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Wood Furniture

“What wood is the best for furniture?” As you likely know if you're in the process of furnishing your home, this isn't as simple of a question as it seems at first glance. The answer is dependent on your budget and expected usage. In addition to the wood type and quality used in a furniture piece, the process used to create the piece is another factor that greatly impacts the quality-level of the wood furniture you are considering. 

This guide to wood furniture discusses how wood types, materials, and furniture-making processes impact the beauty, durability, and price of wood furniture.

Furniture Wood

Wood is the basic raw element used to construct furniture. Wood furniture begins with the raw materials used. Before getting into a discussion about wood quality, let's look at the types of wood that is used to make furniture.

Maple Wood Furniture

Maple may be the ideal furniture wood. While there are many different types of maple, almost all are very durable and make for gorgeous furniture. It wears extremely well. Maple is naturally non-toxic so it is often used to make kitchen cutting boards. There are several grain patterns available depending on the type of maple you are interested in. 

Mahogany Wood Furniture

One of the more traditional woods in furniture making, mahogany is a beautiful wood. It is lighter in weight than some of the other wood types here but has the strength of oak. We think of mahogany as reddish-brown however there are lighter colors of the wood. Genuine mahogany is sourced from Latin American and is becoming harder and harder to find. It can be expensive.

Oak Wood Furniture

Oak is a very durable wood that is typically used for flooring and kitchen furniture. It is beautiful but can yellow over time. By contrast, red oak is slightly darker and porous. It also looks beautiful and is fairly inexpensive. Oak is an excellent wood for furniture.

Cherry Wood Furniture

Cherry darkens with time, giving it a very rich look as it continues to darken. The color is what most people love about cherry but there are other things to really like about it. Cherry is relatively hard it can be resistant to scratches and dents. It has an even grain and is non-toxic.

Pine Wood Furniture

We’re used to seeing knotty pine in rustic cabins and the like. So we naturally assume pine is a good material for furniture. It’s quite the contrary. Pine is a softwood that is easily damaged. It is fairly inexpensive, however.

Cedar Wood Furniture

Cedar is a relatively soft wood so it’s not ideal for indoor furniture. However, for outdoor furniture, it’s quite good. Cedar is naturally weather resistant. One usually sees closets constructed of cedar as its aromatic quality repels bugs. 

Bassett Bench*Made Bed

Materials used in furniture

There are two primary types of wood materials: solid wood, which includes both hardwoods and softwoods; and manufactured wood, which is an engineered material that is often a composite of real wood and synthetic materials. Below are the basics of solid wood and engineered wood:

Solid wood furniture

Solid wood is wood that comes purely from lumber and is, therefore, a direct product of a tree. There are two types of real wood used in furniture-making: hardwood and softwood. Below are their descriptions:

  • Hardwood: Hardwood is denser than softwood. Hardwood lumber comes from deciduous trees that generally grow more slowly. Types of hardwoods include oak, hickory, teak, maple, beech, walnut, and mahogany. 
  • Softwood: Less dense than its hardwood cousin, softwood generally comes from coniferous (or evergreen) trees that grow more quickly. Types of softwoods include spruce, pine, and fir. 

Engineered wood furniture

Engineered wood is derived from lumber, but also contains various adhesives and other synthetic materials to form a composite material. There are two different types of engineered wood: particleboard and plywood. Below are brief descriptions of these manufactured woods:

  • Plywood: Considered the original engineered wood, is made by taking 3-5 slices of thin lumber and combining them with adhesive. 
  • Particleboard: Often referred to as fiberboard, particleboard is made by using a wood-chipper to break down lumber into tiny fibers and gluing them together with adhesive.

Bench*Made Dining

Wood quality for furniture

Now that we've looked at the different types of wood used in furniture-making, let's look at the different factors that go into determining the quality of wood furniture. Below are some frequently asked questions concerning wood quality in furniture:

What is the best type of wood material for furniture?

Hardwoods are the best type of wood material for furniture. A product that is getting harder and harder to find, hardwood furniture has a combination of beauty and durability that cannot be matched by any softwood or engineered wood. While softwoods can be beautiful, they aren't nearly as durable as hardwoods. On the other hand, while there are many pretty durable engineered wood out there, the natural character and beauty of hardwood cannot currently be emulated by technological processes.  

Why is solid wood furniture so expensive?

There are a number of factors that help determine the price of that solid wood furniture you've had your eye on. Supply and demand, for example. Because the best solid wood furniture is made from hardwood, it grows more slowly, which limits supply and raises the cost. Also, solid wood furniture may be more difficult to manufacture in mass quantities because each part of a solid wood piece must be cut to a specification, whereas it may be easier to create these modular pieces with manufactured wood. 

What is veneer wood?

Veneer is a thin layer (about an eighth of an inch in thickness or less) that is glued to a less expensive material hidden underneath. The material beneath may be particle board or a lesser quality wood, enabling the furniture maker to create outwardly attractive furniture at a very low cost. Veneer is real wood, but quality differs greatly with the manufacturer. 

What is laminate furniture?

For furniture manufacturers, laminate is the most cost-effective way to create good looking furniture pieces. However, laminate is a step down from veneer. It’s a synthetic material, or an extremely thin slice of real wood, that typically hides a low-quality material beneath it. Laminate is common in low-end furniture lines. Laminate can be great for children’s furniture or spaces with extremely high volume. If furniture with a laminated surface becomes damaged, it isn’t costly to replace.

Why is solid wood furniture better than laminate or veneer?

With solid wood, what you see is what you get. It’s wood – nothing more or and nothing less. As a result, you can sand or stain it. Nothing will fall apart or peel. Unlike laminate or veneer, when solid wood furniture shows wear, it adds character. Think of furniture with a weathered look. It isn’t uncommon to treat brand new furniture with that weathered look to add a desirable shabby chic look to it.

