furniture headerFurniture originated with early man—
and continues to be artisan and mass-produced.


      • wood for fire,
      • wood for weapons,
      • wood for tools,
      • wood for shelter, and ultimately,
      • wood—to accommodate our human form.

Please sit down….Pull up a chair….Have a seat.”

These are relatively new additions to our language.
The earliest chairs were the symbolic seat of a ruler and carved from stone.

We still sit on stone!

Stone garden bench for blog

Historians compiled furniture history from manuscripts and wall and vase paintings because very few pieces of ancient furniture remained intact. Because of the dry climate, some Egyptian chairs made of wood survived and their construction methods were adopted by the Greeks and Romans. This included use of a lathe to make uniform duplicates of legs and spindles.

∗Lathes are machines that hold and rotate wood rapidly along
its axis 
against sharp cutting tools. Egyptians used bowstrings
for power and throughout the ages, other power sources were
treadles, winches, water, 
steam and electricity.

Skins of leather were stretched across chair frames for flexibility. Eventually padding and cushions filled with feathers, horsehair, wool, down and other materials were added for comfort.

Throughout centuries, furniture styles mirrored architecture,
changing social patterns and customs and named for:
Monarchs • Artisan/Designers  • movements in Art & Architecture.

New York’s Metropolitan Museum reassembled a formal room
as it was furnished in 1762.  
Chippendale mahogany furniture,
silk brocades, crystal, silver and Persian carpets revealed the
richness of artisan craftsmanship!

When the Industrial Revolution gave rise to mass-production
spawned the world’s first middle class,
artisan furniture was copied in broad price ranges
as it continued to use nature’s sustainable raw materials.

Textile technology added mass-production of quality textiles.

was realized through technology and cheap labor. 


Michel Thonet perfected engineering techniques to bend solid wood in the 1840’s and by 1849, bentwood furniture was a mass-production success—as craftsmen were replaced by an assembly line. Prior to this, curved wood was achieved by cutting curved shapes from a large piece of wood —or piecing wood (which decreased its strength).

After Commodore Perry’s expedition to Japan in the 1850’s, furniture designs were influenced by the Far East.  Western furniture makers simulated bamboo by carving wood–using a lathe.

The 20th Century brought more innovation. Mies Van der Rohe designed a cantilevered chair made of polished steel with leather cushions for the 1929 World’s Fair in Barcelona. Today, both flat and tubular steel furniture are mass-produced in a broad range of price and quality.

The ability to bend and mold plywood — led to furniture by the husband and wife team, Charles and Ray Eames, who molded plywood splints and stretchers for the U.S. Navy.

In 1944, Eames prototype for a molded plywood chair was the
first mass-produced chair with three-dimensional curves.

In 2008, the US government issued 16 postage stamps in recognition of
Eames’ furniture,
“achieved by creative use of new materials and technology”.


Eames’ leather-upholstered molded plywood chair and ottoman
has become an international icon.

The Twentieth Century also introduced furniture made of fiberglass, plastics and natural wood waste products (as sawdust and wood chips) in substrates for veneer.

Substrates are invisible so their quality is hidden.  Manufacturers
commonly laminate plastic over inferior substrates.  The
content of substrates as wood waste products, their density, use of
toxicbinders, etc.  ARE NOT ON LABELS.

Raw material content of all furniture could easily be printed on labels
but are 
NOT required by law.

My experience with particleboard products compels me to forewarn:

Currently, ‘assemble-it-yourself‘ furniture is being promoted;
but even if you 
assemble it yourself :
how do you know if it’s good?

The Twenty-first Century?
Furniture innovation will undoubtedly be generated by digital technology and
new applications of raw materials. 

We’ll react immediately to new styles
 but judging their quality will require  ‘digging’.






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furniture header

primeval, enchanted habitat of birds, animals and man since Genesis

…… and the stuff of poets and playwrights.
            “I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.”  Joyce Kilmer                                                

                    Early man found uses for wood as if it came with instructions!

Forests, covering our lands, were cleared during many millenniums
for planting crops, grazing and building communities.
Man later discovered tree by-products as:

tannin, dyes, rubber, and medicines.

Clearing forests created jobs in logging, sawmills and paper mills and we fast-forward to the Industrial Revolution that brought new sources of power and technology to logging, sawmills and paper mills —as well as factories making products of wood and factories making products of by-products of wood.

In addition to homes, furniture and paper— wood products are globally as
diverse as railroad ties, baseball bats —and products we consume: citrus fruits, nuts, olives, coconuts, maple syrup, etc.

Tree species and size, transportation routes and world markets impact forest industries, well established in the United States, Canada, Russia, Europe, Japan, and Brazil. Pacific Rim nations, Latin America and Africa.

