Solid Wood Furniture Vs Wood Veneers - What’s The Best Bang For Your Buck?
Though it’s a seemingly simple question, the answer is really quite complex.
Welcome to another exciting exploration about our mutual friend: Furniture. Today, we’ll gently pulling back the curtains on an important topic for shoppers to know as they embark on their furniture finding treasure hunt – solid wood or veneers? Within the cozy walls of Refined Consign & Design, where each piece has a story, we’ve observed a tangible elegance in both solid and veneered pieces. Each, in their unique way, tells a tale of craftsmanship, design evolution, and, indeed, time itself. Join us as we stroll down the pathways of understanding these two distinguished materials, appreciating their nuances and considering what might best grace your spaces with both beauty and durability. Let our journey through the woods begin, shall we?
Before we begin, let’s unpack a key vocabulary term in the furniture industry. In order to approach the subject strategically, let’s unpack the term “casegoods” first. Casegoods refer primarily to furniture that is a box or “case” to hold things (dressers, chests, sideboards, living room tables with storage). Casegoods also typically include tables and chairs made mostly of wood, such as dining chairs. When talking about bedroom furniture we would include beds which don’t generally have cases. The more you know!
Solid Wood vs Veneers:
Most dining room chairs are made from solid wood. The back, seat frame, legs, and arms are made from solid wood for several reasons. Chairs have always been made from pieces of solid wood that are easy to shape and bend to form a pleasing design (i.e., curves, etc.) Carving can also be used to beautify the chair design. The only other way to make a chair from wood would be to use plywood or particle board.
While these two wood products are very important in the manufacture of furniture, using them to manufacture chairs is not used at all. Firstly, those two products would not be strong enough in smaller dimensions. Nor would they be very decorative. Metal and plastics are other materials used in the manufacture of chairs, most particularly in modern or contemporary styles.
Of course, many, many species of wood are utilized in the manufacture of furniture. Several hundred years ago furniture makers chose a specific species of wood because it was immediately available to the craftsman in his area. Now, manufacturers use species from all over the world depending on the graining and color wanted for a particular design or style.
Chairs: Craftsmanship and Choice of Material
Let’s talk about chair construction for a minute.
The structure of a chair is very basic. There are 4 legs and a seat. The back of the chair is usually an extension of the back legs of the chair. Depending on the choice of wood, the style of the chair, and the manufacturing techniques, many times stretchers are used to strengthen the chair. Stretchers are typically smaller pieces of wood fastening the legs (at about the middle of the legs). The stretchers attach the front and back legs or the two front or two back legs together. When stretchers are not used it is usually because the pieces of wood to make the legs are big enough and strong enough to provide a sturdy chair. However, stretchers are always a good idea.
The discussion around solid wood furniture and furniture made using veneers usually occurs when talking about the tops of tables and case pieces (dressers and chests). The choice by the manufacturer to utilize veneers or solid tops is one of aesthetics. Rarely does a manufacturer make a top from a single slab of wood. A single slab of wood can make a beautiful table, but it is almost always sure to warp and change its form.
Wood is always “dried” after being cut from the tree and prior to use in making furniture. Drying is the process of drawing moisture from the wood so that it is more stable and not as likely to warp or split. Even when dried a wood tabletop can warp and split, especially when moved from a high-humidity location to a drier climate. If you live in a relatively dry climate you may experience “issues” with warping or splitting in furniture made in a higher humidity location (which is almost always the case). Buying furniture from a reputable manufacturer or dealer is always a good idea.
From Tradition to Innovation: Furniture Evolution
A table made “by hand” by a craftsman in the 1800s would start with narrow strips of solid wood. The strips would be glued together and held by a vise for many days to create the tabletop. The top would then be sanded by hand for smoothness. To enhance the beauty of the top the craftsman may have added a layer of veneer over the solid wood top. Veneer is an extremely thin layer of wood (about the thickness of a postcard) that is stripped from a log as it is turned so that a large thin layer is formed without any breaks or seams. This thin veneer layer is then glued to the top of the solid wood top. It is not surprising to find veneers that have “lifted” off the top of an antique table or dresser. Over time techniques and materials (especially glues) have improved so that it is virtually impossible to separate a veneer from the base of the tabletop.
Tabletops and Case Pieces: Solid Wood or Veneer?
Manufacturing a tabletop from strips of solid wood pieces to create a “solid wood top” is a very labor-intensive and expensive process. The furniture industry has developed an alternative to tops made from strips of solid wood. This alternative is called by several names (particle board, furniture board, etc.) but is made from ground-up wood bits and glue (similar to plywood) and can be made in large sheets. It is extremely stable, strong, and smooth which makes it an ideal base for manufacturing the base of a tabletop with a veneer top. Nowadays, virtually all tabletops and the sides and tops of case goods are made with a furniture board base and veneer surfaces. This makes the furniture stronger, less expensive to make, and arguably more beautiful.
So, if a furniture salesperson tells you a table is a solid wood, technically that is correct. However, “solid wood” is normally taken to mean that there are no veneers or furniture boards used in the manufacture of the table. If someone tells you a table is “solid wood” look for the individual strips of wood. If it’s “solid wood” you will see them. If you don’t see narrow strips of wood to make the top, it most assuredly will be a veneer top. For more insights, explore Refined Consign & Design’s offerings.
Solid wood furniture typically requires minimal maintenance, such as periodic polishing and protecting it from direct sunlight and excess humidity. Proper care can extend its lifespan.
Yes, one of the advantages of solid wood furniture is that it can be refinished multiple times, allowing you to refresh its appearance and extend its life without needing to replace it.
Generally, well-maintained solid wood furniture retains its value over the years, especially if it’s made from high-quality wood and craftsmanship.
Solid wood furniture, when sourced responsibly, can be a more environmentally friendly choice compared to furniture made from synthetic materials. It’s biodegradable and often requires less energy in production.
To ensure quality, look for solid wood furniture that is well-constructed, has proper joinery, and is made from reputable sources. Avoid pieces that use excessive amounts of composite materials.