If you are on the lookout for good quality furniture you may be wondering whether it is better to buy solid wood or veneered. The fact is that neither one can be considered to be ‘better’ than the other. In the end it comes down to the suitability of each to the piece of furniture in question as well as the quality of the design and workmanship. Often the two will be mixed so that for example a table may have solid legs with a veneered top.
What is Veneered Furniture and How to Spot it
Typically veneered furniture consists of a thin layer of solid wood glued onto a core board such as MDF, chipboard, plywood or, in some cases a different solid wood. The veneer can be anything from paper thin to 5 – 6 mm thick. Often on higher quality pieces a hardwood lipping (a strip of wood) is used on the edges. This is helpful since there is less chance of dents and wear exposing the core board on the vunerable edges. You can normally tell if a piece is veneered from looking at the edges and by checking to see if the grain is different from one side to the other.
How to Spot Solid Wood Furniture
Solid wood is easy to spot since the grain pattern will be the same on all faces. Exposed joints such as dove tail and peg joints also indicate that the furniture is solid wood.Solid wood can be prone to warping and cracking over time since changing moisture content between seasons can cause movement. A good craftsman who understands the wood they are working with will select the right boards and joints so that any movement that occurs over time will preferably not result in excessive warping or splitting.
Advantages of Solid Wood Furniture
An advantage of solid wood is that its surface ages well and dents and scratches can create an attractive ‘patina’ with no danger of exposing the core board below. If damage becomes too great it can be smartened up by sanding it down and re-finishing with wax or polish.
Advantages of Veneered Furniture
Since the core boards that veneers are attached to tend not to to move or warp veneered furniture generally has a greater stability than solid wood and this is one of its main attractions. Other benefits are the fact that the best grain can be selected for the veneer so that there is more control over the appearance of the finished piece and less use of precious hardwoods which take many years to grow. The cost of veneered wood is sometimes lower though this is not always the case since very high quality veneered furniture can be just as expensive as solid wood.
Which One to Go For..
There are definite advantages of both solid and veneered furniture. Perhaps the most important questions to ask are, do I love this piece of furniture? and secondly, will it last a long time and continue to look good in the future?. If the answer to both of these is ‘yes’ then the odds are that it will be a good purchase. And if you change your mind about loving it but it is well made then there is a very good chance of re-selling it to re-coup some if not all of your costs.
Our Tray Table is made from a mixture of solid and veneered walnut. The joint seen on the table top indicates that it is solid. The top has been made from boards jointed in this way since a solid piece large enough would be very costly. Having strips jointed in this way also helps with stability since it is constructed so that any warping on adjacent boards counteract each other. The tray is veneered board in order to keep it thin (8mm) and lightweight. At that thickness in solid there would be a high chance of movement. The circular edging on the more vulnerable tray edge is solid.
This Solid Cherry Wood Bench is a french antique. The top is fixed to the legs using traditional peg joints. The legs show some wear from a hundred or so years of use but this just adds to its appeal and it is likely that the bench will be around in another hundred years to come.
Feature image from the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment.