Solid wood is real wood from the trunk of a tree that is cut into boards at a lumber mill. The durability and beauty of a good piece of solid wood furniture depends on the type of wood used to build it and the workmanship that goes into it.Wood furniture is built to last a lot longer than furniture made with man-made materials. Wood furniture is handed down from generation to generation as family heirlooms. Scratches, gouges, burns or other damage on wood furniture can be touched up or repaired, whereas furniture made with synthetic materials cannot be sanded, stained, refinished or repaired. Screws, nails, and brackets won’t hold the same because the particle board crumbles around it.
Good craftsmanship means everything when it comes to good quality furniture and strength & durability. When you look at furniture that was handcrafted here in the US from the early 1900’s and older, a couple of things stand out to me. One is the construction of drawers. The bottoms sides and back of the drawers were all made of real solid wood, not particle board. They were always dovetailed together by hand, not glued or nailed together. If you look at the joints or corners of the drawer below you can see how it is dovetailed together. This drawer is constructed of solid cherry wood.
WE LOOK FOR DOVETAIL JOINTS
Of all woodworking joints, the through dovetail is admired for not only its strength, but also for its beauty. Dovetail joints used to always be made by hand. Today there are hand tools called dovetailing jigs and routers to make dovetail joints much easier.
Half-blind dovetails (where the sides of the tails are visible, but the ends are not) are used when the sides of the drawer must connect directly with the face of the drawer. Dovetails on drawers should only be visible when the drawer is opened, but be hidden when the drawer is closed.
The mortise and tenon joint has been used for centuries by woodworkers because of their combination of superior strength and simplicity. They are typically used when one piece of wood is joined to the other at 90-degrees. One piece of wood is inserted into the other, and then held in place with a fastener. Today, most woodworkers use glue to secure the tenon inside the mortise, but in the 1900’s, the tenon protruded through the mortised wood, and secured by a wedge or dowel.
TYPES OF WOOD USED TO MAKE FURNITURE
For at least the last twenty five years, engineered woods, Plywood, MDF, Fiberboard, particle board, laminates, and composites have largely replaced natural wood for furniture making because it’s much cheaper. They are made in factories around the world from wood chips or sawdust that is mixed with glue and pressed into boards.
They are not strong and long lasting like wood because most are 50% glue and also contain toxic chemicals including formaldehyde. Formaldehyde causes many health problems for people including respiratory difficulties.
If you buy a piece of furniture made with these materials don’t expect it to last long regardless of how much you paid for it. Furniture brochures can say that furniture made from these man-made boards are made from real wood because they are made from sawdust and small wood chips. Today we see molded plastic with stamped wood grain being used to make furniture.