In addition, these veneers possess some advantages over solid wood. They’re typically less expensive, more stable, and are less likely to warp. A quality plywood shelf, for instance, is often better for holding heavy items like books or a television than a comparable piece of solid wood. However, plywood cannot easily be refinished and is usually not as attractive as solid wood, so limiting its use to shelving and backing is preferable. See Section III below for more information on plywood veneer.
Softwoods are less durable than hardwoods and more plentiful, in part, because the trees grow much quicker. They’re also less expensive and represent a better alternative than particle or fiber board. Common softwoods include pine, fir, spruce, and cedar.
Hardwoods are found in higher quality furniture and are prized for their durability and fine finishing qualities. Among the numerous hardwoods available today, our Amish craftsmen use primarily northern, slow-growth wood, chosen for the greater density typical of wood grown in colder climates. These woods make an excellent choice for buyers looking for American products or for those concerned about rainforest depletion. American hardwoods are a renewable resource and are not endangered species. Our craftsmen offer you a choice of seven North American hardwoods: red oak, white oak, soft maple, hard maple, cherry, hickory, and walnut.
Red oak is a widely available and popular hardwood, chosen for its traditional, coarse-textured look and excellent durability and strength. It accepts stain consistently and wears very well, making red oak a good choice for furniture that will see everyday use. Natural color varies from yellow to pale brown, often with a light reddish tinge.
Like red oak, white oak is hard, strong, and has outstanding wear-resistance. It has a medium-coarse to coarse texture and varies in color from light tan to nearly white or light grey. Our Amish craftsmen use quartersawn white oak for a unique aesthetic appeal, though quartersawn red oak is available on request for the same price. See below for more information on the quartersawing technique.
Acer rubrum, A. saccharinum
A straight-grained, fine-textured wood, soft maple is a hardwood, despite its slightly confusing name. Soft maple, derived from red or silver maple trees, is not as durable as its cousin hard maple, but it more readily accepts stain. Color usually ranges from light cream to pale brown, with occasional dark streaks.
Acer saccharum, A. nigrum
Hard, or rock, maple comes from sugar or black maple trees and is a tough, moderately heavy wood with a fine, uniform texture. Hard maple finishes very smoothly and is extremely durable. Commonly seen with no stain, its natural color varies from nearly white to light tan, sometimes with a reddish tinge.
A dense, even-grained wood, cherry is widely considered to be the finest of the fruitwoods. It is prized for its beauty and is an excellent choice for both formal and casual applications. Natural coloration varies from a light cream to a darker reddish brown. Cherry can darken considerably with age, developing a deep, rich patina over several years.
Close-grained and often nearly white in color, hickory is one of the hardest, heaviest, and strongest woods in the United States. Because of its flexibility and resilience, hickory is commonly used in the construction of chairs and other bentwood furniture.
Walnut Juglans nigra
A dense wood, ranging in color from light to deep chocolate brown, the black walnut tree produces one of the finest cabinet woods. Walnut is both slow growing and highly sought after, causing it to be more expensive than many other woods.
Quartersawing is simply a cutting technique used to achieve a finished appearance different from the more typical flatsawing technique. Quartersawing involves cutting a log into quarters, then cutting boards alternately from the two flat sides of each quarter. The process produces a combination of parallel-line patterns and highly varied figuring that many connoisseurs of fine wood furniture find very appealing. Oak cut in this manner is commonly called tiger oak and is traditionally found in the “Arts & Crafts” style of furniture.
Distinguishing Finish From Wood
Be sure to distinguish finish from wood. For example, “cherry finish” may mean only that a piece of furniture has a reddish stain or a finish similar to cherry wood, even though it contains no real cherry wood. If you’re in the market for solid hardwood furniture, ask for it by name.
II. WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN SHOPPING FOR WOOD FURNITURE JOINERY
The term “wood joinery” refers to the art of making two boards fit together in perfect alignment. Stronger joints generally take longer to construct and require more skill, so the quality of the joinery is often a measure of the quality of the piece of furniture. The following diagram depicts some of the more common methods of wood joinery, some of which are better than others.