Wood is one of the most popular types of furniture, but with so many variations, it can be hard to choose a quality piece. Being able to determine the best characteristics of wood will help you find durable and long-lasting items to add to your collection.

Softwood vs. Hardwood

While most people think of hardwood as being more durable, that’s not necessarily the case. Hardwood simply refers to deciduous trees, while softwood refers to evergreens. The fact is that some “softer” woods are actually more durable than hardwoods are. When selecting a species of tree, oak, walnut, mahogany and ash are all high-quality woods to consider. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider furniture made from other species, as there are several other varieties of durable wood on the market.

Open or Closed Grain

Different species of wood are said to be either closed or open grain. Closed grain woods have growth rings that are very close in proximity to one another. Their pores are usually smaller and closer together as well. Hickory, birch and maple are all examples of woods that are usually considered closed grain. Open grained woods have large pores, and the growth pattern of the tree is also more noticeable. Some common open grained woods include oak and pine. Open grained woods may require more than one coat of stain, and they can sometimes require the use of a wood filler in order to smooth them out.

Wood Veneer

Many pieces of furniture contain wood veneer. This is thin layers of wood, which are glued onto fiberboard or particleboard and then fused together at the factory. It is attractive and waterproof, yet somewhat less durable than natural wood is. Veneer comes in a number of finishes, and it is often used in cabinets, tables, desks and dressers. It can be identified by its weight, as veneer is typically much lighter than natural wood is. This product normally has a brilliant sheen, with almost none of the wood’s grain being visible.

Multiple Varieties

It’s not at all uncommon for a piece of furniture to be made with more than one variety of wood. Manufacturers may use higher quality wood for tabletops or the fronts of dressers, and then use a lower quality wood for the sides and back. When the piece is stained, the various sections may look very similar. Look at the different sections carefully, paying attention to the wood grain, texture and weight of all of them. Open drawers and doors in order to see if there is particleboard or pressboard on the inside of a piece of furniture. This will be easy to discover, because it has a somewhat rougher texture and tends to give slightly when pressed on.

Since you will likely want to keep your wood furniture for several years, it makes good sense to buy the best quality piece you can afford. Before going shopping, it can be helpful to spend some time learning about the characteristics of different types of woods in order to make an informed choice.

About the Author: Eric works at CambiumWorks Custom Wood Furniture in Houston, TX. They design custom furniture using a variety of domestic and exotic wood types.