Not only do forests shelter wildlife, man relies upon wood from forests to remain a renewable resource.  In Europe, as early as the 14th Century, it was recognized that trees had to be managed to assure sustainability of forests.  In 1885 the U. S. federal government established the Division of Forestry to conserve and establish forest reserves.

Ethical and sustainable forestry practices exist but environmental problems created by unscrupulous loggers continue as a major world problem. International scientists are concerned with the depletion of forests by hurricanes, fire and especially by irresponsible harvesting. Loss of tree roots quickly leads to soil erosion, flooding and mudslides.

The ecological significance of forests is enormous because they help control global temperature by absorbing carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere. Environmentalists say stricter regulation is urgent because deforestation is responsible for about one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Forest Stewardship Council, FSC, a global not-for-profit environmental network, was founded in 1993 in Bonn, Germany, to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. Its main tools for achieving this are standard setting, certification and labeling of forest products.

FSC labels 
verify the companies that felled the timber abided by sustainable principles


Hard and soft does not refer to the hardness or softness of wood.
Hard and soft refers to the type of tree the wood comes from.
Furniture is usually made from hardwood.

Softwood is from trees with needles or foliage that remain green all year as:
Pine, Fir, Spruce, and Cedar.

Hardwood is from leaf bearing trees as:
Ash, Birch, Oak, Cherry, Maple, Teak, Gum, Mahogany, Pecan, Rosewood, Poplar and Walnut.

Freshly cut timber is 30 to 50% water and must be carefully dried (seasoned) to prevent warping before being cut into lumber.

Wood is usually stacked and air dried from 3 to 6 months before it is cut into lumber of standard or specified length.  It is then slowly kiln dried for two to eight weeks to prevent warping and cracking. Timing varies according to the thickness of the wood.

Furniture manufacturers prefer wood with 6 to 8% moisture.
If too dry, wood absorbs glue and doesn’t develop a bond;
if too wet, wood may warp and twist.

Wood for furniture must also be dry enough to acclimate to the humidity of a home because wood shrinks and expands with changes in humidity. Stuck drawers are probably the result of humidity.  Humidifiers and dehumidifiers not only protect your skin, they protect your furniture.


After loggers cut trees and trim all branches, the remaining trunk is a log. Logs are moved to sawmills where they’re sorted and graded for quality.

Bark is removed and in a series of cuttings, each log is squared into a rectangular shape and cut with specific dimensions of length, width and thickness, now called lumber.

Bark, sawdust, wood chips, shavings and other residue
are usable wood by-products.

Dimension stock is wood cut by a lumber mill in sizes specified for end use by each furniture manufacturer. Quality furniture factories begin by ripping all kiln-dried dimension stock by machine to assure every edge is at perfect right angles.

The National Hardwood Lumber Association established a specific
and complex standard grading system for all hardwood lumber:

Wood grades for quality furniture are:
FAS:   Firsts And Seconds: The highest grade with clear face cuttings.
1C:      The next lower grade used for quality furniture.


Trees grow in spring and summer and their growth depends upon the rainfall and soil. This is why the rate of growth differs every year and forms different sized concentric rings within each tree. The season of growth determines the color of the rings from light to dark.

The pattern created by the rate of growth of a tree is called wood-grain. Different cutting techniques produce different patterns to reveal the beauty and color of the grain.

Straight or full-grain:
When a log is cut or sliced top to bottom (parallel to the axis),
the grain is called straight—or full-grain.

Cross or end-grain:
When a log is cut or sliced across its width,
the grain is called 
cross-grain—or end-grain.

WOOD CUTTING BOARDS: Full-grain or End-grain?
a marriage of wood & function.

The function of the knife is to cut.
The function of the board is to provide a surface to cut ‘against’.

Wood cutting boards are full-grain or end-grain.
Each looks and performs differently.

Do knife blades scar wood?
Do wood surfaces ruin blades?
It depends!

Cutting across full-grain wood not only scars wood fibers;
it damages the cutting edge of the blade.

End-grain wood protects blades because they slice across
fibrous endings
of wood grain– which are not scarred.

If you cut or slice an ‘onion’, you see its layered growth;
similar to the layered growth and development of a tree.

How a ‘log’ is cut, peeled, sliced or sawn,
determines the direction of the wood-grain,
and we see the difference between full-grain and end-grain

Cut an onion vertically.

The direction of the layers duplicates the grain direction of full-grain
or straight-grain wood

full onion for blog
When cut, narrow boards of full-grain wood are joined horizontally.
Cutting across full-grain wood can scar wood fibers and
damage the edge of the knife-blade.

Cut an onion horizontally.

The direction of the layers duplicates the grain direction of end-grain wood.

cross onion for blog
Small pieces of end-grain (also cross-grain) are usually joined as a mosaic.
Cutting across fibers of end-grain wood does not scar the cutting board
nor damage the blade of the knife.

