Updated: Jun 15
After 40 years in the furniture refinishing business I thought I knew everything about wood and furniture but there is still much to learn. I have put together some definitions for some of the terms we see in todays ads to help make sense of what is out there. If you have any suggestions for more definitions, let me know and I will continue the research.
A burl is a rounded deformed growth on a tree usually caused by stress. This stress can be caused by an injury, fungus, insects, or a virus. The tree forms this growth in an effort to heal itself. Burls have beautiful odd shapes and grains. Furniture makers and artists can take this deformity and find beauty.
In furniture burl wood is most often used for tops of tables, desks, and counters.
A dovetail joint is made by cutting “tails” or “pins” into the end of a board, this is joined with glue to another piece of wood with alternating “tails” or “pins” this very desirable joint is very strong and hard to pull apart. You usually see it in old furniture or in our experience expensive new pieces.
Re-Manufactured Wood - Wood Solids -
Plywood - Lumber Products -
Composite Wood -
Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF)
These “woods” are made by bonding together wood fibers, veneers, or wood pieces with adhesives to form a composite material. It does not have the grain patterns that we associate with solid wood. To make furniture with these products a wood veneer, paint, or a faux wood finish is required to finish the piece. It is dense and very heavy. Furniture entirely made of these products does not lend itself to refinishing or even minor repairs.
Ash Cherry Oak
A hardwood tree has broad leaves, produces a fruit or nut and usually goes dormant and loses its leaves in the winter Oak, cherry, maple, ash, alder, birch & beech are some hardwoods.
Inlays - Marquetry
Inlays - Marquetry
Inlay or Marquetry is a technique where small pieces of variously colored woods and other material are used in a decorative design. This can be very ornate and detailed or as simple as a small line border. Craftsmen use knives and other carving tools to cut out the design. They then glue the small pieces into the cutout design. This art has been used for centuries to enhance the look of fine furniture.
Quartersawn Oak - Quarter Oak
Quartersawn means cutting on a 90-degree angle from the growth rings of a log. In other words taking a round log and cutting it in pie shapes. The pie shapes are then manipulated into beautifully grained woods. This is a process that is not often done in our age of sustainability because of the amount of wood needed to produce a piece of furniture. In the Arts & Crafts period during the 20th Century this style was very desirable.
Although you see most often quartersawn oak the method can be used with other wood such as mahogany and ebony.
Quarterswan wood is more resistant to warping. But, the characteristic that is most apparent is the beautiful decorative pattern of the wood. You will often see the medullary rays looking almost ribbon-like in the wavy grain.
This is wood that has previously been used for another purpose: barns, sheds, houses, furniture, flooring, or cabinets, are some of the sources of reclaimed wood. It is very popular for it’s aged appearance and texture. Because no new trees are cut to manufacture furniture with reclaimed wood this is a great way to protect our environment.
Cedar Pine Fir
Softwoods are conifers, which means they have needles and are cone bearing. Cedar, hemlock, pine, fir, redwood, spruce, and cypress are examples of a softwood.
Solid Wood furniture is made from wood that has come from trees not manufactured. But here is the catch when looking for solid wood furniture. The Federal Trade Commission requires that all furniture advertised as “solid wood” must have all exposed surfaces of the furniture be solid wood. The key words to these laws are exposed surfaces, you must ask if a “solid wood” piece of furniture has any engineered wood in its construction.
In a table for strength and stability solid wood is used in the legs, framing and if there is any carving needed. But flat surfaces can be wood solids, engineered wood, or lumber products veneered with solid wood.
Actual solid wood furniture can last forever. Even if it hasn’t been well cared for a piece of solid wood furniture can be refinished. Depending on the type and thickness of the veneers used refinishing of pieces using manufactured wood can be difficult.
Sustainable - Sustainable Forests
Sustainable simply means for every tree cut down in a forest, seedlings are planted to replace the cut down tree. These forests are managed to insure that there will be tress left in the forest for many years to come.
To legally be labeled “Sustainable” a piece of furniture must be made with wood grown in a forest that is certified by one of 50 worldwide certification programs. Examples of woods that are successfully being grown in sustainable forest are white ash, black cherry, mahogany, maple, and oak.