Fine wood furniture is becoming a rarity in most commercial furniture stores. Why is this? Simply put, quality wooden furniture is more expensive. Firstly, the materials used to build the piece, whether a cedar bookshelf or walnut barstools, are becoming difficult to source. Secondly, the construction methods for fine furniture take more time than other, cheaper pieces. Here’s how to distinguish the good stuff from the imitation.
Can You Tell What’s Fine Furniture From the Price Tag?
A hefty price tag is not always an indication of a flawlessly constructed piece of fine furniture. Although, a truly well-made piece will likely be more expensive than a piece from a big box store. However, well-made items have longevity on their side, and it is sometimes possible to find good pieces at yard furniture sales.
The Source: What Is the Furniture Made From?
The wood used for the furniture matters. It is the first tell, so to speak, in discovering if a piece of furniture is considered high quality. For this type of category, hardwoods are considered supreme. This includes walnut, mahogany, teak, cherry, maple, and oak. wood from these trees will be resistant to scratches and dents. The grain is also considered particularly beautiful.
Soft woods are less resistant to scratches and dings. The woods in this category include cedar, pine, and fir. With that said, just because a piece of furniture is made out of a soft wood does not mean it is immediately subpar in quality. A cedar bookshelf is not automatically low quality, just as any walnut bookcase is immediately fine quality. The reason why has to do with construction and finishing.
The Construction: How Was the Piece Built?
The next feature to look for after determining the wood source is the construction. The way a piece of furniture was constructed will reveal both its quality, and its longevity. Poorly put together pieces just do not hold up well under duress. Screws will loosen, and glue will wear away. The result is a joint that becomes wobbly, causing the piece of furniture to break under continued usage.
When it comes to joints, there are a few options that are considered the gold standard. The first is dovetail, and the second is mortise and tenon. These methods do not rely on outside forces to keep the joint stable, which is a selling point for the technique. The technique itself has been around for centuries, in many pieces which still stand the test of time today.
The method in which the joints were put together are not the only features to check for in furniture. A good piece will have solid joints, but that is not all. If it is a cedar bookshelf, for example, it will have a thin piece of wood sealed to the back with nails to prevent dust. Wooden armoires will have drawers and doors that open smoothly, without any creaking.
The Finish: Was the Finish Applied Correctly?
No piece of fine furniture can be considered as such without a good finish. Unfinished furniture is susceptible to damage. While hardwoods are known for their dense pores and resistance to moisture, it is still a good idea to add a thin finish to protect the grain. In the case of soft woods, a good smooth finish is necessary to help seal the softwood from not only dings, but liquids that would discolor the wood as well.
A good finish enhances the grain beneath as well. This may be achieved through applying a matte stain or a high-finish gloss. The finished product should have a smooth finish, free of rough or bare spots. While a rustic barstool might look great with some roughness, a fine cedar bookshelf would look better with a flawless finish.
Fine furniture is not distinguished by one single feature. Instead, it is determined by several key features that work together to create a beautiful, durable piece. Good furniture is achieved through careful sourcing, expert construction methods, and a perfectly applied finish. Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to tell the difference between the good pieces, and the cheap imitations.