A Guide to Judging the Wood Quality of Furniture

You may often hear that quality wood furniture comes only from hardwood. But why? Why is hardwood so special? What is 'hardwood' and what distinguishes it from other woods when it comes to quality constructed pieces?

There are a few different types of wood used for building furniture, classified under Hardwood, Softwood and Engineered Wood.

You also want to be aware of certain characteristics and features when comparing wood quality among furniture pieces that you're considering for your home.

This guide will help you to distinguish good quality wood from bad or less desirable wood and to help you make the right wood choice for furniture that will last for generations. 

Wood Source

The source of wood that was used to create a piece of furniture is what makes all the difference. 

The three types of wood, defined by their quality and sturdiness are listed here:

Take note that just because a wood is defined as a hardwood or softwood only means that is the kind of tree it came from. Hardwoods are deciduous and softwoods are coniferous.

 

Fall colors in Michigan

Hardwood

Furniture made from genuine, quality hardwood is produced from deciduous trees, trees that shed their leaves at seasonal changes and include oak, maple, mahogany, teak, ash, walnut, cherry, poplar, and birch, not to mention a few others.

These trees take longer to grow, therefore making the wood harder and stronger.

Hardwood is also more fire resistant.

Some of the finer designs you will find made from hardwood include tables and chairs or benches, armoires or hutches and other pieces that are meant to serve as sturdy, definite structures. 

Because there are so many hardwoods, they can be used for a variety of uses and furniture styles.

  • Ash - bends easily, used for bent parts requiring maximum strength
  • Basswood - versatile and inexpensive, used in combination with rare woods
  • Beech - also bends easily but not as attractive, often used with more expensive woods finishing off inconspicuous places
  • Birch - a common hardwood and moderately expensive, used in all aspects of furniture construction
  • Butternut - maybe also called white walnut, used like walnut for its beauty
  • Cherry or Black Cherry - one of the most valued hardwoods available, used in a variety of furniture pieces and cabinetry
  • Elm - has excellent bending qualities, useful in all types of furniture construction
  • Gum - often used in veneers and in combination with other woods
  • Hickory - strong, hard and tough, useful in creating rockers and lawn furniture
  • Rock Maple - strong and dense, creates great butcher blocks
  • Oak - known for its strength and durability, often used for solid furniture, casts luxurious color and grains
  • Pecan - used extensively in constructing office furniture
  • Sycamore - makes inexpensive furniture and veneers
  • Teak - rich yellow to dark brown hues
  • Walnut - traditionally used in creating fine furniture, beautiful and strong
  • Satinwood - sometimes used for veneers or for decorative inlays and marquetry
  • Lauan - creates less expensive furniture, resembles mahogany

Softwood

You will not find much quality furniture made from softwood, because it mostly comes from coniferous trees or needle bearing trees such as pine, fir, redwood and cedar and remain green all year round.

These trees grow fast with a loose grain thus making them easy to work with but they are more susceptible to damage such as marks and dents because the wood is so soft.

Furniture that is made of softwood requires more delicacy and care. 

Softwood is more often used in the construction of homes and not interior designs, although you may find it in some lighter pieces.

  • Cedar - primarily used in chests and closets, casts a distinctive forest scent
  • Redwood - makes great outdoor furniture and carving wood
  • Pine - used a lot in colonial furniture, basic features, great price range
  • Poplar - inexpensive, generally used in combination with more expensive woods

Engineered Wood

Cheaper furniture is often constructed from engineered wood such as particle board, also known as fiberboard, and plywood.

Plywood amounts to thin slices of lumber glued together with wood glue under high pressure.

Remaining chips and fibers leftover from milled trees and lumber are combined with wood glue to create fiberboard.

This type of furniture is manufactured, not crafted. 

Wood Materials

Looking for wood quality among available furniture can sometimes be deceiving. There are genuine features to some wood furniture, but overall, it may be poorly manufactured.

These materials all use real wood of course, but they lack design features and durability.

Veneer

This is a thin sheet of quality wood applied to a less expensive material such as soft or engineered wood. 

Veneer can be used to match grain patterns and create designs on furniture pieces.

All Wood Construction

Just because something is made completely of wood does not stand for wood quality. It only means that the furniture has been constructed of parts all made of wood, be it a combination of different solid woods or both solid and engineered.

Artificial Laminate

Artificial laminate does not represent wood quality at all because it's not even wood. Laminates are created from plastics, foils and papers that have been printed with wood grain patterns that are bonded to a composite, probably fiberboard.

KD or RTA Furniture

Knocked Down or Ready to Assemble furniture is rarely, if ever, composed of anything but fiberboard with artificial laminate. It is designed to be functional yet doesn't last long.

 

Quality solid wood consturction

Characteristics of Wood Quality

Because hardwood has such attractive grains, it makes lovely and distinct patterns which also make it more valuable and expensive.

There are other characteristics that are found in a quality piece of furniture, made with quality wood when considering the color of the wood and whether or not it has been kiln-dried or not.

Also, consider how the piece was made pertaining to your wants and needs.

Color of the Wood

Trees are beautiful and so is the wood that comes from them. Even after finishing, you should be able to identify the grain.

The color should be visible and vibrant, hinting at the real tree left over on the inside of that table or hutch.

Kiln dried wood

Wood quality can also be found in kiln-dried wood. This wood has been dried and cured in a large kiln oven with controlled heat and humidity to remove approximately 93% of the moisture making it resistant to warping, splitting and cracking. 

Composition/Construction

Wood quality not only comes from the wood itself, but in a piece of furniture it also comes from the care and construction of that piece.

Consider how long you will use this piece of furniture. Think about how it will handle the daily functions it is setup for. And, perhaps most importantly, how it's appearance will affect you and your home. 

Take these other characteristics into account:

  • Design - does the look, feel and color fit with your home?
  • Joints - no staples, nails or exposed glue
  • Edging - smooth, lacking exposed glue or joints pieces
  • Wood Quality - What is the wood source?
  • Finish - does it have a quality finish to handle bumps and scratches?

 

Expertly finished fine dining room furniture

Finished Wood

Look for wood quality in sanding, staining, and finishing of the final product.

Sanding

Sanding is the first step of the final phase in producing a piece of wood furniture. A final product should be smooth, without rough patches.

You can notice a bad sanding job if the wood grain is scratched or there may be dark lines in the furniture.  

The resulting stain will be uneven creating blemishes such as blotchiness and the distinguished appearances of scratches.

Stain

Stain enhances the wood quality and adds color and character to a piece of furniture. Stain can create the appearance of similar woods in different products or different woods in the same product.

Check for evenness and dark spots in a quality stained piece.

Finish

Finish comes in many ranges, just like paint, from high gloss to matte finish. The look of the wood should feel deep and rich after the final stain and sanding. 

Well finished pieces indicate a good wood quality underneath.

Final Thoughts

Purchasing new furniture is supposed to be fun and exciting although it's a good idea to know what you're looking for before making a purchase.

Take the time to order samples and compare wood quality and to make sure the stain and the wood will be the perfect compliment to your dining room design.

Better yet, visit Home and Timber to find your best, heirloom quality wood furniture that can be passed down for generations.

 

A Guide to judging the wood quality of furniture.

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