Hardwood and Softwood
There are really only two kinds of wood that furniture is built from; hardwood or softwood. Hardwood is denser than softwood, though there is a wide variation of hardness in both hardwood and softwoods. Common hardwood examples are oak, beech, cherry, rubber wood and maple. Softwood is less dense than hardwood and two common examples are pine and cedar. There are wide variations in wood that range from characteristics such as patterns in the grain, knots or natural marks. Each type is affected differently by stains giving a wide variety of color and character to each piece, even in matching sets.
What is Solid Wood?
“Solid Wood” furniture means that the piece(s) are constructed from solid wood boards. Lumber doesn’t come in sections that are perfectly shaped for furniture building and therefore have to be bonded together. This bonding process allows the boards to be carved or machined into beautiful furniture pieces, such as sleigh beds, bed posts, dining chair backs, etc…This process also reduces warping, cracking and splitting. Some high-end furniture pieces that require more stability or strength are sometimes built by adding plywood, 5-7 ply and placed in areas that cannot be seen and then covered in a high grade wood veneer to accentuate the furniture’s beauty.
MDF, Plywood, Particleboard
There is a huge misconception in the use of non-wood materials or engineered woods in the manner in which furniture is constructed. In the large surface areas, for example, of table tops, where stability is most needed, plywood or engineered products framed in solid wood will be used to prevent warping or splitting. MDF, also misunderstood, is not particleboard; in fact is it actually quite different. MDF is made of small chips or wood fibers that when bonded together with super adhesives, forms a very stable, durable dense wood product that is highly resistant to splitting or warping. Particleboard is made from large chips and is less restricted and less stable.
Wood veneers are used to enhance a piece of furniture. It is a cut or slice of wood, selected for its beauty to add interest and character to dining table tops and other furniture. Some of the world’s most expensive furniture, grand pianos and guitars are crafted with the use of beautiful wood veneers.
Today’s quality furniture typically undergoes a multi-step finishing process which may include sanding, staining, polishing and wiping, sealing and waxing. Finishes or stains are also applied to alter the woods appearance. For example, the furniture maybe distressed or rubbed to give it an aged or weathered look. Contemporary furniture tends to be highly polished to give it a modern and clean look. Clear finishes allow the natural beauty of the wood grain to show through while paint finishes completely change the look and alter the wood grain.