Shopping for furniture can be confusing. We all know which furniture we think is attractive, but we should consider more than that when making such a significant purchase. After all, furniture is meant to be around for your children and grandchildren to enjoy years from now. This is how we create family heirlooms and keep our heritage. The objective is to buy a piece of furniture that will last 100 years.
There are two types of wood: hardwoods and softwoods. Hardwood trees lose their leaves in the fall, while softwoods are evergreen. Both are used in furniture and both have their place, depending on their use.
- Common Hardwoods: Ash, Cherry, Mahogany, Maple, Oak, Pecan, Poplar, Rosewood, Teak, Walnut
- Common Softwoods: Cedar, Cypress, Fir, Pine, Redwood
Each of these woods has a different look, hardness and feel; the type of wood chosen will greatly affect the price and construction of the furniture. The highest quality, most often used for top of the line furniture, is solid Cherry, Mahogany, Maple or Oak – these are most desirable and usually are more expensive due to limited supplies and finer manufacturing methods.
Mid-priced furniture is often constructed using a combination of woods. For example, a more desirable wood, such as Cherry, is used on the exterior, and less expensive wood is used underneath to construct the carcass and other non-visible sections, i.e. the back, the interior drawers, or the base. Another method is to stain a less expensive wood to look like a better wood. Some manufacturers may sell a product with a “Cherry Finish,” which is often another less desirable wood stained to resemble Cherry.
Solid Wood Construction
Solid wood construction is considered the highest quality for furniture. Whether the piece is made from a hardwood or softwood – properly constructed solid wood will look better and last longer than other less expensive materials. Be cautious of lower quality pieces made from engineered wood, particleboard, plywood, or fiberboard that is covered with a low quality veneer or plastic laminate resembling wood. These pieces may seem like a bargain, but simply don’t compare in quality or durability.
Assuming you have chosen a piece that is made of the finest wood available, the next step is to examine the way the piece is constructed. Poor construction can undermine even the best solid wood. Despite advances in technology and the introduction of new machinery, the old-fashioned, time-tested techniques are still the best for heirloom quality furniture construction. Look for joints that are constructed with wood on wood and avoid iron or metal brackets where possible. Wood joints swell and shrink together with the natural changes in humidity. “Mortise and Tenon” or “dovetail” joints are some of the strongest joints used. These tightly fitted joints increase the contact surface area of the wood and increase the strength of the bonding to produce a more durable piece.
A superior finish is essential. A high quality finish will protect your piece and bring out the beauty of the wood. Many different techniques are used to finish wood furniture. They provide different looks and varying degrees of durability. A high quality finish often takes a bit longer to create, but will last longer, look better and provide more protection.
Generally, the best finishes combine a variety of products and methods. A stain may be used to enhance the color of the wood and add depth to the grain, followed by shellac or varnish for protection and gloss. Whether you desire a high gloss look or a more satiny and natural appearance, look for a super smooth feel that is clear and free of blemishes, bubbles, dust or other impurities. A hand rubbed finish will have a softer, more natural appearance as opposed to a shiny super high gloss synthetic finish.
Tips to Consider When Shopping for an Heirloom
- Solid wood construction
- Consistent grain throughout the entire piece, especially where boards are joined
- Hand carving and hand sanding
- Drawer corners are jointed securely
- Doors swing open easily without squeaking or rubbing
- Doors line up and close properly
- Hardware is secure and strong
- No rough edges on hardware
- Finish feels smooth to the touch
- Distressed finish has randomly spaced dark marks
- One of the best recommendations is to shop from a knowledgeable business, one you trust with a policy of 100% satisfaction guaranteed