End-grain surfaces are preferred over full-grain surfaces by butchers—known for fastidious care of both their knives and cutting boards and explains the designation, ‘butcher-block’.   End-grain butcher block is also excellent for kitchen counters.

How many times a day do you slice bread, meat or cheese on a humble,
non-mechanical board of wood?  

The next time you reach for a cutting board—stop,
and appreciate the beauty and function of :
  wood  •  wood grain  •  joinery techniques  •  wood finishing.




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furniture header


Flat surfaces of wood furniture as top, side panels
and drawer 
fronts are considered solid wood, even
if the surface is made of narrow planks of wood
bonded together to prevent splitting and warping.

Because wood can shrink and warp, legs, arms and other structural
are cut and shaped from solid pieces of lumber.  Each
component of a table, chair, or other—must be of the same wood
species as it’s flat surfaces.


Wood veneer is a sheet of thinly sliced wood, laminated to a substrate.
When the substrate is wood, labels for the wood veneered furniture read:
solid wood veneered furniture.
If the substrate is not wood, the furniture can not be labeled solid wood.

Appreciation for the beauty and application of wood grain veneer dates
back to ancient Egypt, but veneered furniture was not common until the
17th Century.veneered furniture for blog 1

Solid wood furniture of the last three centuries, made with applications of beautiful wood veneer, is highly valued by antique dealers; and splendid new wood furniture continues to feature wood veneers.

Veneer for blog 1

Whether to peel or saw veneer depends upon the desired grain.

Peeled veneers:veneer for blog
Peeled veneers are made by spinning a wet, trimmed log on a rotary lathe against a sharp blade to produce a continuous roll.

Sawn veneers:Sawn veneers for blog
Sawn veneers are cut across or lengthwise to reveal different patterns of natural grain.

Kittinger applying veneer to substrate for blog
Whether peeled or sawn, veneers are meticulously applied to a wood substrate.

sliced veeneer for blog
Consecutive slices of sawn veneers laminated to a substrate can create consecutive panels of almost identical grain.

Wood veneer may be as thin as 1/32”. The natural beauty of the wood grain is further exploited by positioning sections of veneer with the grain sliced, matched and facing in different directions as: book matching,  end matching, slip matching and herringbone.

Unless you know the species of the veneered wood
and the composition of the substrate,

you cannot determine its’ quality.

Today, plywood is used from furniture to buildings.

 Layers or pliés of wood —stacked (as pancakes)— and laminated together,
become  1/8” to 1” inch thick plywood.

The grain direction of each plié is alternated in right angles to the one beneath, resulting in a strong workable material with uniform strength of width and length and capable of being molded by heat and pressure—a technique used to make grand pianos since the 1830’s.

Veneers or pliés of wood may also be laminated to a core of wood as birch, ash and Douglas fir. The most attractive grain of wood veneer is used for the top layer. 

Veneering/ Laminating Processes:

Veneers of wood OR sheets of plastic —can be laminated (glued and pressed) over a core or substrate of solid wood, plywood, OR man-made fiberboards.  Diverse combinations run the gamut of both price and quality.


Fiberboards are inexpensive man-made substrates
marketed as particleboard, hardboard and chipboard.
They are invisible beneath a visible surface veneer
which may be natural wood veneer–or a man-made

Durability and cost of fiberboard varies greatly because
the particle size and density of which they are composed
ranges from natural wood particles, chips, shavings and
wood waste from a mill or plywood factory to synthetic
products compressed with heat and pressure and
bonded with synthetic resins.

Even though the furniture industry uses man-made fiberboard products as ‘legitimate’ substrates for furniture and cabinetry: many are less-than-good.  Substrates are beneath the surface veneers—so it’s impossible to view their particle size and density—or to know the kind of glue and pressure with which they are compressed.

There are no labeling laws for furniture substrates.

I suspect the furniture industry doesn’t want labels to reveal  less-than-good substrates. Surface laminates as wood veneer, plastic and engineered paper ‘hide’ man-made substrates which cannot be drilled or joined by traditional joinery methods.

Shopping for a computer desk (in dozens of furniture stores), answers to my questions about veneers, substrates and joinery were unsatisfactory.  One store owner showed me a picture of a well-designed desk and told me it was cherry veneer over a solid wood substrate. Before considering it, I had to see the quality of the manufacturer’s work.

I located furniture made by the same manufacturer in another store but a ‘depression’ in the top flat surface of their table was a ‘red flag’ that the substrate was not wood. My call to the manufacturer confirmed the use of particleboard substrates for ALL their furniture After my negative experiences with man-made substrates, I passed.

