Buying Wood Furniture – Make Your $ Count!
Wood Furniture can be one of the Best places to spend your Budget if you are buying quality!
If the item is in a high traffic area where you know that it will get beaten up...
There are plenty of sound options at different price points.
Well constructed wood furniture is like buying fine art. High quality materials and hand craftsmanship.
Here is some information to help you make an informed decision...
You Need to Know the lingo: Wood furniture is Called Case Goods in the Furniture & Interior Design Industry
Wood furniture — composition
HardWoods or Softwoods??? It's not what it sounds like... Actually, hardwood just means ‘from a deciduous tree’ and softwood means ‘from a coniferous tree’, and some hardwoods (like aspen) are softer than some softwoods. What you want on exposed surfaces is a wood that’s reasonably scratch-resistant. You can test this easily enough by attempting to draw a thin line with your fingernail across the wood; if it makes a visible dent (use a flashlight here if necessary) you know it won’t stand up to much use. This test is applicable too with veneers and your cheaper furniture. There is nothing worse than buying a great looking piece of furniture that you can't even breath on for fear of it showing scratches.... HOWEVER, if you do this in a furniture store to test it... Don't do it where it is visible... That is just not right... You don't want to damage floor models.
Structurally, any kind of solid wood or sturdy plywood will do the trick. If plywood, look for at least nine layers. It is sometimes called manufactured wood or constructed wood. Check the wood for knots, even on unexposed pieces; all knots are susceptible to cracks and the knots may bleed through the stain or finish. Some woods, like pine, are ‘knottier’ than others, and therefore less desirable.
Avoid particleboard, pressed wood, or fiberboard. IKEA has it's place and they honestly have attractive designs. However, you get what you pay for and there is a reason that the Moving Industry will insure almost any kind of furniture... except IKEA. It's a build and use where it lands item. NOT made to hold up to moving, weight, or extreme anything.
Veneers — a thin piece of premium wood covering a lower-quality piece of wood — are often used even in very high-quality furniture. As long as the base piece is solid wood or plywood, the only drawback to veneer is that it limits the number of times an item can be refinished. The days are long gone that furniture is made completely from exotic or rare hardwoods. It's too expensive and hard to come by. So, those woods are used sparingly and only as veneers. It makes them affordable and attainable.
Veneers get a bad wrap. Here's the scoop:
- A desk sold in a big box store with a thin layer of plastic on a piece of particle board describes the desk as having a veneer top.
- A beautiful birdseye maple dresser will have a hard wood underlay with a veneer of birds eye maple on the surface.
The two are not the same creatures. One is a solid high quality piece of furniture that uses high quality materials wisely.
Know that the thickness of veneers differ greatly. Synthethetics cannot be refinished. Some veneers are thick enough to be refinished... some are not. Know the right questions to ask. Veneers are not necessarily a bad thing.
Wood furniture — construction
Joint construction is the main determinant of quality furniture. Anything held together with staples or nails is shoddy construction. Ditto if it’s glued and you can see the glue. Dowels (wooden pegs slotted into two opposing holes) are good, as are screws. The best joints are either dovetail (interlocking squarish ‘teeth’ — see photo) or mortise-and-tenon (narrowed end of one piece inserted into a hole in the other). Corners should have a reinforcing block attached at an angle.
Look for thin sheets of wood between drawers in a chest of drawers or desk. While not necessary, these ‘dust panels’ improve structural strength as well as protect drawer contents.
Drawers should run smoothly on glides and have stops to prevent accidentally pulling them all the way out. The best drawers have bottoms that are not affixed to the sides but ‘float’ in a groove, allowing for minor expansion and contraction caused by changes in humidity and providing extra strength.
Lift the piece at one corner — it should not twist or squeak. Check that all legs are touching the floor. Press on various corners to see if the piece rocks or wobbles.
Some high end handcrafted furniture does NOT have metal or other hardware added. Those pieces are crafted like a well-fitted glove. Most items with drawers use drawer glides/guides. Pay close attention. If they are plastic or flimsy materials... they will not last very long and you will be disappointed with the quality. You will not be able to put much weight in the drawers without damaging the piece. Take a look under drawers and move the drawers in and out. If it feels weak before you even put anything in the drawer or they don't operate or open/close smoothly, it's probably not a solid purchase. Heavy duty drawer guides are a MUST for long use.