Understanding solid wood furniture construction and how it compares with veneered furniture construction is challenging even for furniture specialists. Many manufacturers tout solid wood furniture as better than veneered furniture. Is there any truth in this?
Veneers vs. Solids
The answer is that both veneered and solid wood construction are good ways in which to make exceptional furniture. Fine Furniture Design® furniture uses both construction techniques, and you’ll find that most fine-quality furniture requires some solid wood and some veneered parts.
Best Uses for Solid Wood or Veneers
Solid wood is required for carving; framing a dresser, chest or entertainment center; and for posts or legs that support furniture. Veneers are a better choice when using rare or expensive woods, especially to achieve matching grain patterns throughout the entire piece. Veneer is also an excellent choice for shapes like curved drawer fronts or where you need to use thin pieces of wood that have great strength. We’ll explore solid wood construction in this section of the web site and invite you to click on Veneer Construction for an in-depth look at veneers.
Soft Woods and Hardwoods
Solid wood furniture may be made from many types of wood from pine to oak. Softer woods like pine come from evergreen trees. The grain in the wood is more porous than in hardwoods, and it may dent more easily. Wood from evergreen trees grows faster, making it less expensive.
Hardwoods like cherry, oak, and maple come from deciduous trees. They have a tighter, less porous grain. These trees take longer to grow and are usually more expensive than soft woods as a raw material. Their tighter grain makes them harder, so they resist denting more than soft woods do.
Humidity and Heat
All wood used for furniture construction needs to be properly dried to a certain humidity level to help prevent the wood from splitting. Drying is done by a combination of air drying and kiln drying. Wood that has been cut into boards is stacked so that air can circulate through it. Forklifts move the stacks into room-sized ovens. The wood is then gently heated to remove excess moisture and stabilize the wood.
Even finished furniture can develop open cracks where heat and humidity fluctuations cause the wood grain to open in what is known as a “season crack”. It is important to keep furniture in places where it isn’t exposed to excessive heat, cold, dryness or humidity. Fine Furniture Design® uses plastic to keep its unfinished parts at the proper humidity level, and clean as they move through manufacturing. Once finish is applied, furniture is less susceptible to cracks from changes in temperature and humidity, but it should be protected from extreme elements.
Crafting Furniture with Solid Pieces of Wood
Pieces of wood that are adhered with quality glue are actually stronger where they’re glued, than if they were to remain unglued. Quality furniture manufacturers use this to their advantage by gluing pieces of wood together to shape parts for furniture. For example a 5"-wide bedpost may be shaped from four strips of wood, each 3" square that have been glued together lengthwise. The resulting block of wood will be stronger than a 6Æ block of wood that has been cut from one tree. Gluing pieces of wood together is not only stronger; it maximizes the yield from a tree, resulting in less waste.
Gluing pieces of wood together also helps prevent warping (from moisture) and season cracks. If you ever have the opportunity to see a solid-wood poster bed where the posts are each made from one tree, check their straightness. You’re likely to discover that they’re bowed and not straight. Wood that’s been glued in strips, then shaped and finished will stand straighter over time.
Solid Wood Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Better Construction
You may be bombarded with advertising suggesting that solid wood furniture is made from “pure” wood and is therefore better quality. Quality furniture is made with solid woods, veneered woods, and a variety of other materials. Some solid-wood furniture is well constructed from kiln-dried woods and is an excellent choice for your home. Other solid-wood furniture is better suited for the backyard or for a picnic in a nearby park shelter.