Real wood furniture is the most popular furniture in
existence. It's been around for hundreds of years and
probably exhausted when the cave people got tired of squatting
on the dirt floor of their caves and looked around for a
The woods that are fashioned into furniture fall into three
Even the term 'hardwood' or 'softwood' is deceptive.
Hardwoods are not necessarily harder, denser material. For
example, balsa wood is one of the lightest, least-dens
woods there is, and it's considered a hardwood. Technically,
lumber is classified based on how the tree reproduces. As a
general rule, though, softwood trees are evergreen year
round while the hardwoods create the gorgeous autumn foliage
that we all love so much.
Hardwoods are considered the highest quality and are the
most expensive. Their natural colors vary from the darkest
woods to the lightest ones and and they can be stained or
painted for even more variety. Hardwood furniture is least
likely to warp or bend and is prized in all high quality
homes. The five woods most commonly used in furniture
production are cherry, walnut, oak, maple and mahogany.
Softwoods are less expensive than hardwoods, but they are
require extra care. Because they are less durable, it's much
easier to scratch or dent softwood furniture. In addition,
they often do not have the beautiful grains of a hardwood,
and therefore do not stain as beautifully.
Pine is an example of a softwood that is commonly used for
furniture. These woods are often used in construction as
well so the choicest pieces are reserved for furniture. In
construction, knots and splits are common. Lots of
construction lumber will not accept paint and this kind of
wood is used for shelves or packing crates.
The softwood used in furniture is designated as "Appearance"
lumber and includes most softwood lumber that has been
custom milled to a pattern or other surfaced on all four
Composites are the cheapest form of wood and are literal
manufactured, rather than grown.
1. Plywood: multiple layers of thin wooden sheets are glued
together and pressed. Plywood is strong and resists
swelling, shrinking and warping. There is some furniture
made directly from plywood, but generally it is only used as
a support when incorporated into furniture.
2. Particle board: sawdust and small wood chips are mixed
with glue or resin which is then shaped and pressure
treated. When used for inexpensive furniture, particle board
is usually covered with laminate or veneer. This is
necessary because particle board splits easily and the
laminate prevents splitting. However, the downside is that
the laminate may separate from the wood because the particle
board responds to temperature and pressure changes by
swelling and shrinking.
3. Hardboard: is made like particle board but it's placed
under higher pressure so it's stronger.
4. MDF or Medium Density Fiberboard: wood particles are
bonded with resin and compressed. It is harder than particle
board or hardboard, and can be cut like plywood despite it
is not as strong as plywood. Some MDF is covered with
melamine which is a durable plastic in a variety of colors.
The exposed edges of MDF are rough and need covering with
molding or some other decorative material.
Technically, furniture made from all of these wood products
is "real" wood furniture, even the composites. Prices and
quality range from the hardwoods down to the composites.
The higher you go up the spectrum, the more you can expect
to pay for your wood furniture. The good part, of course,
is that with proper care hardwood furniture will last for
decades or even generations. If you can afford it, always
choose hardwood furniture.