When working with wood or buying wood furniture, it’s best to know what you’re working with or spending your money on. Understanding whether you are dealing with a hard or soft wood can dictate the wood’s appropriate purpose, how they take to stain or lacquer, and how durable it is. Here I put together a brief explanation of wood basics. In the next post we will visit specific wood types and their roles in furniture.
Hardwoods vs. Softwoods
Solid woods fit into two categories: hardwood and softwood. A hardwood is extracted from a broad-leafed tree (i.e., no needles) and include mahogany, oak, teak, birch, walnut, ash, beech, poplar, rosewood, elm, etc. Not to get too scientific, but specifically hardwood trees are angiosperms (plants that produce seeds with some sort of covering). This covering might be a fruit or a hard shell. Hardwoods are very strong because they have a higher density than softwoods. The stability of hardwood has made it more popular in the construction of houses and furniture. Softwoods come from conifers, evergreen and cone-bearing trees and include cedar, fir, hemlock, pine, redwood, and spruce. Softwoods are not typically used in furniture, although exceptions do exist, but rather are utilized as lumber like 2 x 4s and 2 x 6s in houses.
Understanding the difference between a hard and soft wood is useful in assessing the piece of furniture. When purchasing or working with wood, you also need to be aware of whether the piece in question is made from solid wood or whether it is a hardwood veneer, hardwood laminate, MDF (medium-density fibreboard), etc. This knowledge will ensure that you realize what you are getting and how much is appropriate to pay for it.
Solid wood means that each exposed part is made from actual hardwood and absolutely nothing else. For larger pieces like custom dining tables or case goods, boards are bonded together and count as solid wood. However, it important to remember that not everything can be made from solid wood. Even though it may not be one solid piece of wood, it can still be a high quality piece. For instance, a flamed mahogany dining table with multiple wood banding has to be a veneer because this combination doesn’t naturally exist. Take this table for example:
As you can see from the photo, this table top is a combination of flamed mahogany, satinwood, rosewood, and plain mahogany. Such variations of wood can only be found in a veneer. This particular table has a solid maple core (like most of our tables) with a hardwood veneer top. This, contrary to some myths, does not mean that a table with veneer is of poor quality. Veneer is wood, simply thinly cut.
Lastly, keep in mind that just because something claims to have an “cherry, mahogany, or maple finish” it does not necessarily mean that it is made from these woods but usually only refers to the colour.
How to Identify the Ideal Wood Type for Your Furniture
Many types of wood can be used in the construction of furniture, and each one has unique characteristics. When looking for wood furniture, be sure to follow these tips:
- Ensure It Is Solid Wood: Solid wood furniture is much stronger and more durable than any other type. It also tends to last longer, which makes it a great investment for your home. You can tell if the wood is solid by making sure the growth rings match the direction of the grain. If the pattern repeats itself, it’s likely a veneer, meaning it’s not solid. There is nothing wrong with a veneer as a top layer if the structure of the piece is solid.
- Check the End Grain Colour: Look at the end grain, where the cut of the wood is visible. The colour should be consistent and match the rest of the piece. If it’s not the same colour, it could mean it is made from several types of wood or is a veneer.
- Examine the End Grain Pattern: Hardwood has an open pore structure, and it should be clearly visible. If you can’t see the grain pattern, it could mean that the wood is a softer variety or low-quality.
- Find Out If It Is Weathered or Stained: Many people want wood furniture with a weathered appearance because it adds character. However, sometimes a piece of furniture will be stained to look like it’s weathered. If the colour is uneven or it looks varnished, odds are a finish was used.
- Look at the Hardness and Weight: You can tell how hard a piece of wood furniture is by simply feeling it. If the furniture isn’t heavy, it’s probably made from a cheaper material.
- Find Out the Origin of Wood: Knowing the origin of the wood can give you a good indication of its quality and how long it will last. If the piece was made from salvaged wood, then knowing where it’s from can give you an idea of what kind of wood it is. For instance, wood salvaged from a boat will likely be ash, oak, or cedar wood.
- Search for a Peculiar Characteristic: Some woods have specific odours or even fluorescent qualities. You may be able to identify the wood used by these characteristics.
Carrocel Offers High-Quality Custom Wood Furniture
Our high-quality custom wood furniture is made with the greatest attention to detail. Our expert craftsmen use only the finest wood materials to create unique pieces that will last for generations. Carrocel specializes in creating luxurious classic and transitional designs as well as modern interpretations of classic styles. For more information about our custom-designed furniture, be sure to contact us online or call us at 416-999-2525 today.
Note: a video blog post about the ‘misunderstandings’ within the furniture industry, to put it gently, is coming soon…stay tuned.