Deciding between numerous furniture pieces can be an overwhelming experience, especially if you’re not familiar with the characteristics that define quality pieces, which can separate them from products that were made on the cheap. Here are 3 characteristics that can define the quality and relative value of furniture pieces, which will also determine the most cost-effective purchase in the majority of situations.
- The type of wood – There are three types of wood used in the fabrication of furniture; deciduous hardwood, coniferous soft wood, and engineered wood. Hardwoods include mahogany, teak, and cherry, which after harvesting are air dried initially, followed by a kiln-drying process. Drying in a kiln, with heat levels set for the specifics of each type of wood, is a relatively precise process designed to bring wood to its “equilibrium moisture content” level, which is defined as a baseline amount of moisture that will be contained in the wood after its fabrication into furniture. Hardwoods that have been kiln-dried are extremely durable and highly resistant to warping, making them an ideal choice for heavy-use pieces such as living room sofas. Soft woods can also represent quality fabrication, but are more suitable to gentler use due to surfaces that can be marked by scratches and dents. Engineered woods are commonly used in cabinetry and furniture pieces that see very light use.
- Fabrication – Furniture pieces are typically the weakest where pieces are joined, meaning that an inspection of the joinery can reveal much about the overall quality of the piece. The strongest joints are formed in two ways; mortise and tenon and dovetail joints. A mortise and tenon joint will have a protruding piece (the tenon) from one side of the joint inserted into a tight fitting cutout (the mortise) on the connected piece. In modern fabrication processes, this joinery is commonly secured by an adhesive. Dovetail joints, true to their name, have dovetail-shaped protrusions that fit into cutouts of the same shape. In addition to these types of joints, look for connections with screws and dowels that are fortified by corner blocks where appropriate. At the other end of the quality spectrum, watch out for joints formed with staples or nails.
- The wood’s finishing touches – The first phase of finishing wood is sanding, which should be done along the grain to optimize smoothness to the touch as well as uniformity in staining. The stain should be even across the surface without any change in clarity or tone. Look for an even finish on all sides of the wood, a quality measure that can prevent the absorption of moisture while also adding aesthetic appeal.
Knowing what to look for can define the relative quality of furniture pieces that are under consideration for purchase. By assessing the type of wood, fabrication techniques, and the finish you’ll be able to make an informed decision based on the quality and value of each piece.
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