When looking for a new piece of furniture, most people will purchase an item that contains at least some wood. In addition to being the most popular material for tables, desks, and bookshelves, wood is the foundation of nearly every other type of furniture, including sofas, loveseats, and recliners. Even if it’s not visible on the exterior of a piece, wood is most likely providing interior support alongside other structural materials.
Wood has always played an important role in the home furnishings industry, but the variety of wood choices available today can seem overwhelming. To help you make an informed decision the next time you go furniture shopping, check out this quick guide to furniture woods.
Why Choose Wood Furniture?
One of the main reasons that wood is such a great furniture material is because it is naturally strong. A piece made of either hardwood or softwood can last a very long time with little maintenance or upkeep aside from occasional waxing, polishing, and oiling. The durability of wooden furniture makes it a smart investment for those looking to furnish their home with quality products. Wood is also available in a variety of types, styles, and finishes that can easily fit in with any design scheme.
Additionally, wood is a renewable furniture material that can be produced with very little impact on the environment. Many wooden pieces also contain recycled materials, which makes them the perfect option to consider if you are interested in sustainable furniture.
Getting to Know Hardwoods and Softwoods
All solid wood products can be divided into one of two categories: hardwood or softwood. The tree from which the wood originates determines its classification. Hardwoods come from leaf-bearing (deciduous) trees, and softwoods are sourced from cone-bearing (coniferous) trees. While it is common to assume that the terms hardwood and softwood refer to a wood’s strength and density, this is not necessarily the case. Some hardwoods, like balsa, are actually soft and lightweight, and some softwoods, like pitch pine, are actually very heavy and dense. In most cases, however, hardwoods have a higher density than softwoods due to their cellular structure.
Because they are very strong and durable, hardwoods are often used in high-quality furniture pieces. Hardwoods also come in a variety of colors and natural patterns that are very visually appealing and unique to the tree from which they came. The major downside to purchasing hardwood furniture is its price, but the higher cost is well worth it for many people. Here are some of the hardwoods most commonly used in furniture:
Oak—With roughly 60 species in the United States, oak is an abundant hardwood that is valued for its strength and prominent grain patterns. The two varieties (red oak and white oak) range in color from yellow to light pinkish-brown. Oak is used in all types of furniture, but it is very common in pieces made in the Mission style.
Maple—One of the hardest hardwoods, maple resists warping and shrinking and holds up to heavy use. The light-colored wood is usually beige or tan with a straight, even grain pattern that sometimes gives way to curls or waves. Maple is an excellent wood for dressers, cabinets, butcher blocks, and other heavy-use items.
Walnut—Walnut is a dark hardwood that features a straight grain pattern that is most striking when clear-coated or oiled. The wood also carves easily, making it an excellent choice for decorative furniture like cabinets, headboards, mantels, and antique-style tables.
Although softwoods aren’t typically as dense as hardwoods, they can be just as long-lasting. In fact, softwood furniture can even last longer than hardwoods in some environments. The most common softwoods used in furniture include the following:
Pine—Lightweight and affordable, pine is a common material in modern furniture. There are many different species of pine, but most share the same pale-yellow or light-brown color. Pine is also easily recognizable due to the dark knots and physical growth rings that stand out on its surface. The wood is perfect for rustic furniture, but it can be painted to fit in with all types of décor.
Cedar—Although it is light and brittle, cedar is a durable wood that is often used to make drawers, chests, and closets because it has a distinctive scent that repels moths and other insects. This light-red softwood is also resistant to moisture and decay, so it works well for picnic tables and other outdoor furniture.
Redwood—Like cedar, redwood has weather-resistant properties that make it perfect for use in the outdoors. It is especially well suited for patio tables and chairs, but redwood can also be used indoors for Western-style beds and other rustic pieces.
Other Wooden Furniture Products
In addition to solid wood, many modern furniture pieces use composite wood materials such as plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF). While these products are manmade, they are still composed of actual wood that is bonded together and pressure treated. Plywood, MDF, and other engineered wood products are both affordable and eco-friendly. Most often, they are used on the backs and interiors of furniture, but some bookshelves and other budget-friendly pieces are made entirely out of these materials.