Finally, I found a desk where the style, scale, finish and hardware suited my needs. Told it was solid wood with mortise & tenon joinery, I nevertheless checked the manufacturer’s web site which listed all raw materials and production methods for their products. So far, so good—but I still phoned the manufacturer to dispel any doubt.

My desk cost little more than the one made with a particleboard substrate.
I spend hours at it every day, including writing this post.

MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) is a dry-formed panel substrate made by gluing wood fibers together with a synthetic resin using heat and pressure. MDF is very dense and has no knots, so it can be drilled and traditional methods of joinery can be used.

Although some better cabinet makers use MDF as a substrate for fine wood veneers, know that MDF is a man-made fiberboard substrate and the furniture cannnot be sold as solid wood.   Ask for written proof that a substrate is WOOD.


Plywood and all varieties of fiberboards have traditionally been made with wood binding adhesives, synthetic resins and finishes we now call VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) which vary greatly in safety by releasing fumes causing eye, skin, nose and throat irritation in addition to creating hazardous waste.  Their vapors can depress and damage the brain and nervous system, and some are carcinogenic—especially if they contain formaldehyde.

The U.S. federal government classifies formaldehyde as a ‘possible’ human carcinogen although California has classified formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen– and declared fiberboards made with formaldehyde, illegal.

The Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, signed into U.S. law by President Obama, July 7, 2010, establishes limits for emissions from composite wood products: hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard and particleboard.  




If you prefer to begin with THE STORY OF FURNITURE, click on:

furniture header


Identifying component parts of furniture is key in learning to judge each component for uniformity and quality of both shape and joinery.

Finding quality furniture,
we no longer judge the component parts;
we enjoy the beauty of the whole.

components of chairs for blog

Identifying each component helps us focus on the design or style of furniture and make it easier to recognize and compare similarities and differences of finished designs—–plain and ornamented.

Each of these components is common to every chair:
contemporary and traditional


component top rail for blog

A rail across the top of a side chair and joined to the splat or spindles.
Top rails may be simple or incorporate embellishment as carving.

Vertical panels in the center back of a chair–joined to top rail and chair seat.
Plain or ornate, splats showcase creative abilities.

Spindles of all sizes and shapes are mounted vertically as railings and chair backs. Windsor chairs incorporate multiple spindles from the top rail to the seat, capitalizing on the design principle of repetition. Spindles may be hand-carved or made on a spindle carving machine.

legs and feet for blog

Chair and table legs and feet may be simple or distinctive.
The Egyptians hand-carved bird and dragon claws,
often grasping a ball at the base of chair legs.


component apron for blog

A flat horizontal frame made of solid pieces of wood
that connect and support vertical components of chair seats or tables.
Apron corners must be securely joined to legs for stability (see corner blocks) .


component stretcher for blog

Simple horizontal rails of wood connect legs of tables or chairs to each other.
Stretchers maintain vertical stability and offer a place to hang one’s feet!


stiles 3 for blog
Stiles are vertical solid wood rear legs that extend the full height of the chair.
They are joined to the top rail, splat and apron.

Joining structural components for strength and durability is a measure of craftsmanship and the quality of furniture.

Learning her antique table was not valuable, the owner’s pain
was palpable as experts on the Antique Roadshow explained
the drawer front wobbled because it was not dovetailed; and a
leg was loose because it was joined by a single dowel instead
of mortise & tenon.

component mortise and tenon for blog
A tenon (straight-sided, square-cornered projection) at the end of a piece of wood fits precisely into the mortise (straight-sided, square-cornered cavity) hollowed from the piece of wood to be joined.

Component joined mortise and tenon for blogBoth the mortise and the tenon are interlocked with glue so their tight-fitting straight edges and corners resist movement. This joinery provides strength and longevity.

DOUBLE DOWELING: two dowels and two holes
Two round projections or dowels on one piece of wood are glued into corresponding holes drilled in the other.  This, also, is secure joinery.

Single dowel joinery (one dowel and one hole) may result in loose joinery. 

CORNER BLOCKS:component corner blog for blogCorner blocks are necessary reinforcement.
Shaped blocks of wood are glued and screwed into the corners of the rails of a table or chair where legs are joined to the apron beneath the flat surface.

component dovetail for blog
Alternating positive and negative ‘tooth-like’ shapes cut into the ends of two boards are interlocked and glued at right angles.

component joined dovetail for blog
Interlock the fingers of both hands tightly.
Your ‘grip’ mimics dovetail joinery.

Dovetail is excellent joinery especially for corners of drawers.
The wood cannot separate as a drawer is pulled back to front.

A channel is cut into the side of one piece of wood to accommodate the edge of a second piece of wood glued into the channel.

Ends of two pieces of wood are each cut at perfect 45º angles. Joined, they become a perfect 90º angle.   Mitered corners are a sign of quality for both door frames and picture frames.

