Some makers use both types of construction in building custom furniture, while our Amish and American made furniture is all solid wood. Often times veneered furniture is advertised as “made of wood solids with cherry veneers”. “Wood solids” are simply plywood, another engineered wood product. The Federal Trade Commission doesn’t allow furniture to be advertised as made of “solid wood” unless all exposed surface are in fact solid wood. Solid wood is expensive – engineered wood (often advertised as wood solids) is not. Let’s look at these two options and their strong and weak points.
Solid Wood Furniture
This means all exposed parts are made of the same species of all natural wood, with no other materials included, such as plywood or particle board.
Advantages of Solid Wood:
Attractiveness. You will find that solid wood is much more attractive than manufactured wood. Many people consider that the overlays and the veneers that are used on things like fiberboard to be rather cheap looking, and with things like plywood, you can clearly see where the sheets have been layered together. With solid hardwood, you can be sure that you will see a continuous grain pattern all the way through, showing the strength and quality of the wood that you have chosen. Take a moment to consider the look of hardwood and the craftsmanship that goes into making it.
Durability. Hardwood furniture is the furniture that you buy when you want to have something that will one day be a treasured antique for your family and loved ones. The thing to remember is that even though solid wood does show wear, it can be sanded and refinished. Unlike manufactured wood, which is a very here today, gone tomorrow product, solid wood can be repaired and lovingly restored. Many people feel that genuine hardwood furniture only gets better with age, and when you want to make your furniture an investment, this is how to do it.
Ease of Repair. Perhaps the greatest advantage of solid wood is that the wood is the same all the way through, so repairs are relatively easy. Repairs to veneer are much more difficult and sometimes impossible.
Disadvantages of Solid Wood:
Split. When exposed to extreme atmospheric conditions, solid wood furniture will expand or contract, and may split along the grain of the wood. As a rule, avoid exposing pieces to strong sunlight or direct heat sources and high humidity.
Veneer is a thin decorative covering of wood applied over plywood, particle board, or other material.
Advantages of Veneer:
Beautiful! Different species of logs are cut into veneers. This is largely an economic decision–sellers and veneer makers can make more money from a log sliced into veneer than they can from sawing it into boards. Often time the best quality woods are cut into veneers to get more use out of one log. Up to 40 surfaces of wood veneer can be manufactured for every 1 surface of solid 1” thick board.
Creates new design possibilities. Since veneer is so thin and is glued to a solid core, it allows designs and arrangements of the wood that would fail in solid wood. Cross grain designs such as aprons and edge bandings are also impossible in solids.
Stable. Since veneer is glued to a stable substrate it produces surfaces not prone to warp or splitting or seasonal movement.
Disadvantages of Veneer:
Thin. This is more of a problem for the builder than the buyer. Sand-through in preparation for finishing is ‘touching the third rail’ of woodworking. Such pieces are almost impossible to repair and frequently involve ‘re-design’ (as in cutting off the sanded through area) or making a speculative, difficult repair which can be difficult to hide.
Blisters, delaminates, peels back at edges. These can only be satisfactorily prevented by proper construction materials and techniques.
The edge thing. Since veneer is glued to a plywood or medium density fiberboard substrate the edges must be covered. This is often done by running the veneer right up to the edge of the piece and covering the edge with a strip of veneer. This can make for ‘hard’ edges susceptible to peel back and is best avoided.