be sure to open the drawers, look underneath the chairs and tables, and jiggle the furniture a bit to make sure it’s stable,” says Edward Nader, owner of Nader’s Gallery in Shreveport, La. “Check that the piece looks finished and secure, not wobbly, and without any drips or bubbles or extra glue.”
Make sure drawers have smooth and easy glides and stops, have dust panels and are smooth and snag-free inside. Make sure doors swing open easily without squeaking or rubbing, and that long doors are attached with sturdy hinges.
Nader says finishes, veneers and edges should be smooth; there should be no splinters, cracks or checks in the wood. All hardware should be strong, firmly attached and lacking rough edges.
He adds, “A good piece of wooden furniture not only is beautiful, but it will stand the test of time by its durability and applicability in many different situations.”