Two end pieces of wood butted-together and held with glue and screws. This is not durable wood joinery.

Consecutive pieces of wood are joined by interlocking cut-outs, just as pieces of a puzzle interlock.  Hardwood floor boards are usually installed using tongue and groove joinery.




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Component carving by hand for blogBy hand:

Artisan craftspeople use special carving tools to freely cut away (displace) wood to create a three-dimensional design in the surface of wood.
Chisel marks are called wood carvers ‘beauty marks’.

blog multiple carving
By machine:
Exacting duplicate shapes can be machine carved.

Embossing for blog x

Embossing is easily identified because it lacks tool marks.
Steel cutting dies are pressed deeply into wood to create a raised three dimensional design (known as ‘relief’ ). Wood fibers are compacted —not cut away or displaced.

Engraving on artisan furniture for blog
Skilled craftsmen guide engraving tools to create designs by displacing wood.

Component leg and apron with wood inlay for blogVeneer shapes fill spaces cut-out of surfaces of a different veneer
to create designs of contrasting wood grains and color.

Designs are also inlaid with varieties of wood veneer, brass and ivory.

instant antique for blog
Distressing is a carefully planned art of destruction.

Instant antique 2 for blog

For customers who prefer ‘new’ furniture that looks 200 years old, distressing techniques simulate pin holes, dents, scratches and worm holes!

Bamboo (a very moist wood) is bent into a shape using heat and pressure .


Finishing all wood furniture includes:
sanding, bleaching, sealing, staining, lacquering and polishing.

Artisan cabinetmakers perform each of these steps by hand. As the moisture of bleaches and stains raises the grain in wood—sanding and rubbing processes must be repeated many times to create finishes ranging from matte to high gloss until every finish meets their standard of excellence.

Mass-produced furniture is usually finished using assembly-line work-saving technologies.  These may include sprays that bleach, seal and stain and are not sanded after each procedure.

Side by side, finishing differences are apparent—although both may be good.

Stains are used to enhance the natural beauty of wood grain.
If a stain is dark, it must be translucent and blended into the grain
— as opposed to ‘sitting’ on the surface of the wood.

Opaque stains are often used to masque inferior grades of wood.
The beauty of wood grain, even dark woods like ebony and rosewood (jacaranda), should be visible through stain

Labels reading ‘mahogany finish’ or ‘cherry finish’ describe only the color of the stain; they do not identify the species of wood used to make the furniture.


My next post: ARTISAN WOOD FURNITURE: Kittinger Furniture Company


If you prefer to begin with THE STORY OF FURNITURE, click on:

furniture header


 2012 BEST:
for Excellence in Design and American Manufacturing

Accepting this prestigious award at the U.S. Capitol July 4th, 2012,
Ray Bialkowski, President of Kittinger,
praised his company, employees and hand-crafted products
as symbols of ‘Made in America’. 

Founded in Buffalo in 1866, Kittinger Furniture’s unparalleled craftsmanship enriches many rooms in the White House including the oval office —and throughout the country:  presidential libraries, boardrooms and living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms and home offices of American families. 

The U. S. Cabinet meets around this 22’ x 7’ Kittinger conference table.

 And this past February, Raymond Bialkowski,
delivered 16 new leather chairs made for the Roosevelt Room,
a staff meeting room in the West Wing—steps from the Oval Office.

kittinger at White House

Mahogany is the hallmark of Kittinger furniture.
Their experts select prime mahogany in South America to meet rigid specifications.
It is kiln dried and pre-cut to their specification.


All furniture is hand crafted by:
cabinetmakers, carvers, wood and veneer experts.
Stains and finishes are hand-applied, hand-sanded and hand-rubbed.

Historical research is fundamental in Kittinger designs.  Sketches are drafted into auto-cad drawings—then detailed drawings— for making jigs and templates for cutting parts in the Kittinger mill.  

Kittinger’s production standards apply
to all artisan wood furniture —traditional or contemporary.
They will help you judge quality for yourself.


veneer combo for blogThe standard thickness of mahogany veneer is 1/32″ .

A continuous roll of veneer is peeled 
by spinning a wet, trimmed log on a rotary lathe against a sharp blade
Flat sheets of veneer are sawn 
 across or lengthwise for different grain patterns .


cutting veneeer at kittinger

Flat surfaces are constructed of five layers for warp-resistance and stability.
The core of each flat panel is a five ply construction
and glued to each side of the core is a cross-banded veneer.
 Kittinger applying veneer to substrate for blog

Mahogany face veneers are applied to both sides, completing the panel.
The direction of grain is alternated for each layer—for surface strength.

