“What wood is the best for furniture?” As you likely know if you’re in the process of furnishing your home, this isn’t as simple of a question as it seems at first glance. The answer is dependent on your budget and expected usage. In addition to the wood type and quality used in a furniture piece, the process used to create the piece is another factor that greatly impacts the quality-level of the wood furniture you are considering.
This guide gives an overview on the types of woods used in furniture, the furniture-making process, and how different furniture woods affect price and quality.
Wood is the basic raw element used to construct furniture. Wood furniture begins with the raw materials used. Before getting into a discussion about wood quality, let’s look at the types of wood that is used to make furniture.
Types of wood for furniture
There are two primary types of wood materials: solid wood, which includes both hardwoods and softwoods; and manufactured wood, which is an engineered material that is often a composite of real wood and synthetic materials. Below are the basics of solid wood and engineered wood:
Solid wood for furniture-making
Solid wood is wood that comes purely from lumber and is, therefore, a direct product of a tree. There are two types of real wood used in furniture-making: hardwood and softwood. Below are their descriptions:
Hardwoods used in furniture
Hardwood is denser than softwood. Hardwood lumber comes from deciduous trees that generally grow more slowly. As you may have already noticed, the wood types that are seen most in high-quality wooden furniture are all from the hardwood family. The hardwood list below contains many of the common hardwoods used in furniture making:
Softwoods used in furniture
Less dense than its hardwood cousin, softwood generally comes from coniferous (or evergreen) trees that grow more quickly. The softwood list below contains many of the common softwoods used in furniture making:
Engineered wood furniture
Although they aren’t solid woods, engineered or manufactured woods contain various types of wood and are also used in wood furniture making.
Manufactured wood types
- Plywood: Considered the original engineered wood, is made by taking 3-5 slices of thin lumber and combining them with adhesive.
- Particleboard: Often referred to as fiberboard, particleboard is made by using a wood-chipper to break down lumber into tiny fibers and gluing them together with adhesive.
Best woods for furniture
Below are some of the best woods used in furniture-making. You may notice that all of these woods belong to the hardwood family:
Maple Wood Furniture
Maple may be the ideal furniture wood. While there are many different types of maple, almost all are very durable and make for gorgeous furniture. It wears extremely well. Maple is naturally non-toxic so it is often used to make kitchen cutting boards. There are several grain patterns available depending on the type of maple you are interested in.
Mahogany Wood Furniture
One of the more traditional woods in furniture making, mahogany is a beautiful wood. It is lighter in weight than some of the other wood types here but has the strength of oak. We think of mahogany as reddish-brown however there are lighter colors of the wood. Genuine mahogany is sourced from Latin American and is becoming harder and harder to find. It can be expensive.
Oak Wood Furniture
Oak is a very durable wood that is typically used for flooring and kitchen furniture. It is beautiful but can yellow over time. By contrast, red oak is slightly darker and porous. It also looks beautiful and is fairly inexpensive. Oak is an excellent wood for furniture.
Cherry Wood Furniture
One of the most interesting cherry wood characteristics are that it darkens with time, giving it a very rich look as it continues to darken. The color is what most people love about cherry but there are other things to really like about it. Cherry is relatively hard it can be resistant to scratches and dents. It has an even grain and is non-toxic.
Pine Wood Furniture
We’re used to seeing knotty pine in rustic cabins and the like. So we naturally assume pine is a good material for furniture. It’s quite the contrary. Pine is a softwood that is easily damaged. It is fairly inexpensive, however.
Cedar Wood Furniture
Cedar is a relatively soft wood so it’s not ideal for indoor furniture. However, for outdoor furniture, it’s quite good. Cedar is naturally weather resistant. One usually sees closets constructed of cedar as its aromatic quality repels bugs.
Wood Furniture Making
Now that we’ve covered the various wood types used in furniture, lets shift to the processes used by furniture manufacturers to create wood furniture, including various tradeoffs between manufactured, hand-made, custom, and bench-made wood furniture
Wood furniture manufacturing
During the 20th century, the pre-eminence of technology allowed several goods, including furniture, to be mass-produced. This was done through an assembly-line process, where different parts of the wood furniture-making process occurred at different steps. For example, when manufacturing a table, the lets would all be made in one place. Ultimately, the benefits of this process were that good furniture, which had previously only been a luxury item, was now available to the majority of households.
Wood furniture manufacturing processes
- Gluing veneer over a piece to cover less desireable wood.
- Using laminates and engineered wood instead of solid wood.
- Making individual parts for a piece on an assembly line.
- Difficult to customize, meaning many pieces will look the same or similar.
Hand-made furniture making
While there were certainly some benefits to the industrialization of furniture-making=, its downsides were that there was a level of skill and craftsmanship that was seemingly lost. When a furniture designer produces your furniture piece with his own hands, there is an undeniable level of care. The artist’s name is associated with that product and most craftsmen care deeply about their standing and reputation among peers. By contrast, a person who performs a single function on an assembly line is not nearly as accountable and has less reason to care about your satisfaction.
How to identify quality hand-made furniture
Hand-made furniture can be characterized by:
- Wood furniture from custom furniture designers: Every aspect of a bench made furniture piece is something to be designed. The quality of design in every little detail of a bench-made furniture piece is considered, leading to a gorgeous piece of solid-wood furniture.
- Made from the best solid hardwoods for furniture: Bench-made furniture is made from the finest sourced solid woods. The finishes used are also of the utmost quality.
- Solid-wood furniture makers: Just like the most highly sought after hand-made pieces of old, bench-made furniture exhibits a sense of craftsmanship that is timeless.
- Custom-built wood furniture: Because they are made by expert artisan-craftsmen, bench-made furniture pieces are highly customizable, allowing someone to acquire hand-made furniture that is designed to the dimensions and style of their choosing.
Hand-crafted solid wood furniture makers
Want to see real bench-made furniture? Bassett’s Bench*Made furniture doesn’t use the manufacturing techniques that characterized the 1900’s. Bench*Made furniture is a really old school, made the same way artisans in the Appalachian Mountains crafted furniture from the Colonial period all the way to the late 1800s. Check out this video to learn more about Bench*Made furniture: