One of the most common questions furniture shoppers asks is, “Should I only buy solid wood furniture, or is it ok if veneers are used?” Some might believe that when you’re shopping for wood furniture, only 100% solid wood is ideal. If you can’t afford solid wood you’ll have to stick with veneers – or so the story goes. But is this actually a furniture buyers’ myth? Is there more to the solid wood story than meets the eye?
Once Upon a Time There Was Beautiful Solid Wood Furniture….
Wood furniture offers a timeless beauty that only improves with age. High quality solid wood furniture is durable and hard-wearing.
However, the selective and strategic use of veneers has long become an effective and elegant way to maintain the style, quality and characteristics of solid wood, while enhancing the durability of your furniture. When applied by an expert craftsman during the manufacturing process, it can actually enhance the value of the piece.
What is a Veneer?
Wood veneer is a sliver of wood that has been shaved, cut or peeled from a piece of solid wood. The slice can be paper-thin or thick enough to be sanded and shaped. Wood veneer is stuck to another wood, either plywood or a piece of solid wood. Contrary to popular belief, veneers are nothing new – the Egyptians used veneers in their furniture, and Renaissance pieces also display veneers along with solid wood. However, veneers began to get a bad reputation since the Second World War, when substandard pieces were constructed as fine wood couldn’t be found.
How to Tell the Difference Between Solid Wood Furniture and Veneers
It is often difficult to tell whether a piece of wood furniture is manufactured from solid wood or veneers. If you want to know the difference, check for banding. Bands are strips of thin wood attached to the edges of surfaces like table tops. The band has an opposite grain direction and it is designed to cover the unfinished edge of a veneer. A thick band can help you identify higher quality construction. You can also look underneath the piece of furniture – a veneer will be made up of different woods, and you can usually tell that the wood beneath is less attractive than the wood on the surface. Also check the grain. If the grain extends through the entire wood surface it is likely to be solid wood.
It can be tough to tell high-quality veneers from solid wood. The truth is, most modern and antique furniture pieces use a combination of solid wood and veneers. If this is the case, should you be spending hours trying to track down that elusive “genuine” fully solid wood table or set of bedroom furniture?
Are Veneers All Bad?
The use of veneers is certainly not a bad thing, and not all solid wood furniture is automatically top quality. There is a perception that using veneers devalues furniture – in reality that is not the case. Even the most prestigious and well-known designers have long used veneers. In furniture that uses a combination of solid wood and veneers, the veneers serve a valuable purpose. For example, Oak Furniture Company uses slices of solid oak fixed to solid wood in some parts in order to retain the beautiful characteristics of oak but to make use of the great benefits of veneers. Solid wood is essential for many aspects of a well-constructed piece of oak furniture – or any other wood, for that matter. It is important to use solid wood for supporting posts and legs, or for carved areas and frames. But veneers also have their own unique uses.
Advantages of veneers include the following:
- Veneers help cut the risk of solid wood warping, twisting and cracking in the centrally heated environments of British homes. On critical joints, veneers act as “floats” between solid wood pieces so that as they expand and move, the furniture is not misshapen.
- Veneers can utilize the most beautiful cuts of wood in some of the most visual areas without adding as much cost as a solid piece.
- Veneers are environmentally friendly. It takes many years for an oak to mature; the use of veneers means that a higher grade of oak can be used in the structural areas and a better quality piece of furniture can be produced for the money.
- Veneers are often used when the furniture needs to incorporate curves in the design.
Beware of Bad Veneers!
Remember that not all veneers are created and applied equally. Some pieces of poorly constructed furniture use veneers to mask a dirty secret – substandard MDF or other materials that are held together with a variety of glues and other chemicals, and which will easily lose their shape and may even collapse after a few years. Poor quality veneers look odd as you can easily see that many different pieces of wood have been used to construct the furniture. Bad veneers may appear too “artificial” or mass-produced and poor techniques can result in peeling or delaminating. It’s critical to purchase from a manufacturer that understands when and how to use veneers to truly benefit the piece and enhance the value – not to simply cut corners.
Yet don’t believe that you’ll automatically get a prime item of furniture just because it is solid wood. Often 100% solid oak items are manufactured from lower grade oak, while furniture that contains some veneers uses high-grade oak – you can actually get a lesser deal without the addition of veneers. Veneers should only be used when the wood is high quality and in areas where the addition of a veneer does not compromise the overall look or integrity of the furniture.
Solid Wood or Veneers: Which Should You Choose?
By now you hopefully understand that it’s not a one versus the other choice. The key is to look at the craftsmanship of the piece, whether it incorporates veneers or is constructed from solid wood entirely. Are the pieces constructed with care and can you see the quality in the work? A good craftsman understands wood and how to use solid wood and veneers to construct a timeless, beautiful dining table or a contemporary, light and airy bedroom set. A good craftsman also works with the wood and selects the correct joints and boards so the furniture will not split, warp or bend under normal conditions. It should never have a mass-produced look or feel.
*Note – At Oak Furniture Company, our expert craftsmen only utilize the finest veneers and highly selectively to enhance the durability, longevity, appearance, and value of your furniture. Solid oak is always used in all structural areas. You are guaranteed to love your purchase.