The best quality wooden furniture can last a lifetime, so it is important to understand how to choose top quality and what to consider before you buy anything. If cared for properly, wooden furniture can even improve with age. It is also an environmental friendly, renewable resource, with organic warmth and appeal.
It is easy to be swayed by cheap wooden furniture or wooden composites, but you won’t get the same longevity as you would from choosing a well-crafted or solid wood furniture piece. But a high price tag isn’t necessarily an indicator – poorly prepared wood or low-quality cuts can undermine your good efforts. The trick is knowing how to tell good quality wooden furniture from bad quality, no matter the price.
Price is not always an indicator of quality when buying wood furniture, and there are other mistakes people make during the buying process.
1. Hardwoods Vs Softwoods
‘Hard’ and ‘soft’ do not reference the durability of a wood, but rather the source. Some hardwoods, like aspen or poplar, are softer than softwoods.
Hardwoods come from deciduous trees–trees that seasonally lose and grow their leaves–such as parota, oak, birch, maple, teak and mahogany. The grain is typically tighter, hence the wood is stronger and denser and ideal for carving and fine details.
Softwoods come from cone-bearing or needle-bearing trees–conifers that stay green in the winter–which include pine, cedar, cypress, and redwood trees. In appearance, the grain is more open and are easy to work with. But the wood tends to be lower quality and has a soft surface, making it susceptible to marks and dents, which reduces the lifetime of your furniture.
HIGH QUALITY: Hardwoods typically make better quality solid wood furniture, and are ideal for outdoor use.
LOW QUALITY: Softwoods tend to be cheaper and don’t last as long.
2. Understanding The ‘Lingo’ Of Wood Types
- Solid wood: completely made of wood, or a solid natural cut.
- All-wood construction: visible parts of the furniture are made with wood.
- Veneer or wood-cladding: a natural, thin cut of wood is bonded to plywood or particleboard. Make sure you ask if it is a real wood veneer or a faux veneer, which tend to be reproductions.
- Combination: more than one type of wood is used to make the exposed parts of the furniture.
- Engineered wood: is generally divided into two groups; plywood is made from glued-together slices of lumber, while particleboard or fiberboard is made from waste products such as chips and fibers.
- Artificial laminate wood: made from plastic, paper or foil and printed with a fake wood grain pattern, generally glued to particleboard.
HIGH QUALITY: Solid wood
LOW QUALITY: Artificial wood laminate
3. How To Discern Wood Quality
Choice generally comes down to preference of wood appearance and budget, but you should be aware of certain factors if wood quality is important to you:
–Avoid particleboard, pressed wood or fiberboard. If you choose plywood, it should be at least nine layers thick. The downside to these cheap wood composites is that their production requires toxic products, such as heavy glues.
–These days, veneers are used even in expensive furniture, which is where a thin piece of premium wood is placed over a lower-quality wood. Although veneer is common and a cheaper way to get real wood in your house, the downside is the limit on the number of times it can be refinished and the possibility of the veneer coming off with time. It also won’t last a lifetime. There are ways to buy higher quality veneer, for example, choosing a thicker wood cladding than the standard. When purchasing veneer furniture, you should inquire about the base material. Check the underside of tables, pull out drawers or slide out shelves to check areas that are not covered by the veneer. If the base wood is inferior, such as particleboard or a softwood, the furniture may warp or split over time. You should also look out for gaps and loose spots between the veneer and base material by running your fingernail along the edge; if the veneer is not tight, it will pop off eventually.
–Avoid knottier woods, such as pine, which are considered less desirable. Some experts say to avoid knots altogether, as they are susceptible to cracks, but today many professional craftsmen are able to expertly incorporate knots into designs and control the spread so they evolve as natural artworks over time.
–You want a surface that is relatively scratch resistant, which can be testes by drawing a thin line with your fingernail on the furniture. If it leaves a visible dent, this is not good quality.
–If the wooden furniture is upholstered, look for quality in the springs, the type of stuffing, and the structure of the support base.
HIGH QUALITY: solid wood
LOW QUALITY: thin plywood (less than 9 layers), particle board, fiberboard, pressboard, and soft-wood surfaces that dent easily.
4. How To Check Quality Of Construction
Furniture caters to every possible taste but quality is what really sets furniture apart. Quality also determines how long your furniture will last–from a couple of years to a lifetime– and how well it will retain its looks through daily use. Quality is also an indicator of comfort, which is not something you want to skimp on.
Join construction is one of the most important determinants of quality in the furniture industry. When buying wooden furniture, look at the joints to see if there is visible glue, staples or nails – these are all signs of poor quality.
Dowels–wooden pegs fitted into opposing holes–and screws indicate better quality. but the best joints to look for are dovetail– interlocking squares – and mortise and tenon–one piece is cut to insert into a hole in another piece.
The corners of table legs or chair legs should have a triangular reinforcing block attached at an angle, unless some other design feature is used. This is because butted and mitered joints tend to be weaker and cannot bear heavy wear unless reinforced, besides stabilizing the furniture and keeping the joints square.
You should also check for sturdiness and alignment – make sure a table doesn’t rock, or that draws open and shut easily. You can double check stability by applying pressure at the diagonals.
GOOD QUALITY: dovetail, mortise and tenon, reinforcing corner blocks,
MEDIUM QUALITY: dowels, screws
LOW QUALITY: staples, nails, visible glue.
5. How To Take The Proper Measurements
It is surprising how many people still guess measurements by eye – and end up with colossal furniture that becomes the literal ‘elephant in the room’. There is no set industry standard for furniture dimensions, so you can’t rely on that either.
Other mistakes include not accounting for enough space to move around the furniture, and not taking measurements from the proper place.
For example, if you are measuring the ideal dining table size for your room, you should allow for a space of at least30–36 inches (76cm) to exit and enter the table. You should measure from the edge of any obstruction, such as a door, window or other furniture – not always the wall. Read more on how to measure the dining table you need.
Similar mistakes are made when matching table and stool heights – amazing chairs are no good if you can’t squeeze your legs under the table. You usually need a minimum of 9 inches but if you want to cross your legs, too, then you’ll want at least 12–13 inches of space. We go into detail in our guide to calculating the right table and chair heights.
And then there’s the issue of making sure the delivery company can fit it in your house once it arrives. If you can’t fit furniture through a stairwell, door, window or balcony, you should consider ready to assemble (RTA) furniture.
6. Choosing Certified Wood & Green Furniture
Contrary to some beliefs, wood is one of the most sustainable materials for buying furniture; this interesting article shows the environmental footprint of each furniture type, or check out this infographic comparing the sustainability of materials. Wood is renewable and naturally decomposes in a short time, unlike any other resources, although new alternatives are constantly being developed.
But the sustainable benefits of wood are negated without the right environmental practices in place. This means it is important to only buy from companies that use certified wood, which means that it has been cut according to local environmental controls and laws.
Additionally, with increased awareness of health and environmental issues comes increased responsibility. Substances used in certain wood products, such as toxic glues and varnishes, have an impact on air quality in your home – and the environment. Thus ‘buying green’ seems even more important today, besides the fact that natural materials give a nicer warmth and organic feel than other furniture types, and are easier to maintain. For example, PAROTAS uses a blend of oils to finish our wooden furniture pieces and preserve its natural beauty. See some examples of our wooden furniture here.
PAROTAS combines a team of carpenters, designers and architects to produce high quality and sustainable wooden furniture. We use certified wood sourced from Mexico and abroad. Contact PAROTAS to ask about your custom furniture or design project.