How to Buy Quality Wooden Furniture

Quality wooden furniture can complete your home. Pick the right pieces, and your interior will reach new heights.

When it comes to solid wood furniture, you generally get what you pay for. Try to skimp, and you might find you have to spend more in the long run.

What’s more, cheap flat-pack furniture won’t hold its value, unlike carefully crafted, quality furniture.

That said, it is still possible to shop for real wooden furniture at a reasonable price. You just have to know what you’re looking for.

 

The Best Wood for Furniture

Timber varies significantly - in terms of both appearance and durability.

Furniture makers use different types of wood depending on what they’re crafting. If affordability is key, then the piece will probably be made using wood harvested from fast-growing trees.

Intricately-carved pieces will probably use a wood like ash, maple, cherry, beech or walnut.

Furniture that’s built to last naturally needs to be made from wood that’s rugged and scratch-resistant.

Let’s look at some of the types of wood commonly used to make furniture, in more detail.

Oak furniture

Real oak furniture will be very heavy, thanks to its hard, dense grain. Oak has a naturally high tannin content, which offers some protection against insects and fungus, but can react badly with certain oil-based finishes.

Oak offers a classic look that should never go out of style.

Pine furniture

There are more than a hundred species of pine. It grows quickly, is affordable, and is lightweight - which could be a good thing, or a bad thing. At the same time, pine is very elastic, and resistant to warping.

Being a softwood, however, pine is susceptible to nicks and scratches. If you’re inspecting a piece of pine furniture, keep your eye out for surface defects.

The older the piece, the more likely you are to find them. Pine also tends to be quite knotty, which impacts its appearance, and can also lead to cracking and other problems.

Mahogany furniture

Mahogany is solid and durable while still being easy to work with. It’s also not cheap.

Mahogany is, like oak, a hardwood. This means it’s naturally resistant to insects. If you’re prepared to swallow the inflated price tag, mahogany furniture can be a great investment.

Teak furniture

You’ll recognise teak thanks to its straight-grain and brown colouring. Like the other timbers we’ve mentioned, teak is strong and long-lasting. It’s also naturally resistant to rot and termites.

In fact, teak is so hard that it can blunt a carpenter’s tools, which makes it difficult to find pieces which have been ornamented.

Teak is also quite rare, which is reflected in the price of furnishings made from it.

 

Wooden Furniture Construction: What to Look For

How two pieces of wood are joined is a good indication of quality.

If poor techniques have been used, you can be fairly confident the lack of craftsmanship will extend to other areas.

There are other red flags that should immediately tell you a piece of wooden furniture is poor quality. These are staples, nails, and exposed lumps of glue. These are techniques used when in a hurry and trying to cut costs – not when crafting something that lasts.

Dowelling

Dowelling is a technique used in high-quality wooden furniture.

A ‘dowel’ joint comprises two holes (one in each piece of wood) which are adjoined by a small rod (that’s the dowel itself).

The most difficult techniques to master are dovetail joints and mortise-and-tenon joints. The former are formed by a staircase pattern at the corners of each piece of wood, which interlock when the two meet.

The latter work via a similar principle to dowelling, except that you’re carving a rectangular hole in one piece of wood and a matching plug in another. The two can then be joined together to create a strong, stable joint - which is what you’re looking for.

Symmetry

Another marker of quality construction is symmetry. The piece should be totally still when on a flat surface. If you can rock it back and forth, that’s a bad sign.

Bad joinery can also give itself away through sound. Try lifting a corner of the item (if it’s not too heavy). If it’s solidly-constructed, it’ll be near-silent.

Interior

As well as inspecting the exterior parts of the piece, it’s worth getting on your hands and knees to take a look at its interior.

Quality pieces tend to be divided internally by thinner sheets of wood, which will prevent dust from reaching drawers and cupboard spaces.

Speaking of drawers, there are some features can help you distinguish a quality set.

To start, check whether there are stoppers to prevent the drawer from being pulled entirely out of place. It’s also worth checking how much room there is within the runners. It may be easy to push and pull the drawers now, but it might not be so simple if there’s a change in temperature or humidity.

Naturally, anything containing particleboard or MDF should be avoided. This won’t last very long, or look anywhere near as good as some of the other high-quality timbers we’ve looked at.

 

Wooden Furniture Finishes

The right timber will have a gorgeous grain, which a suitable finish can accentuate. There are oils, waxes, varnishes and ready-made blends of all three. Your choice will depend on the look you’re trying to achieve.

If you have a lightly-coloured pine piece that you’d like to keep bright and breezy, applying a heavy varnish might not be appropriate. Oil-based options will give the glossiest possible finish, as they will penetrate the fibers and keep them moist and reflective - even below the surface.

It’s also important to apply finishes correctly, as thick layers of varnish can often lend the appearance of molten plastic. If you find an item with this issue, you might be able to correct it – but doing so will take time, skill and effort.

The best wooden furniture finish

The appropriate finish, naturally, is one that’s built on the right foundation. The surface of your timber will need to be cleaned and sanded with several different grades of sandpaper. This will ensure the smoothest possible finish, and stop any particles from getting trapped underneath the coat.

If you intend to finish the item yourself, then be sure you have some experience with the finish in question. You don’t want to be learning on the job when there’s a valuable piece of furniture on the line.

You should also consider how durable the finish itself will be.

Resistance to spillages and stains is of utmost importance when it comes to, say, coffee tables. Waxes and other water-based finishes might be affected by a spilled cup of tea or glass of wine.

Of the finishes you can apply by hand, an oil-based one will likely be the most durable – provided, of course, that it’s been applied correctly.

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