How Wood Furniture is Built


Wood furniture adds warmth and distinction to a room's décor and helps you and your family enjoy the activities you love most, from watching a favorite movie to sharing a meal.

To make shopping for wood furniture easier, we’re compiled guidelines for consumers who want to purchase the best quality within their price range.

Hardwood vs. Softwood

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 include oak, cherry and maple. Softwood trees include cedar and pine.

Natural Variations

Each wood species has a natural color – from pale yellow (pine) to reddish brown (cherry) – and its own set of physical characteristics – like flecks, knots, or wavy patterns in the grain. In addition, each piece of wood reacts differently to the various stains and finishes used in manufacturing. The beauty of buying wood furnishings is that no two pieces are exactly the same. Even among "matched" chairs in a dining set, there are variations in color and grain.

Solid Wood

"Solid wood" means that the piece is made of solid boards, although sometimes several 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.

All Wood

"All wood" frequently describes furniture constructed using engineered wood, including plywood, particleboard or fiberboard. Fiberboard is created by breaking down wood chips into fibers and mixing these with an ultra-strong adhesive. When fused under intense heat and pressure, the resulting panel has consistent, uniform strength, is resistant to warping, cracking and splitting, and has no knots or other surface imperfections. Fiberboard is used in all categories of furniture, in many styles and price points.


Veneers are used in both "solid wood" and "all wood" construction. A veneer is a thin layer of decorative surface wood applied on top of a solid or engineered wood core. Veneering affords manufacturers the flexibility to match grain patterns or create intricate designs. Some of the most expensive furniture is masterfully crafted using beautiful veneers.

Artificial Laminate

Today's technology has produced another alternative: an artificial laminate surface of plastic, foil or paper printed or engraved to look like real wood. Furnishings made this way are easier to produce and available at lower prices than furnishings constructed using genuine wood veneers. Also, these artificial surfaces eliminate the natural variation in color and graining found in furnishings made of solid wood or wood veneers. While some consumers prefer the consistency in a laminate surface, others favor the unique variations of natural wood.


Clear finishes allow the wood's natural markings and grain to show, while stains and painted finishes alter the wood's appearance. Elaborate finishes are used to achieve a weathered or aged look. Gleaming, polished finishes are often used for more contemporary pieces. Naturally, 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 an artificial surface.

Evaluating Workmanship

Look closely and ask questions. Do doors and drawers open and close easily? Do they fit well? 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. Is the hardware attached securely and straight? Are drawer interiors smooth? Look for support blocks on drawer bottoms and "dust panels" between drawers. The piece should not wobble or creak.

Special Checks for Tables and Chairs

Turn chairs upside down and examine the joints. Are they snug and free of excess glue? When evaluating tables, you may need to get down on all fours to see whether corners are reinforced and legs are securely attached. If you are considering a table with leaves, make sure to have the opening and closing mechanism or technique demonstrated.