When you hear salespeople refer to "case goods", they're talking about chests, dressers, tables - living room and dining room pieces. "Case goods" is an industry term that refers to furniture that's generally constructed of wood. In actuality, today's case goods may be made totally or in part of metal, plastics or other man-made materials. Materials are, or course, a determining factor in the look of a piece and will affect durability and price.
How to Buy Wood Furniture
All woods used for making furniture fall into two categories: hardwoods and softwoods, but the designation doesn't really have anything to do with how hard or how soft the wood is. "Hardwood" identifies the trees that lose their leaves seasonally and "softwood" refers to those that keep their foliage all year.
Among the hardwoods frequently used in making furniture are ash, cherry, maple, oak, pecan, teak, rosewood, walnut, mahogany and poplar. In the softwood category are cedar, cypress, fir, pine and redwood.
Several different woods may be used in the same piece of furniture. For example, the term solid cherry or solid mahogany means that all exposed parts of the piece are made of solid wood. The frame or other parts not visible to the eye might be of another wood such as gum or poplar.
Generally, more expensive furniture usually is made of fine hardwoods such as maple, cherry or oak, or of "selected" softwoods such as pine. Medium-priced furniture may have a combination of different woods on exposed surfaces.
Because trees don't grow in the shapes and sizes required for making furniture, pieces of wood are bonded together in different ways to achieve the necessary sizes and shapes. Four types of bonding are often used:
1. Wide boards are often cut unto long narrower planks and bonded back together. In solid wood furniture, strips are carefully glued together to form the tops, sides and door panels. The interior may be of another wood.
2. Shaping is achieved by gluing blocks of wood together. These blocks can be machined for a deep carved pattern or turned and shaped into a leg, pedestal or post.
3. Combination wood panels are made by mixing wood particles, chips or flakes with resins and binding agents. These sheets are formed under extreme heat and tremendous pressure making them exceptionally strong, stable and resistant to warping. Called chipboard, particleboard, fiberboard or engineered wood, this material is frequently used on the backs of cabinets and doors or as cores for tops and panels.
4. Ply construction is achieved by adding layers, placed at cross grain, to a solid wood or particleboard core. Adhesives are placed on each layer and this "sandwich" is permanently bonded under high pressure. Modern glues and manufacturing techniques have made ply construction very strong and resistant to warping.
Veneering...An Ancient Art
Much of the most expensive furniture produced today owes it's exceptional beauty to veneers. Veneering is centuries old. The Egyptians used it and Sir Thomas Chippendale was a masterful practitioner of the art. His designs from the 1700s attest to the beauty and lasting quality of fine veneers. In Chippendale's time, veneering was so costly that few could afford it. But that isn't the case today.
Veneer construction is the application of thin layers of highly decorative woods on top of solid cores, plywood, particleboard or medium-density fiberboard. Veneering allows great flexibility, making it possible to match grain patterns or use inlays to create designs that nature can't produce in the solid wood. Today, wood furniture in all price ranges is made of veneer construction which allows maximum use of beautiful, distinctive grain patterns and rare woods at affordable prices.
Engraving & Printing...A New Technique
Modern technology has produced a less expensive method of achieving the look of wood veneers. Manufacturers can simulate a natural wood grain by printing or engraving a pattern on surfaces such as density fiberboard. This beautiful furniture is easier to produce and available at a lower price than similar furniture crafted of genuine wood veneers. It's attractive and durable, but usually doesn't provide the same benefits as the real thing. However, printing and engraving offer you exceptional looks on a limited budget.
Finishes...The Final Touch of Beauty
An appropriate finish adds the final touch of beauty to wood furniture. A finish which provides uniform color and adds a degree of protection generally requires the application of several coats of oil, wax, lacquer or paint to the surface.
Clear finishes allow the markings and grain variations of naturally beautiful woods to show through. Tinted or opaque finishes shange the color of the wood and can make the two different woods appear the same.
Finishes can vary the look of a piece, making it appear smooth and sophisticated or rough-hewn and rustic.
Distressing is a technique for aging new furniture and heightening its rustic appeal. The wood is beaten or battered before the finish is applied. Distressed finishes tend to hide finger marks and scratches and can be an excellent choice for rooms where there is a lot of activity.
Painted finishes are another popular way of adding the final touch of beauty. Painted pieces can be more expensive than those with natural finishes because paint tends to point up flaws so extra care must be taken at the factory to make sure that imperfections are removed from the wood.
Imported furniture and some contemporary designs may have other finishes. Your salesperson or designer will be glad to explain the variations and fill you in on how to extend the life of your new wood furniture by pampering it with proper care.
Checklist for Buying Wood Furniture
Doors and drawers fit well
Drawers have glides and stops
Drawers glide easily when pulled
Drawers have dust panels
Drawer corners are joined securely
Insides of drawers are smooth and snag free
Long shelves have center supports
Doors swing open easily without squeaking or rubbing
Long doors are attached with sturdy hinges
Hardware is secure and strong
No rough edges on hardware
Interior lights operate easily
Entertainment units have hole for electric cord
Heavy balanced feeling when table is rocked
Table leaves fit properly
Finish feels smooth to the touch (except distressed)
Distressed finish has randomly spaced dark marks
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