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Wood Furniture: The Quality Matches The Price

“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 price level of the wood furniture you are considering. 

This video shows the furniture-making process and the attention to detail that goes into each step to make a quality piece of furniture.

Furniture Woods

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 are used to make furniture.

Types of wood for 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 for furniture-making

Solid wood 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:

Midtown TableHardwoods used in furniture

Hardwood is denser than softwood. Hardwood lumber comes from deciduous trees that generally grow more slowly. As you may have already noticed, the wood types that are seen most in high-quality wooden furniture are all from the hardwood family.

Softwoods used in furniture

Less dense than its hardwood cousin, softwood generally comes from coniferous (or evergreen) trees that grow more quickly.

Engineered wood furniture

Although they aren't solid woods, engineered or manufactured woods contain various types of wood and are also used in wood furniture making. 

Manufactured wood types

  • 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.

Best woods for furniture

Below are some of the best woods used in furniture-making. You may notice that all of these woods belong to the hardwood family:

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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 America and is becoming harder and harder to find. It can be expensive.

BenchMade Living Room TableOak Wood Furniture

Oak is a very durable wood that is typically used for flooring and kitchen furniture. It is beautiful but can turn 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

One of the most interesting cherry wood characteristics is that it darkens with time, giving it a very rich look as it continues to age. 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 BenchMade Bed

Wood Furniture Making

Now that we've covered the various wood types used in furniture, let's 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

Wood furniture manufacturing

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 legs would all be made in one place. 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. 

Wood furniture manufacturing processes

  • Gluing veneers over a piece to cover less desirable wood. 
  • Using laminates and engineered wood instead of solid wood. 
  • Making individual parts for a piece on an assembly line. 
  • Difficult to customize, meaning many pieces will look the same or similar.  

Abingdon Bed

Hand-made furniture making

While there were certainly some benefits to the industrialization of furniture-making, its downsides were that there was a level of skill and craftsmanship that was seemingly lost. 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. 

Abingdon Dresser

How to identify quality hand-made furniture

Hand-made furniture can be characterized by:

  • Wood furniture from custom furniture designers: 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. 
  • Made from the best solid hardwoods for furniture: Bench-made furniture is made from the finest sourced solid woods. The finishes used are also of the utmost quality. 
  • Solid-wood furniture makers: Just like the most highly sought-after hand-made pieces of old, bench-made furniture exhibits a sense of craftsmanship that is timeless. 
  • Custom-built wood furniture: 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.  

Hand-crafted solid wood furniture makers

Want to see real bench-made furniture? Bassett's BenchMade furniture doesn't use the manufacturing techniques that characterized the 1900's. BenchMade furniture is a really old school, made the same way artisans in the Appalachian Mountains crafted furniture from the Colonial period all the way to the late 1800s.

Once you have decided on the pieces of wood furniture that you want, be sure to read more in our blog about how to care for your solid wood furniture.

Wood Furniture F.A.Q.s

Below are some common frequently asked questions for wood furniture:

Life Of A Tree From Planting To Furniture

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 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.   

Bassett Living Room Image

What is the best wood for desks?

  • Cherry: Cherry is a beautiful wood that adds style to any room. It is also an extremely durable hardwood. For this reason, it is very popular for desks. 
  • Oak: Solid Oak is a durable hardwood that is extremely multi-faceted, as it can be finished with a number of different looks. 
  • Maple: Maple wood is a popular choice for desks because it is durable and can often be found at attractive prices. 

What is the best wood for tables?

  • Walnut: One of the toughest woods out there, walnut is often chosen for its beautiful grain character. 
  • Maple: Extremely durable, maple is popular because it goes well with several types of stains.   

What is bench-made furniture?

Bench-made wood furniture describes a furniture-making process that combines quality craftsmanship with the best wood types available. Engineered wood is derived from lumber, but also contains various adhesives and other synthetic materials to form a composite material. 

 

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