Shopping Furniture

Tips & Tricks

What kind of wood is right for you?

All wood used for furniture falls into two categories: hardwood and softwood. Hardwood tends to be more durable than softwood, but these terms actually refer to the kind of tree that produced the wood, rather than the strength of the wood itself.

Hardwood trees – like oak, cherry and maple – lose their leaves seasonally. Softwood trees – like cedar and pine – keep their foliage all year. The most important fact is that quality furniture is available in both types of wood.

How do I evaluate workmanship?

Wood furnishings are easily evaluated. Do doors and drawers open and close easily? Do they fit well? Is the hardware attached securely and straight? Run your hand across the surface. is the finish free of drips and bubbles? The piece should not wobble or creak.

Don't be afraid to look closely and ask questions. Turn chairs upside down and examine the joints. Are they snug and free of excess glue? Are drawer interiors smooth? How are drawer fronts attached? Higher quality pieces will have "dovetail" joints in which wedge-shaped tenons on one side fit into corresponding spaces on the other side to form interlocking joints. Look for support blocks on drawer bottoms and "dust panels" between drawers.

How is the furniture finished?

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Clear finishes allow the wood's natural markings and grain to show, while stains and painted finishes alter the wood's appearance.

Some pieces have an elaborate finish achieved through many layers of lacquer or paint applied to achieve a weathered or aged look. Others may feature a gleaming, polished finish for a more contemporary look. Naturally, these more complex finishes add significantly to the cost of the furniture.

Ask your retailer to explain signs or tags that refer to the finish. A piece described as having a "cherry finish" may not necessarily be constructed of cherry wood. It may simply refer to the color of the stain applied or even to the color of the artificial laminate surface.

How is the piece constructed?

Solid wood" means that the piece is made of solid boards, which may be softwood or hardwood lumber. Sometimes several thinner boards are glued together to make the wood more stable and to reduce the chance of warping.


A block of wood consisting of several smaller pieces of wood glued together also is considered solid wood. This block can be carved into different furniture components such as table legs, chair backs or bedposts.


"Engineered wood" also is used in furniture construction. Engineered wood is made from slices of wood (plywood) or the pieces of wood that remain after a tree is milled into lumber (particleboard or "medium density fiberboard"). Furnishings made with engineered wood are sometimes described as "all wood."

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