Discount Oak Furniture: The Hidden Risks

Miscellaneous February 23, 2017

The discount oak furniture you just spotted online looks great. It seems to be the real deal… attractive, made from genuine wood and it’s available at a bargain price.

Is it too good to be true?

Of course most of us are on a budget and everyone wants to get the most for their money. But, is discount wooden furniture really the solution to your home décor needs?

As with many home décor and furniture products, cheapest is not necessarily best. While it makes sense to look for value, some deals really are too good to be true.

When you are designing or redecorating your home, you deserve furniture and accessories that make a big impact and helps you create the stylish, welcoming home of your dreams. However, discount oak furniture cuts many corners in terms of production, materials, sustainability, and service, leading to big disappointment.

Let’s take a closer look at discount oak furniture to uncover the hidden risks, the disadvantages, and the inconveniences that often come with the small price tag.

Cheaper Materials Equals Inferior Materials

Is it really oak? Can you be sure?

The reason the furniture may be so cheap is because it is actually manufactured from a cheaper material and made to look like it is oak, or is oak in colour only.

There are stringent quality standards involved in advertising wood furniture so look carefully at how things are described.

The American Hardwood Information Center says, “Be aware that terms can be deceiving. For instance, a coffee table may look like cherry and may say “cherry finish,” but that does not necessarily mean it’s real cherry hardwood. The term “cherry finish” may simply refer to the color.”

Also, some discount companies use the term “hardwood” as a selling point so you automatically assume you are getting a good quality, sturdy wood. In fact, the definitions hardwood and softwood have little to do with quality or strength, but simply state that a hardwood comes from a deciduous tree while a softwood comes from a conifer tree.

Don’t be fooled by the terms. To avoid disappointment, ask the company about the construction and the quality of the wood rather than the label hardwood or softwood.

Are Veneers All Bad?

You might assume that higher quality furniture means completely solid wood with no veneers.

We talked about solid wood versus veneers in a recent blog post here. It is not necessarily true that high quality furniture is veneer-free, and the use of veneers is not a bad thing.

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.

Image courtesy of Janus Home

Veneers have their place. But so too does solid wood – and discount furniture may not make the best use of solid wood.

Solid wood is essential when constructing certain aspects of wood furniture, including supporting posts and legs, or for frames and for carved sections. You need to know that veneers are openly used to enhance the furniture, and not to hide a problem like MDF or other substandard materials.

Buyer Beware: Lower-Quality Craftsmanship

One of the other key negative issues associated with discount wood furniture is the quality of the craftsmanship and manufacture.

Discount furniture is made using cheaper methods – obviously to cut the cost to the consumer. Methods that include gluing small pieces together, using nails, and cheap fixings.

High quality furniture is structurally well made to last a lifetime using traditional methods such as dovetail and tongue and groove.

“A great indicator of solid wood is dovetail construction. Your furniture may still have veneer fronts, but it’s most likely constructed of solid wood if you see that tongue and groove construction where the drawer connects to the drawer front,” says interior designer Erin Spain.

Dovetail Joint Photo via Eric Spain

The way a piece of furniture is fit together naturally makes a difference in how long it lasts and how good it looks. You quickly get problems with furniture that is fastened with glue – the parts warp and the glue flakes off. The drawers come off their runners. The back splits away from the console cabinet.

Not what you were expecting, right?

Damaged During Delivery

Of course, there is a difference between the “distressed look” and an actual distressed piece of furniture – something that looks battered and “used” as soon as it comes out of the box.

One of the big problems associated with discount oak furniture is the packaging for delivery is poor quality. The items may also be shipped over a long distance.

The result?

The likelihood of your furniture arriving damaged, chipped, marked, or stained, is high.

On the other hand, higher quality furniture is not just made with care but packaged with care. You can expect delivery of the items to be careful and safe. Once you unwrap your furniture you’ll get excited by how it looks in your living room or dining room – not dismayed when you see one of the drawers is broken.

Items Are Actually Smaller Than They Seem

What’s worse than opening the box to find a damaged drawer?

Finding a tiny cabinet when you were expecting a grand chest of drawers.

Items on discount sites are often made to a smaller spec. Although they may look the same in an image they are actually much smaller when you get them delivered.

Discount stores may not make dimensions easily available for the products, either, so you get an unwelcome surprise when you unpack your furniture and find it is quite a lot smaller than you wanted.

Ready to Assemble?

Do you feel like you need an advanced engineering degree to understand flat pack furniture assembly instructions?

Want to set up your new room as soon as your furniture is delivered? Forget about it.

