Character · Finishes ·
Identification · Glossary
Wood is an exceptionally beautiful and
versatile material. The logs used in your bedroom, dining or occasional
furniture may be hundreds of years old. They may have been transported
thousands of miles, been bought and sold many times before being carefully
cut into veneers or solid boards. discount furniture
Wood has been used as a raw material for
furniture making for thousands of years. More than 3000 years ago, Egyptian
woodworkers used mortise and tenon joints and made wood furniture in highly
developed workshops. Today, wood is the major component of furniture because
of its unique characteristics.
Its strength, both with and across the grain
makes it ideal for high stress components such as table tops or tapered
Most woods are relatively light in relation
to their tensile strength and ability to withstand compression.
Wood furniture is durable and easy to care
Damage to wood furniture can often be easily
Wood is a good insulator giving it a warm,
pleasant feel in summer and winter.
Warm brown wood tones and natural grain and
figure effects impart feelings of warmth and life to interior surfaces. Many
people think that wood lives and breathes. Wood, of course dies when it is
cut, but psychologically it is much more warm and personal than masonry,
metal or glass. discount furniture
The character of a wood surface is the result
of the color of the wood, its grain, figure and texture. These physical
characteristics are determined by the interior structure of the tree (growth
rings, medullary rays, branching points, knots, etc.) and the way in which
the board or veneer is cut. Many people have a general idea of how color,
grain, figure and texture relate to physical structures in the wood, but a
more exact knowledge is helpful, for those concerned with the identification
and appreciation of fine wood solids and veneers.
WOOD GRAIN is determined by the size and orientation of the cells which make
up the tree trunk. These cells, often called fibers, support the tree and
serve as conduits for nutrients and water. They generally run straight up
and down the tree trunk, but can be wavy, spiraled or irregular. In
softwoods such as pine, spruce, fir, cedar and redwood these cells serve
dual supportive and conductive roles, but hardwoods have specialized
conductive cells often called pores. In hardwoods like oak, the pores are
denser and larger in the springwood (wood laid down in the spring) than the
summerwood, giving the tree pronounced growth rings and a noticeable grain.
Mahogany, a tropical hardwood, has even, randomly dispersed pores producing
a uniform appearance - a finer grain. Maple also has a fine, close grain.
WOOD FIGURE is the "macro" pattern or design which can be seen in the
finished board or veneer. Figure is caused by different factors in
individual woods such as:
Variation in wood color, often the result of
uneven deposition of organic wastes in wood tissue. The older heartwood of a
tree is often darker and of different character than the living, peripheral
Differences in the size, arrangement and pore
density of annual rings.
Infiltration of conductive vessels called
pith, vascular or medullary rays which run perpendicular to the grain
(outward from the center).
Changes in wood structure near knots, burls,
crotches and butts
The way that a log is cut (flat cut,
quartered, rift cut, half round, rotary sliced)||
Variations in grain structure.
There are many different "figure types" which can easily be identified. Some
of these are the fiddleback figure, ribbon figure, striped figure, birds eye
figure, blister figure, quilted figure, crotch figure, mottle figure and
WOOD TEXTURE is the "feel" of a wood surface.
Woods such as oak with large, wide medullary rays (flakes), big pores and
distinct annual rings are said to be course textured or uneven textured.
Woods with finer rays and even growth are termed fine or even textured.
CUTTING WOOD: Wood boards and veneers are
normally flat cut, quarter sawn or veneered.
FLAT CUT BOARDS are made by sawing the log so
that all cuts are parallel to a section straight through the middle. Each
cut is made tangential to the growth rings, normally producing a series of
inverted "V's" on the face of the lumber.
QUARTER CUT BOARDS are sawed from logs which
have been cut into quarters. Cuts are made into the quarters, across the
growth rings into the center of the board. On the quarter sawed boards, the
growth rings appear as parallel lines. Oak is often quarter cut. discount
VENEERS are thin slices of wood which are cut
or sliced from a log. These thin decorative wood slices are applied to
underlying wood solids or particle board (composition board) core material.
Contrary to popular belief, high quality composition board cores can be more
expensive to use and result in more stable constructions than solid wood
cores. Veneering has many advantages and only a few drawbacks:
It allows exotic wood species and rare
formations (burl, butt, and crotch wood) to be used more economically.
Wood patterns can be matched and rearranged
producing a variety of beautiful effects (diamond, herringbone, reverse
diamond, checkerboard, etc.).
Many complex wood formations such as walnut
burls are too weak to be used structurally. Bonding them to sturdy core
materials permits their use in more rigorous applications.
Veneers can be laid up with their grains'
oriented at right angles to each other, a process which increases the
strength of the finished board by decreasing cross grain weakness.