Solid wood is much more durable. Its lengthy lifespan can make an heirloom of it. Unlike veneer or laminated furniture, solid wood living room, dining room, or bedroom furniture can someday last to become an antique, if maintained reasonably well. Solid wood is an investment that can pay for itself several times over because of its longevity.

What wood is best for furniture?

While hardwoods in general are better for furniture, picking the best wood for to make furniture often involves balancing the factors of wood density and wood beauty. One specific type of hardwood that does an excellent job of this is Red-Leaf Maple. Red-Leaf Maple is an exotic subset of maple that is used in furniture. Red-leaf maple generally has a more exquisite grain-pattern and a more vibrant color than regular maple. 

What is bench-made furniture?

Bench made wood furniture describes a furniture-making process that combines quality craftsmanship with the best wood types available. 

See below for more on bench-made furniture and other furniture-making processes:

Bassett Living Room Image

Making wood furniture

Now that we've covered the various wood types used in furniture, lets shift to the processes used by furniture manufacturers to create wood furniture, including various tradeoffs between manufactured, hand-made, custom, and bench-made wood furniture.

Manufactured wood furniture

During the 20th century, the pre-eminence of technology allowed several goods, including furniture, to be mass-produced. This was done through an assembly-line process, where different parts of the wood furniture-making process occurred at different steps. For example, when manufacturing a table, the lets would all be made in one plac=e.

The pieces of the table-top would be made somewhere else. These individual pieces would then be passed down to an assembly-line, where various individual steps of the furniture assembly would happen by the same workers over and over. Finally, the assembled furniture would go the finishing line, where various steps of the finishing process took place in a similar manner to the assembly process. 

Ultimately, the benefits of this process were that good furniture, which had previously only been a luxury item, was now available to the majority of households. On the other hand, there was a level of skill and craftsmanship that was seemingly lost. 

Hand-made wood furniture

Simply put, when a furniture designer produces your furniture piece with his own hands, there is an undeniable level of care.  The artist’s name is associated with that product and most craftsmen care deeply about their standing and reputation among peers. By contrast, a person who performs a single function on an assembly line is not nearly as accountable and has less reason to care about your satisfaction.

When shopping a showroom floor populated by mass-produced furniture, you’re limited by what their factory churns out. When dealing with a designated furniture-maker, you can add your input, relay the look you want and together, you can design accordingly. There are no limits. Furniture can be made to your exact specifications and the artisan is personally connected to the piece he or she creates for you.

This is how furniture was made for centuries. Luckily, this type of furniture-making is seeing a resurgence, as many are rediscovering the beauty of authenticity. 

Custom wood furniture

Handmade and custom wood furniture go hand-in-hand, as hand-made furniture artisans have the skill and flexibility to produce custom furniture better than anyone. 

One can find mass-produced furniture of acceptable, even good quality. However, the benefits of custom wood furniture are undeniable. Some are readily apparent. Others, not so much. That being the case, this seems like as good a time as any to list the advantages of custom wood furniture.

Below are a couple of benefits of custom furniture:

Design Flexibility: If you’re in need of a few pieces to add to existing decor, shopping for a piece that fits into your decor’s color or wood finish can be problematic. This is particularly true of mass-produced assembly line furniture with veneers on the surface. When dealing with an artisan craftsman, you have great flexibility. Often, you’ll choose the lumber that goes into its creation and the exact finish so that it is sure to match your existing decor. Before the piece is made, you’ll already know that the resulting piece will look just right and match your other furniture perfectly.

You can get custom furniture in any size: Here’s the advantage that people often forget. Retail furniture pieces come in predetermined sizes based on marketing research. When an artisan furniture maker starts work, he may well check the dimensions and/or layout of the room. Then, he can build your furniture to the proportions of your room. Everything is guaranteed to be size appropriate.

Bench-made furniture

Bench made wood furniture combines the best aspects of wood furniture that we have described so far, including the use of well-sourced wood types, the use of solid wood, custom design, and handcrafted production. 

Characteristics of bench-made furniture

Bench-made furniture can be characterized by:

  • Design: Every aspect of a bench made furniture piece is something to be designed. The quality of design in every little detail of a bench-made furniture piece is considered, leading to a gorgeous piece of solid-wood furniture. 
  • Better Materials: Bench-made furniture is made from the finest sourced solid woods. The finishes used are also of the utmost quality. 
  • Craftsmanship: Just like the most highly sought after hand-made pieces of old, bench-made furniture exhibits a sense of craftsmanship that is timeless. 
  • Custom: Because they are made by expert artisan-craftsmen, bench-made furniture pieces are highly customizable, allowing someone to acquire hand-made furniture that is designed to the dimensions and style of their choosing.  

Real bench-made solid-wood furniture

Want to see real bench-made furniture? Bassett's Bench*Made furniture doesn't use the manufacturing techniques that characterized the 1900's. Bench*Made furniture is really old school, made the same way artisans in the Appalachian Mountains crafted furniture from the Colonial period all the way to the late 1800's. Check out this video to learn more about Bench*Made furniture:

Custom Solid Wood Furniture from Bassett

Bassett has been in the furniture business for over 100 years, creating furniture pieces of all kinds and materials. Our Bench*Made line – custom made solid wood furniture – is the envy of the furniture market today. Real wood furniture fashioned from solid red leaf maple or oak. Made and sourced entirely in America, each piece is hand made by a craftsman in Bassett, Virginia.

Check out our Bench*Made line by visiting a Bassett showroom near you. You’ll be surprised at the beauty and value you can find close to you!

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