Glue is applied between each layer:
finished boards are clamped for 24 hours to assure perfect union. 

slip matching

Before application, face veneers are inspected.  Some are slip-matched or book matched to align the direction and configuration of nature’s artwork —and then perfectly matched on furniture tops, doors and drawers.

Plywood for blog

Rubber sanding machines smooth flat surfaces;
other machinery sands all edges.


A single pattern may have hundreds of parts:
tops, sides, drawers, doors, dust panels, moldings, legs, etc.

Carefully following the draftsman’s detail drawings, digital technology is used to shape precise furniture components as chair top rails, arms and legs from selections of solid mahogany.



machine shaping at Kittinger

Carving uniform arm and leg components for tables and chairs.



Components as cabriole legs are hand-carved,
and some are embellished by hand-carving or engraving.
Artisan carving for blog x

A hand-carver fashions a scroll on the knee of a cabriole leg ending in a ‘claw and ball‘ foot. With concentration and intensity, the artisan uses hand tools to freely achieve a three-dimensional design.

component apron for blog

One leg takes more than a day to hand-carve;
almost one week to complete four.

legs and feet for blog


Artisan Queen Anne chair for blog

unfinished chair for blog

Components for every chair are joined
and sanded, corner blocks installed and
splat edges rounded by hand-sanding,
all by a single cabinetmaker.

Every chair is perfect prior to staining
and finishing.



Solid wood, prepared for double dowel joinery.


Master  craftsmen join components for bookcase/secretary units and ‘high and
boys’ with drawers.

All drawers have dovetailed corners and
glide on mahogany rails; a costly and superior method of drawer construction.

Drawer interiors are mahogany veneer.
Solid pine dust panels separate all drawers.

                                            Bombe chest and drawers for blog                               
Three inch thick blocks of mahogany are used to create the curved bottom of this bombé  shaped ‘chest-on-chest’.  Because of the curve, dovetails for the
drawers are cut at compound angles.


Wood inlays for blog

Computer-controlled routers eliminate imprecision and heighten efficiency by performing several cutting and boring operations at once, allowing craftsmen to focus on the fine art of wood-working. 

Small pieces of veneer are inlaid in the troughs cut by the routing machine in flat surfaces of wood furniture before staining.

Kittinger inlay for blog
Inlaid woods are covered with shellac so they don’t absorb stain.
The checkerboard is made by alternating inlays of contrasting veneers.


Kittinger hand finishing

Diverse finishes are applied–all by hand–in 21 to 24 steps.  The natural wood furniture is bleached to a uniform color and dried overnight before stain is applied by hand. 

Because bleaches and stains raise grain, wood is hand-sanded after every application. Wood fillers are applied to fill any porosity. Inner-drawer wood is sealed —but not stained.

A final coat of lacquer imparts high gloss and the heirloom furniture is sanded one last time, hand-rubbed to a glassy finish and delivered to their prestigious destinations .

I first visited the Kittinger factory 20 years ago but never
forgot my respect and appreciation for their principles of
My recent visit generated my same respect and appreciation.

The following pictures illustrate the vast real estate necessary
to produce these heirlooms of the future!



I have no commercial ties and neither promote nor negate brand names for any of the international everyday products I write about.

I’m proud to make two exceptions:
one is artisan wood furniture from KITTINGER FURNITURE;
the other is mass-produced furniture from FANCHER CHAIR.

My posts explore the excellence of their furniture
made in America,
in western New York,
where I grew up and where I live

My next postMASS-PRODUCED WOOD FURNITURE : Fancher Chair



If you prefer to begin with THE STORY OF FURNITURE, click on:

furniture header

Early man used wood as if it came with instructions!

The Industrial Revolution gave us democratization of wood furniture:
machine technology enabled uniform production of legs, arms, spindles, rails, splats and joinery techniques.

As I began visiting international manufacturers of everyday essentials, a highly respected NYC architect/interior designer of commercial spaces insisted I visit Fancher Chair because of the excellent quality of their mass-produced wood chairs.

A region of rich farm land in southwestern New York State known as the ‘fruit-belt’ was home to Fancher Chair because of select native hardwoods as red and white oak, maple, cherry and ash.

I never heard of Fancher Chair but the interior designer smiled and said I probably had sat upon many of their contract chairs in offices, libraries, restaurants, hotels and motels throughout the U. S.—from Marriott’s to the Waldorf Astoria.

And so,  I first visited Fancher Chair in Falconer, New York 20 years ago. Older buildings had been modernized and ‘green’ standards were in place before environmentalists gave it a name.

Fancher Chair not only made and sold contract chairs (that I ‘probably sat upon’) ; they also made chairs for international furniture companies who would hand-stain, hand-finish and ‘seat’ them for their own prestigious brand-name collections.

