When you purchase wood furniture, no matter
the function, there are several quality indicators
to look for. The type of wood, the finish and the
construction should be scrutinized when looking
for a quality piece. We also have helpful checklists
for buying Beds and Bedroom Storage, Dining Sets
and Occasional/Accent Furniture, and Entertainment
Centers. These guides will help you understand differences
in quality construction and help you find furniture
that will withstand the wear and tear of modern
There are two primary categories of natural
wood used in furniture construction: hardwood and
softwood. Hardwoods come from deciduous trees (the
ones that loose their leaves in autumn) such as
maple, walnut, mahogany and oak Softwoods come from
coniferous (also known as evergreen) trees and include
species such as pine, cedar and redwood. Both varieties
are used for furniture construction with hardwoods
valued for their strength and durability, and softwoods
for their easy tooling and shaping.
Engineered wood is any variety of wood
fibers, particles, or veneers adhered together with
a bonding agent. Furniture bearing the description "All-Wood" is
frequently composed of engineered wood products.
Engineered woods are less prone to warping due to
variations in humidity, and in some cases, offer
a stronger substructure. Engineered wood may also
be viewed as environment-friendly since it uses
of lumber that might normally go to waste.
Veneers are a time-honored technique of
furniture construction and should not be
considered a sign of inferior construction or materials.
Veneers have been used in furniture construction
since the ancient Egyptian era as a decorative effect.
Veneers can be used to create intricate patterns
on the surface of furniture with grain matching
or with marquetry and intarsia inlays. Veneers are
often made from highly-valued woods like mahogany
and walnut, or exotic woods like tiger wood and
maple burl. Veneers are applied to both solid wood
and engineered wood substructures.
Laminates are constructed by the adhesion
of a paper product, printed to look like wood grain
or other appealing pattern, to an engineered wood
substructure and then sealed with a protective finish.
Laminate products have gained popularity in the
flooring industry as a low-maintenance, and low
cost, alternative to hardwood flooring.
Stains are used to alter the natural color
of the wood. Furniture with a "cherry finish" is
not necessarily made with cherry wood; more likely,
another hardwood was used for the construction and
then stained to look like cherry wood. Stains have
been used on furniture for centuries as dictated
by home décor trends. Stains consist of thin pigments
that are absorbed into the grain of the wood. A
wax, oil, polyurethane, shellac or lacquer finish
is applied over a stain to protect the wood surface.
Distressing is a finishing technique that
artificially creates a weathered look. Sanding,
punctures, or gouges on the wood surface help to
create the effect.
employ distressing as well as stains to
simulate the aged patina of an antique.
Painted finishes can be solid and even,
or antiqued and distressed. Natural flaws in wood,
such as knots, can absorb paint finishes differently;
therefore, solid paint treatments can be difficult
to create, and thus may be more costly. Distressed
painted finishes often have sanded edges and corners
that allow the natural wood color and grain to show
A number of different products may be used
to protect a wood surface. Wax, oils (linseed oil
or tung oil), polyurethane, shellac and lacquer
bring a unique character to the wood as they
protect it. Whatever material is used in the finishing
process, the final product should be smooth to the
touch. A hand-rubbed finish is "rubbed-out" or buffed
with abrasives or cloths after application of the
finishing materials. It leads to a smoother, more
refined final surface.
Construction and Components
High quality wood furniture will feature
construction techniques and components that increase
functionality and lengthen lifespan.
Levelers or adjustable floor glides are
components on the feet that may be adjusted up or
down so that the piece doesn't wobble. This is an important
feature since leveling ensures the proper alignment
of doors and drawers.
Corner blocks reinforce the corners of
case goods and drawers to improve strength and stability.
Corner blocks are not seen from the outside, but
bolt to both sides of interior corners.
Dust panels are thin sheets of wood between
drawers in the body of a chest or desk. They help
to keep clothing or other materials in the drawers
clean by preventing the infiltration of dust. They
also add to the structural integrity of the piece,
making it stronger and sturdier.
Back panels are the generally unseen backs
of case goods that are placed against the wall.
Quality case goods have back panels attached with
screws to help ensure the lateral stability.
Dovetails are a sturdy construction technique,
usually employed in drawer construction, consisting
of interlocking tenons of wood. English dovetails
consist of interlocking fan-shaped wedges. French
dovetails are constructed with one long groove, which
is narrower at the surface and wider at the depth,
into which slides an interlocking end of a board.
Given two chests of similar scale, drawers constructed
with French dovetails will offer less storage capacity
than drawers constructed with English dovetails
because of the required overhang of wood on the
Drawer glides allow
you to effortlessly move a drawer in and
out of its station. They can be made of wood, metal,
or nylon, or combinations of these materials. Glides
can be side mounted or bottom mounted,
depending on the case construction. For example,
side mounted glides are more likely to be found
on drawers with French dovetails. Wood is a strong
material for drawer glides since it expands and
contracts with changes in humidity, just like the
rest of the piece. Glides in office furniture such
as desks, file cabinets and computer armoires are
important to the functionality of the piece. Metal
compound glides in office furniture allow for the
full extension of drawers. They are usually side
mounted and may incorporate ball bearings or nylon
roller wheels. This is useful for accessing file
Stops, made of nylon or wood, prevent drawers
from being pulled out too far or from falling out
when fully extended.
For information on specific categories
of wood furniture, see the articles and checklists
in the menu to the left.