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Solid wood furniture isn’t always what you think it is

Solid wood furniture is a description that ought to speak for itself, but it’s a term that can have many definitions. For instance oak, teak and pine are all solid wood but so is MDF and plywood so, when buying furniture, you may not always be buying what you think you are. A table described as solid oak may not be made purely from solid pieces of oak, it may include some oak veneered panels as well.

Rustic oak table
A rustic oak table showing signs of slight warp – as you would expect with this style.
Image: The Aspirational Hipster (aspirationalhipster.wordpress.com)

Confusing or Misleading Descriptions

Furniture retailers don’t always help matters either by using the term ‘solid wood’ quite liberally to describe all manner of furniture items. Sometimes it’s just a lack of knowledge on behalf of whoever is writing the description but sometimes it’s done intentionally to mislead.

Of course, saying a piece of furniture is solid oak when it’s really just laminated chipboard would be outright criminal but not all instances of misdescription are so obvious or deceitful.

Oak Furniture Land recently became the subject of an Advertising Standards Authority ruling by claiming all their furniture is ‘solid wood’ when this is disputable. The complainant had noticed the feet of some items were made of small pieces of oak that had been glued together; a common practice by all accounts but still not technically ‘solid oak’.

In this case, it really was a minor issue but the ASA ruled against them anyway. They now say on their website that they never use wood veneers, MDF or plywood – which is a change from the previous claim that all their furniture was solid wood.

Wood Veneers – Good or Bad?

The most common form of confusion, where furniture is concerned, is the use of wood veneer. Quite often you’ll see furniture described as solid oak but when you look at the small print you’ll see that actually a lot of the larger panels are an oak veneer.

Sometimes this is done to save money but there are also good reasons for using a veneer rather than a solid piece of timber.

For instance, with table tops and wardrobe doors, where there is a large size of panel relative to its thickness, you will get a lot of natural movement and this will, inevitably over time, lead to the panels warping or even cracking.

All well and good if you want the natural, rustic look but quite devastating if you expected the furniture to keep its original showroom condition.

With a veneered panel such effects are considerably reduced so your table or wardrobe should, with the proper care, stay looking as good as new for many years.

Some retailers have received a lot of bad publicity over quality issues with their ‘solid wood furniture’ but, in many cases, they have made a rod for their own backs by extolling the virtues of solid wood when they ought to know full well that solid wood is not always the best option.

Of course, not all veneers are equal and the thickness can range from literally paper-thin to thicknesses of 5 – 6 mm. A veneer can also be applied to a variety of materials from chipboard to MDF or even solid wood.

In the past wood veneers got a bit of a reputation for being low quality with a tendency to peel away from the surface over time. But things have improved considerably over the past ten years or so. Modern manufacturing methods help ensure that a veneered panel will perform at least as well as or better than its real wood counterpart.

In general, furniture made from oak or teak is very likely to have some element of wood veneers and not just because it is an expensive wood to buy in large pieces. A lot of oak furniture, particularly, is fairly modern in style and most customers expect perfection.

Hardwood alternatives such as mango and sheesham, for example, are expected to be a bit rustic in appearance and, therefore, are normally made from solid pieces of timber throughout. Larger pieces of these woods also tend to be a bit cheaper, because they are harvested from more sustainable sources.

In summary then, provided you know what you are buying, there is no reason why a furniture piece with veneered wood panels is any way inferior. And, of course, if you prefer the authenticity of furniture complete with imperfections there is nothing wrong with this either.

The important thing is that you should know exactly what you are buying and if a retailer doesn’t make it perfectly clear, you are well within your rights to take them to task about it.

See Also
Planks of timber
Softwood Vs Hardwood
Wooden drawers
Keep Your Wooden Furniture in Top Shape