During my visit, Bruce Erickson introduced employees by name as he extolled their Yankee work ethic. I witnessed chair production that incorporated excellent standards of quality and became my standards for furniture quality.  

Each task; shaping, cutting, sanding, drilling a mortise and shaping a tenon was performed—one at a timefor one componentby one operatoron one machine. Production was slow—albeit excellent.


Fancher’s production still begins with dimension stock, (wood pre-cut by lumber mills in sizes specified according to end use). Their lumber mill has already kiln dried the lumber to a level of 6 to 8% moisture.

Too dry, wood absorbs glue and doesn’t develop a bond.
Too wet, wood may warp and twist.

dimension stock for blog

Before components are shaped, dimension stock must be ‘ripped’ by a ripping saw at the furniture factory, to assure edges are all perfectly squared at right angles.

Fancher Chair had always been capital and labor intensive
but during my recent visit, I witnessed significant change.

Now, capital expenditures include digital technology that
not only speeds production; it improves the consistency
of their excellent quality.

Chairman Emeritus Bruce Erickson demonstrated how
digital technology makes current production superior.


Skilled operators program digital machines to perform several tasks simultaneously and precisely—for one— or one thousand components.


blog Fancher components

In one operation, components are shaped
complete with mortise and tenon or double dowels.

The accuracy and speed of perfect precision is a dream.
 And we—the consumer—are beneficiaries!


Machines simultaneously cut and shape components for both
left and right sides of a chair.



How components are joined;
is a measure of craftsmanship and quality.

A mortise (drilled cavity) and tenon (projection at the end of a component) are glued and interlocked to resist movement and provide maximum stability.

new mortise and tenon for blog

These photographs illustrate the consistency of perfectly precise fittings
—because of digital technology.    

Precision joinery for blog


final table blog Fancher

Glue flash binds in 15 minutes and achieves 85% binding strength in 30 minutes.

All components of this chair have been glued, joined and held in spring clamps for one hour prior to sanding by a rotating sanding machine.

Standards are rigid as finished frames are examined under brilliant light as traces of excess glue are scraped, sanded and buffed if necessary prior to staining or finishing.

Examined under bright lights


After inspection, Fancher’s made-to-specification chair frames are shipped to their status brand manufacturers who use labor intensive techniques to stain and finish them to match finishes of their furniture collections.

Fancher employees stain and finish their contract chairs’ in their factory.

Conveyors advance frames through a succession of hand-rub-downs, sprays of toners, non-grain raising stains, wiping by hand, more sprays of sealers, lacquers, hot-air blasts, more hand-rub-downs and final waxing.  This controls cost and maintains good quality.
Stained chair

Finished frames are seated according to specification.  Machine-woven caning, plywood covered with padded upholstery fabric or webbing are only a few of the possibilities.







Fancher is one of many long-standing, good-quality global businesses affected by rising raw material, technology and labor costs but digital technology has contributed greatly to the speed and consistent excellence of their current chair production.

Leaving Falconer, I marveled not only at how Fancher Chair
maintains their standard of excellence for mass-produced
wood chairs, but at how far man has come to perform tasks
formerly powered by treadles, winches and steam.


I have no commercial ties and neither promote nor negate brand names for any of the international everyday products I write about.

I’m proud to make two exceptions:
one for artisan wood furniture from
the other for mass-produced furniture from

My posts explore the excellence of their furniture
made in America,
in western New York,
where I grew up and where I live!



[/audio]If you prefer to begin with THE STORY OF FURNITURE, click on:

furniture header

A home furnishings magazine pictured three all-wood chairs.
Their title: LOW–MEDIUM–HIGH–referred only to price.

The $149 chair was plain.
The $425 chair was a bit decorative.
The $755 chair was rather ornate.
The inference?  MISLEADING!

Style elicits our emotional response but has little or no impact on price or quality of furniture—nor any other home product. Identical styles can be made in broad price ranges depending upon raw materials, joinery, staining and finishing.

There’s a lot of tradition in furniture design
—and no rules—
so where do you begin?

Is your lifestyle formal or informal?
Is your design aesthetic traditional, country, modern, eclectic or other?
Do you like to combine vintage with modern?

 Rushing to fill our rooms,
they become locked in a ‘time-warp’ instead of becoming a chronicle of our lives.

Furniture satisfies our emotional and physical needs—and it takes a lifetime to furnish a home.  Knowing your personal preferences makes purchasing decisions easier. Then, bring fabrics, accessories, paintings and cultural interests into play.

Many of us experience the following:
STYLE—–paramount when we first buy furniture.
QUALITY—paramount when we grow in discernment.
COMFORT–paramount when we grow in wisdom.

But, you can choose new or old furniture having
style, quality and comfort
at prices you can afford—-all IN ONE PRODUCT! 

