Identifying quality wood furniture can be difficult these days. Lots of pieces look great in the store, only to be fragile once you take them home and start using them. Here’s what to look for and avoid when buying your next wooden piece of furniture.
When made with high quality materials and solid construction, wood furniture can last for decades and sometimes even centuries. But not everything you see in stores is built to last. Buy something that is poorly made and you will start to see wear and tear too soon. How can you tell the difference? It’s harder than you might think. The first thing to pay attention to is the wood itself.
Solid wood. The highest quality material for wooden furniture is solid wood. This type of furniture will be made from pieces of wood or planks of wood glued together to form panels – trees are only so wide, after all. If something is described as being made of solid wood, find out if that describes the entire room or just parts of it.
Hardwood. Solid wood can be classified as hardwood or softwood. Hardwood comes from slower growing trees, and the wood is denser and more resistant to blows. Common hardwoods include oak, ash, walnut, cherry and maple.
Softwood. Softwood comes from faster growing trees and the wood is less dense. Some common softwoods are pine, fir, and poplar. Since these trees grow faster, furniture made from their wood tends to be less expensive than furniture made from hardwood.
Domestic wood. Domestic wood comes from trees grown and processed in the United States. Common household wood species include oak, maple, cherry, walnut, ash, poplar, and pine.
A quick note on wood description: Species can describe either the material or the color of the stain. So, something described as walnut can be stained that color but actually be made from pine. It’s not necessarily bad – just make sure you know what you’re getting. You shouldn’t pay the price of walnut for cheaper wooden furniture.
Imported wood. Many imported furniture is made from tropical wood species such as rubber (sometimes called plantation wood), mango, acacia, or sheesham (a type of rosewood). These species can produce sturdy furniture, but they can be susceptible to cracking if they move from a humid environment to a drier environment.
Advantages of solid wood. Making sure your furniture is 100% solid wood is a pretty sure way of knowing that you are buying something high quality. The solid wood construction is extremely durable and can be easily overhauled and repaired on the road.
Disadvantages of solid wood. Solid wood is certainly the best choice for furniture, but as with any natural material, there can be downsides. Solid wood is more susceptible to climate change, which can cause it to crack or warp. It’s also more expensive than furniture made from engineered wood products.
Plywood. Plywood (sometimes referred to as engineered hardwood) is made by gluing together thin layers of solid wood. When used in furniture construction, plywood is covered with a thin layer of stained and finished wood – a veneer.
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Advantages of plywood. The main advantage of plywood is that it is stable when the climate changes and is less likely to warp or crack in dry climates. It can also offer you solid furniture at lower cost than solid wood.
Disadvantages of plywood. Sometimes the quality of plywood comes down to the quality of the veneer. Poor quality veneers can chip off, revealing the inferior wood underneath. Damage can also be difficult to repair, as most of the furniture is made from a different species of wood than veneer. Additionally, some plywood is made using chemicals that contain formaldehyde, which can affect indoor air quality, although formaldehyde-free plywood is available.
Main defense forces. Medium density fibreboard is made from waste wood (mostly sawdust) that has been mixed with resins. The mixture is compressed to create large, flat boards. For furniture, MDF is finished with a layer of real wood veneer or wood-free laminate.
Advantages and disadvantages of MDF. There are more cons than pros when it comes to MDF furniture. Wood parts are cheaper than solid wood or plywood parts, making them economical. However, MDF requires a lot of chemicals to manufacture and is the most formaldehyde emitting wood product on the market. Other disadvantages: It can be easily damaged by water, it is difficult to repair, it does not hold screws very well, and it is heavy.
Particle boards. Made in the same way as MDF, particle board uses larger wood scraps to create panels. You can differentiate chipboard from MDF by spotting air pockets when looking at it from the side.
Advantages and disadvantages of particle board. The only thing that particle board has the advantage of is that it is inexpensive. And then there are the downsides: it emits formaldehyde, requires a lot of chemicals to produce, is susceptible to moisture damage, and really doesn’t hold screws well. Particleboard furniture tends to loosen quickly, which leads to wobbling.
Veneers. A veneer is a thin sheet of real wood that is applied to the exterior of wood furniture. It can be added to all of the wood products mentioned above. Veneers are used when you want to match the grain of the wood to create a design or to cover a piece of furniture inexpensively.
Selection of veneered furniture. The quality of the plating is very variable. Look for those that are thicker, have good adhesion, and are glued to solid wood or plywood, as opposed to MDF or chipboard. Poorly made veneers can chip and flake.
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Taking a little time to research your wood furniture purchase will ensure that you are purchasing something that will last a long time. As always, buy the best coin you can afford. This will save you money in the long run since you won’t need to redeem again and again.