Photo from Neumann & Rodtmann/Corbis at the Daily Mail

Higher quality furniture is less stressful. There are no flat packs to leave you scratching your head and despairing over the drill and nails. Where items need to be fitted together there is minimal effort involved, and clear instructions given.

Going Green with Oak Furniture

With cheap wood furniture you may be saving a little, but at what cost to the planet?

Discount furniture unlikely to be manufactured from ethically sound sources.

Jacob Gordon at the treehugger blog says: “Whether a piece of furniture is made from wood, cloth, metal, plastic, or whatever else, there are earth-friendly options…There are sustainable ways to harvest wood… Wood from sustainably harvested forests, sustainably harvested tree farms, and reclaimed wood are the main sources.”

Discount furniture is not usually made from sustainable wood. Look for the furniture made from wood that comes from sustainable sources, or furniture that is made with reclaimed wood – or both. This helps to sustain the planet’s wellbeing for future generations.

Questionable Production Ethics

Do you really know how your discount furniture was made? Can you be sure it was manufactured without using exploitative practices like child labour, poorly paid overseas labour, or illegal practices like unauthorised logging which kills protected forests?

When it comes to heavily discounted furniture products, child labour may be used to keep production costs down.

For a clearer conscience, look for quality furniture that has been manufactured in certified factories using no child labour. If it doesn’t say so, you can easily ask.

Look at the Lifespan

If you are concerned about sustainability and ethical standards, you can also consider higher quality furniture a “win” as it is more durable and long-lasting. These furniture pieces will be used for longer, and will not end up in landfill after a couple of years (or even months, in the case of some discount furniture).

When you buy high quality oak furniture you can enjoy it for a lifetime – and even pass it onto your family.

However, if your tastes or living situation changes and you want to switch your table or your bed, Jacob Gordon at treehugger reminds us that “a good strong table will almost always be appealing to someone else, while a broken (and unfixable) one probably won’t.”

The problem is, discount furniture often looks just fine to begin with.

But, think about it.

Are you really, truly satisfied with the lifespan of cheap furniture pieces you bought in the past? Or are you disappointed that your bedside cabinet drawers warp after a few months, and the shelves of your cheap bookcase split and break?

In furniture, you do get what you pay for. If you’re looking for long-lasting furniture that you can still enjoy in decades’ time, you need to skip the discount aisles.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you must pay a fortune to get furniture that lasts. Far from it. Shopping around, you’ll find a wide variety of attractive, well-made oak furniture that doesn’t break the bank.

Potentially Hazardous Paints and Solvents

Often a new piece of discount furniture is complete with its own distinctive “new furniture” smell. However, this isn’t necessarily a good thing.

What you smell isn’t always the freshness of the paint or wood, but the “slow release of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) from the products used to create and finish your new furnishing.

Furniture is a particularly common culprit because so many materials, from coatings and glues to particle board and upholstery, can contain VOCs. Some of these pollutants can be toxic or irritating to people with respiratory diseases or chemical sensitivities,” says Buildings blog.

Look for furniture that is manufactured using low- or non-VOC paints and varnishes. This is a more expensive process, and therefore is often one of the corners that gets cut when manufacturing discount furniture.

Lack of Customer Service

Asking these questions can make it obvious whether you are buying furniture from a reputable furniture retailer.

You should expect to reach someone by phone during regular business hours and prompt responses to emails.

Sure, it may be simple to buy on a discount site but what happens if you encounter a problem? Need to change your order? Want to know more about whether a specific piece of furniture will fit in your living room?

Forget it.

Furniture from established, higher quality retailers often (though not always) comes with higher quality, more knowledgeable customer service.

So you can ask whether a certain range would go with your yellow bedroom. Or whether a console table is big and sturdy enough for placing a TV. Or find out about the delivery terms and returns without stress.

Service goes a long way to a more pleasurable and satisfying buying experience, particularly when you are investing money in something like oak furniture.

So, in Conclusion…

Don’t assume you’re getting a great deal when you pay much less – looking at all the different factors associated with oak furniture makes it clear that price is not the only point you need to consider.

Look for quality, value and design. Oak furniture you will be proud to enjoy and show off and will last for many years to come.


When you purchase from Oak Furniture Company, you can rest assured that we use only the highest grade, sustainable wood. Our expert craftsmen use superior construction techniques including solid wood in all structural areas and non-VOC paints and varnishes.

When you purchase from Oak Furniture Company, every product is carefully prepared for delivery and never flat-packed. Our customer service specialists are standing by to assist you with any questions. Plus, every item comes with free delivery, a 30 day money back guarantee, and even free returns. We stand behind our products and look forward to serving you!

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