Quality is not about style—but style attracts us to furniture.
It’s a good idea to save interesting pages from furnishing magazines
—even if you have no immediate need for them.

Differentiate your WANTS from your NEEDS;
then PRIORITIZE your needs.

•  Do you need a bedroom dresser?
    or can you outfit your closet with shelving for folded clothing?

•  Do you need a dining table for four or twelve?
    and can the dining chairs double as pull-up seating in your living room?

•  When I needed a serving table for a dinner party when living in New York,
    my sturdy ironing board, covered with a colorful table cloth, was a perfect serving table.

Appreciate that good quality wood furniture is made in a broad price range
using different woods and production methods.

When I found a cherry wood desk that suited my needs,
I couldn’t use the color of real cherry wood.

I ordered the desk in OAK —stained espresso brown.
Oak is cheaper than cherry wood—but the production
quality was identical.

          I wrote this post at my espresso-brown oak computer desk! 






If you prefer to begin with THE STORY OF FURNITURE, click on:

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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.

3. Finally: 
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.

Drawer glides:
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.




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Changes in temperature and humidity contract and expand wood;
furniture joinery can loosen and wood finishes can be destroyed.

Has the vintage wood furniture been kept in a cellar or attic?
How trustworthy is the seller?

Examine furniture with the professionalism of a home inspector.

The best way to gain leverage for price negotiation is to
describe inadequacies using specific terminology
that explain why the price is too high for the quality. 

Compromise becomes a treasure hunt when we apply timeless principles of quality to products we like.  We always win, especially when we find a less expensive product superior to one we can’t afford.

How old is the furniture?
Besides the condition of the furniture and how the wood was finished, AGE MATTERS. By the end of the 1940’s,  engineered particleboard began to be used as an economical substrate for both wood and man-made veneers.

As discussed in previous posts, I do not recommend furniture made with a fiberboard substrate.  Man-made substrates arouse my suspicion about all production methods, especially joinery techniques.

By the 1990’s, mergers and leveraged buyouts among branded furniture manufacturers enforced goals of volume and profit. For many, quality was negatively affected.

Did you get an honest answer about the age of the furniture?
Depending upon the seller, you may or may not learn who owned the furniture and the year it was purchased. Look beneath wood furniture to see if the manufacturer’s name or logo is embossed. You may be able to learn more about a manufacturer’s reputation for quality on the Internet.

How long does a wood chair —or any wood furniture—last?”
If well-made and well-maintained, wood furniture has no expiration date. International museums include chairs made by early Greeks and Romans.

Hand-crafted furniture and chairs from the 17th Century are the pride of the American Wing in the Metropolitan Museum and 20th Century furniture at the Modern Museum of Art is a product of modern technology and may last for centuries.

All of the above are in excellent condition although some may have been restored. Even if the vintage furniture does not have antique value, you’re justified in asking:
               “How old is this —chair—table—bench— desk– – bookcase?

What is the wood species? 
This is tricky. If a seller says the wood is cherry, is it solid cherry wood? cherry veneer? or cherry stain ?—on pine or other wood?  And if stain deliberately obscures the wood grain, the quality of the wood is probably less than furniture grade.

If you don’t get reliable answers to your questions, PASS—or bring a friend who’s a wood expert!

Where was the furniture made?
Imported furniture must have a country of origin label in order to pass customs into the United States. However, previous owners may have removed these labels.

If the quality of the craftsmanship is good, more important than country of origin is the condition of the wood and joinery. A lot of wood furniture made in the U.S. is embossed with the brand name somewhere beneath the visible surface.

Since the 1970’s, domestic and imported knocked-down furniture is becoming popular. Much of it is less-than-good—-even if you assemble it.

‘Vintage’—has many connotations. I use the term to describe ‘old’–but not yet old enough to have value as an ‘antique’.  But regardless of age,  if furniture is used —and if you suspect the quality may not be good,  give it a ‘rugged’ test.

What joinery is used?
If furniture has a dovetailed drawer, all of the joinery is probably good.  If drawers are not dovetailed, all joinery becomes suspect —and one has to guess what joinery has been used. If the furniture seems sturdy? okay. If it wobbles? pass.

If furniture has legs, there should be corner blocks.
Look beneath all furniture with legs to see of it has corner blocks where each leg meets the frame. Corner blocks are necessary for stability.

Don’t be afraid to be rough as you examine furniture to judge stability.  If furniture seems sturdy but has a loose spindle, simply use good wood glue and clamp the joined pieces until thoroughly dry.   But if many components are loose?pass.

Hardware quality?
If wood furniture has hardware, learn the name of the metal—and whether it is solid or plated. Plated drawer pulls or hinges are a wake-up call that shortcuts have been taken. If the quality of the wood and joinery are both good, hardware can be easily replaced.