Why You Should Buy Furniture Made From Solid Wood
“What is the big fuss about solid wood furniture?” You may be asking yourself this question after hearing a salesperson tout the fact that the furniture they represent is made of solid wood. Furniture is a big investment whether you buy one piece or a whole house full, so make sure you know what you are getting. Unlike consumer report guides for a car or refrigerator, furniture is not compared side-by-side, but you can spend more money on it, and it has the potential to be with you for a lot longer than a car or refrigerator. A brief education will give you peace of mind and confidence that you are spending your money wisely.
Fundamental to any object is the material it is made of, and furniture is no exception. Materials can allow an object to last for a long time, or cause it to be rendered useless or unusable when conditions are unfavorable to it. Today, furniture is made from all sorts of materials, most of them some form of wood. Wood is versatile and relatively inexpensive compared with other materials, which has made it a easy choice for furniture makers for thousands of years. Until the turn of the 20th century, all furniture was made from solid wood1. Shortly after mass-produced plywood was invented, furniture design and construction began to be dominated by its use. In the 1940’s, particle board was invented, and by the 1950’s it began sneaking in furniture and cabinets. These inventions were helpful in that they made efficient use of waste produced by solid wood industries, but they have always had limitations, especially when it comes to furniture.
Ideally, furniture would be in a perfect environment and never encounter excess moisture, wear or abuse.
While this would be nice, it is not realistic. The fact is, good furniture will remain in service year after year during all sorts of conditions, whether they are normal or not.
Solid wood consists of long, uninterrupted fibers that gives it strength and durability. “Engineered” materials like particle board and plywood2 do not have the resilience that solid wood has because they are made up of many pieces of wood glued together and made into sheets. While high moisture content may cause some solid wood components to stick or warp slightly (and many times temporarily), the same condition encountered by “engineered” woods may render them completely delaminated, unrepairable and useless. Historically, even poorly constructed solid wood pieces have survived because they can be repaired. High wear may dent and scratch a solid wood piece, while it may expose the cheap core of an engineered wood piece to fatal moisture. A simple move from room to room in your home that will not affect your solid wood furniture in the least may loosen or detach pieces form your engineered wood furniture because they do not hold fasteners as well. Lastly, it is important to note that while man has invented many materials that are supposed to be better, they have a repeated history of failure over the long term. Natural materials, like solid wood, have been the building material of choice for thousands of years for a reason.
Contrary to popular belief, America is not running out of trees. Due to organized reforestation efforts over the last thirty-plus years, nearly twice as much hardwood grows each year as is harvested in the U.S. For this reason, the volume of hardwoods in American forests today is 90 percent larger than it was 50 years ago.
Collectively, across all hardwood trees in all American hardwood forests, there is nearly twice as much new wood growth as there is wood removed through harvesting. For those of you who like to do the math, the volume of hardwood in American forests is 352 billion cubic feet, and they are adding growth of 10.2 billion cubic feet a year. This compares to annual removal of 6 billion cubic feet.
With hardwood growth well exceeding removal, the U.S. supply of hardwoods for flooring, furniture, cabinetry and millwork is sustainable now and for future generations.
“I want a piece of furniture that has found itself.” Because of its long-lasting characteristics, solid wood is the perfect material for designs that have stood the test of time. Trends come and go, but furniture made from solid wood will remain faithful to you throughout your days, and with reasonable care be in great shape to pass on to future generations. And because solid wood performs as well as it does, it can even survive through much more abuse and neglect than a piece made from man-made materials, and still be in good enough shape to pass on. Designers of trendy fashion-statement furniture know that the furniture they produce can be made from cheaper materials because people will most likely tire of them anyway. A beautiful piece of furniture made from cheap materials would be like having someone move away just as you are becoming the best of friends. This may sound sappy, but most of us want to buy something that will last until we decide to get rid of it, not buy something that will make the decision for us.
The money you spend is put right back into our economy. Domestically produced solid wood furniture you decide to buy will provide you with not only a quality product, but practical and meaningful work for many of our countrymen. American workers grow the trees in America, American workers turn the wood into usable lumber, American workers turn the lumber into furniture, and American retailers are able to carry and service the products produced with pride. You can buy great furniture and help your neighbors at the same time.
We hope that this brief read is informative and helpful to your consideration to use solid wood to build your furniture. Like everything else in life, you get what you pay for, and we believe that using solid lumber for your furniture is definitely worth it.
1. Some early furniture makers glued thin sheets of expensive wood (veneer) to a less-expensive solid wood to achieve a decorative appearance. 2. It is readily acknowledged that plywood can have a useful, long term role in furniture construction, but is has limitations, and should be used carefully.
Written by J.A. Reeb who operates a custom woodworking business in Louisville Kentucky and holds a degree in mechanical engineering.