If you prefer to begin with THE STORY OF FURNITURE, click on:
ENVISION A CHAIR -or other wood furniture-you’d like to own.
Is it comfortable for you?
Are the legs uniform in shape, size and height?
How are the component parts joined?
Is the wood grain visible?
Can you afford to throw money away?
Prices are baffling.
Labels don’t tell what you need to know;
nor can most salespersons.
It’s impossible to judge the quality of wood furniture without judging the quality of the wood, shaping and joinery of each component as well as the staining and finishing of the wood. Comparison shopping similar furniture at all prices helps one develop a discerning eye and perceive differences.
1. Identify the wood species:
Woods are hard or soft depending upon the tree the wood comes from. Factory grade hard woods are recommended for furniture. The natural grain of all woods has color and vitality and can be used as full-grain or cross–grain depending upon how each log is cut. If stain has been applied to the wood, it should not hide the grain.
Wood furniture can be made of solid or veneered woods. If veneered, it’s critical to identify the substrate –which may be wood — or a man-made fiberboard. This information is probably not on the label.
Furniture should be made of wood having 6 to 8% moisture. Too dry, wood absorbs glue and doesn’t develop a bond; too wet, wood may warp and twist.
2. Production methods:
Furniture is the sum of its component parts. Identifying each component is key in how to judge each part for uniformity and quality of both shape and joinery. Wood joinery is a measure of furniture quality, strength and durability.
Shaping machines are commonly used for both artisan and mass-production to assure uniformity of legs, arms, spindles and splats. Top rails, aprons, stretchers and legs/feet are names of other common components.
If you understand differences in woods —
and basic artisan and mass-production techniques,
you can confidently choose wood furniture at prices you can afford.
evaluate each of the following :
Wood Species :
Require proof of the exact species of wood used to make the furniture you want to buy. You may also want to know if the wood is from a sustainable forest.
Is the wood solid or veneered?—and if veneered, is the substrate solid wood?
Wood veneer applied over a wood substrate is called solid wood veneered furniture. Learn the species and grade of the wood veneer: Grade A is preferred for surface coats. Know the composition of the substrate (which may be wood or man-made fiberboard).
Furniture grade solid hard wood offers natural grain and resists marring. If scratches occur, the wood can be sanded and refinished although large flat surfaces of solid wood warp easier than veneer-covered solid wood.
Avoid wood products containing formaldehyde; it is TOXIC.
Question if plywood, fiberboard and MFB products contain formaldehyde.Its’ usage is probably not on the label.
The method of joining structural components of furniture determines its quality, strength and durability. The most secure joinery for tables, chair and sofa frames is mortise and tenon.
A rectangular projection of wood (tenon) is glued inside a corresponding rectangular opening (mortise). The straight sides of each interlocking part resists movement. Double doweling is also very good. (Single doweling easily separates.)
Look beneath tables and chairs to verify if corner blocks are adequately glued and screwed in place where the legs are joined to the frame. Don’t hesitate to pick up a corner of all furniture to be sure it remains stable and balanced.
Wood stains enhance grain but must be translucent to show the beauty of the grain–even if the stain is dark. Opaque stains are often used to masque inferior grades of wood. Stain must be uniform and rubbed into the grain as opposed to sitting on the surface of the wood.
Whether matte or high gloss, use your eyes to verify if the finish is well-sanded and rubbed. There must be no excess of stains, varnishes or lacquer —and your fingertips must not feel variations in what should be a smooth, seamless surface.
Exceptions are heavily grained woods as oak, especially if the wood has an oiled or waxed finish.
In better quality furniture, drawer corners should be dovetailed. Drawer interiors should be sanded and sealed. Better quality furniture should have wood dust-panels between drawers.
Drawers should slide easily on wood glides attached to the side walls of the drawer —or slide on a centered rail directly beneath the drawer. Preferred glides for desks are heavy metal.
Quality wood shelving should be finished on top, bottom and sides. Shelves should be adjustable and held in place by rails or routing in the side walls. If shelves are held by clips inserted in the side walls, the clips must be firmly secured and preferably metal.
Examine all metal hinges, locks, and drawer handles or pulls for quality. Metal castings should be solid metal—not plated. Preferred hardware is hand-cut from solid metal sheet stock as brass. Piano hinges and recessed locks indicate excellent quality.
Follow care and maintenance directions from each manufacturer of new wood furniture. Your use of wax, cream, paste or oil depends upon how each wood is finished. If there are no care labels, contact the manufacturer.
Sunlight can bleach some woods and stains. Follow the manufacturer’s directions regarding placing furniture in front of a window.
Keeping wood furniture in an unheated summer home, attic or cellar—can loosen joinery and destroy finishes: temperature and humidity affect the contraction and expansion of wood.
Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY
My next post: JUDGING VINTAGE WOOD FURNITURE