Furniture craftsmen have used wood for thousands of years. It is strong yet easy to cut, carve, join, finish, and refinish. Caring for it is relatively simple, and, when pieces are well made and maintained, they improve with age. Wood is also an environmentally friendly, renewable resource. Because it was once part of a living organism, wood has warmth and appeal. Hardwoods come from deciduous trees, such as oak, pecan, walnut, birch, maple, mahogany, and cherry. These woods have tighter grains that make them stronger, denser, and a better choice for carving and detailing.
Softwoods, from cone-bearing trees or conifers, include pine, cedar, cyprus, spruce, fir, and redwood. The grain of softwoods is more open in appearance. Softwood pieces are typically less expensive. A fair number of terms are used to describe wooden furniture. Understanding what they mean will help you when you’re shopping. The term all-wood construction means that the visible parts of the piece are made of wood. Combination indicates that more than one type of wood makes up the piece’s exposed parts. The word solid means that a solid piece of wood was used for construction.
Veneer is a thin slice of beautifully grained wood that has been bonded to plywood or particleboard. Though many think of veneer as the result of a modern construction method, veneers have been used for centuries to create pieces of great beauty and strength. Genuine indicates that veneers of a particular wood were placed over hardwood plywood on all exposed parts of the piece.
To ensure the long life and beauty of wood furniture, avoid excessive sunlight, dampness, heat or cold. Place a felt or leather pad under all lamp bases and accessories to avoid surface scratches. Polish only every six months with a silicone-free polish; polishing too often may result in a waxy buildup. For routine cleaning, use a cloth that has been dampened with a diluted cleaning polish. Clean spills or smudges with a damp cloth moistened in mild soap or cleaning polish.
Kerrie L. Kelly is an award-winning interior designer and author.