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Buying Quality: Wood Furniture

Anyone who’s been to a Pottery Barn outlet can tell you that that’s where chipped pieces of particle board go to die.  That bedroom set sure didn’t look like that in the catalog.

Last year, newlywed Husband and I went to Ashley Furniture to buy an affordable entertainment center.  Knowing a little bit about furniture, I made sure to ask if the piece we were looking at was solid wood.  The salesperson assured me that, yes, it was, “entirely made of wood.”  Technically, she wasn’t lying.  Veneer is wood.  Particle board is wood.   

Many, dare I say most, large furniture companies use a combination of veneers and particle board to make their furniture.  Veneers, or thin sheets of wood, are glued to the surface of particle board, or saw dust and wood chips that are glued together, and voila, you have a cheap, decent looking building material (I got a little comma crazy in this sentence, I apologize).  This type of construction has several downsides. 

1. Veneers have a tendency to come unglued and peel; they also crack. 

2. Particle board chips easily, just go to the Pottery Barn outlet.  It is also less solid than a solid piece of wood (go figure), so the joints cannot endure as much stress.  This is why particle board furniture will need to be replaced more frequently. 

3. Cheap materials can indicate cutting corners elsewhere.  I have an entertainment with unevenly hinged doors to prove it. 

Hardwood furniture is more expensive.  However, I wouldn’t say that $600 is cheap for an uneven-door-entertainment-center.  No matter where you buy it, furniture is going to be more expensive than you usual purchases.  However, if you save just a little longer and spend the extra money it takes to buy quality, you cut down on future replacement costs.  

What does real wood look like?  Seems like a stupid question, but it isn’t.

It can be difficult to tell the different between solid wood and pieced together wood, veneers can be deceptive.  In How to Tell if Furniture is Made from Real Wood, Professors House explains how to spot the good stuff:

Real wood furniture is going to be heavier, more costly, and more durable. While of course you’re not tap dancing on the antique secretary’s desk, you are likely to make furniture ownership errors along the way. You might spill something, drop something, drop the furniture, forget to wax for half a year, or simply become the victim of an unfortunate roof leak. Having strong furniture that was crafted from quality wood is much more likely to survive these mishaps than veneered wood that can’t even be guaranteed to stay together during a particularly humid summer.

Weight is a key indicator, unless it’s a soft light wood like pine. Flaking or lifting corners are an indication that the piece is a veneer.

Veneered furniture tends to be covered all over, including the bottom pieces that aren’t seen under normal circumstances. Real wood furniture has stud pieces in these areas. Stud pieces are real pieces of unfinished wood that are part of the piece’s structure.

Grain is one of the number one determining factors when distinguishing between solid wood furniture and other types of wood furniture. When grain can be touched, there is no doubt. Grain can be felt by the fingertips, often traced along the ridge of the grain as it juts above the rest of the wood just a fraction of a centimeter sometimes.

Furniture with obviously carved details is solid wood. You can not carve veneers or laminates.

A couple of notes:

1. Veneers are getting better and are now including grain textures.  Be afraid.

2. While you cannot carve veneers, furniture companies can make molds out of other materials that look like wood.

3. Knock on wood.  This always helps me tell the difference.

Online Lingo

Solid wood, hard wood, real wood; it’s the wild west out there and there’s no rule on which terminology means straight-off-the-tree-really-really-wood.  I got this excerpt straight from Pottery Barn:

  • Built from solid birch, hardwood veneers and MDF, an engineered wood that lends exceptional strength and ensures that the buffet will endure over time. 
  • The use of veneers results in high-quality furniture with flawless surfaces and consistent color tones.

Wait, is it solid birch or does it have veneers?  MDF?  Surely they mean Medium Density Fiberboard.  The Devil’s in the details, read them and when in doubt call customer service.

Here are some online companies that sell real wood furniture and from whom we have purchased:

Have a resource?  Share it already.  Jeeze.


Article publié pour la première fois le 13/07/2010