Woods such as ebony are extremely heavy When
cut into veneers, these woods can be bonded to lighter cores to make
Veneers can be easily bent and glued to
irregular forms, increasing design possibilities.
One drawback is that the use of veneers may restrict the ways in which a
particular piece can be re-finished. Another drawback is that many people
seem to like furniture made of a solid wood, irrespective of the advantages
The method of cutting or slicing a log
determines the figure in the finished veneer. Flat cut, rotary cut,
quartered, rift-cut and half round are some of these slicing methods.
FLAT CUT veneers are sliced from half a log, or flitch. A blade cuts veneers
from the flitch which, like flat cut lumber, usually show an inverted "N"
ROTARY CUT veneers are peeled from a log by rotating it against a blade. The
veneer is removed in sheets, much like removing paper towels from the roll.
A large continuous sheet is produced by this method which often yields
uninteresting patterns in the finished product. The rotary cut is often used
for making plywood.
QUARTERED veneers are cut from logs which have been divided into 4 sections.
The slices are made at roughly right angles to the growth rings into the
center of the section. As in quarter sliced lumber, the growth rings appear
as parallel lines in the finished veneer.
RIFT CUT in oak is much like quarter sliced,
except that the blade angle is not perpendicular to the growth rings.
Instead it is rotated another 15 degrees so that the flake figure of quarter
sliced oak is avoided.
HALF ROUND veneers are produced by rotating half a log against a blade so
that cuts are made across the growth rings - with a motion half-way between
flat and rotary cut that yields a highly figured surface.
Furniture finishes are used to enhance the
beauty and durability of wood furniture ' Modern finishing methods normally
use multi-step processes whereby raw woods are stained, filled, sealed and
Highlight and enhance the natural color,
grain and figure of the wood.
Protect the surface of the wood from
deterioration due to sunlight, chemicals, heat, scratching and other
Seal wood to prevent changes in the moisture
content which can cause swelling, shrinking, warping, checking and
Cover imperfections in the wood surface or
joinery. discount furniture
Change, imitate or match the color of other
woods or the designer's chosen color.
Change the character of the wood through
distressing or antiquing.
Produce a desired surface sheen.
The types of materials, the amount of hand labor and the number of coats of
stain, filler, sealer and topcoat used to finish fine wood furniture all
affect its price. Furniture can undergo anywhere from three, to 25 or more
finishing steps. Two similar looking furniture pieces may differ widely in
price due to relative finish quality. These differences are often subtle,
and should be pointed out at retail.
Generally, wood finishes should be deep and
rich, with a uniform color and a smooth, even surface. Edges should be free
from drips, bubbles, runs and streaks. Wood grain and figure effects are
enhanced and heightened rather than covered by quality finishes. The actual
color of the natural wood often bears little resemblance to common furniture
finishes. For example, maple is a very "white" wood, but the most common
maple finishes are a honey color.
LACQUERS, also known as nitrocellulose
lacquers are quick drying finishing materials, most often sprayed on
furniture surfaces in multiple, thin layers. These cellulose derivatives are
widely used because of their relative durability, ease of repair and crystal
clarity. They are produced in various sheens and colors and may be damaged
by exposure to substances such as nail polish remover, shoe polish, and
alcohol. Heat from unshielded cookware, and combinations of heat and
pressure can also mar wood surfaces protected with nitrocellulose lacquers.
After application, lacquers are often hand rubbed, producing a very smooth,
SHELLAC is an extract from a secretion of an
insect indigenous to southern Asia. This quick drying, but delicate finish
is easily damaged by moisture and heat. It was largely discarded as a
commercial finishing material when modern nitrocellulose lacquers were
introduced. True oriental lacquer is actually a high gloss finish composed
of built up layers of shellac, not an actual nitrocellulose lacquer product.
French Polish, once used to produce a beautiful, high luster shellac finish,
took as long as 12 months to apply. It is no longer used commercially.
WAX POLISH is one of the oldest methods of
finishing furniture. Wax darkens and emphasizes the grain and can be buffed
to a soft or high luster. It has several disadvantages when used alone,
including its lack of resistance to heat and susceptibility to staining.
Waxed finishes must also be re- applied over time. Today, wax finishes are
normally not used commercially.
VARNISH made from gum dissolved in linseed
oil was used in ancient times. Varnish making knowledge was lost in Medieval
times and then re-discovered in the mid 19th century. Today, most varnishes
are made of synthetic resins, which produce hard, tough, clear finishes. The
term catalyzed varnish is often used to describe some superfinishes.
SYNTHETIC finishes such as polyurethanes, polyesters and polyamids are
polymeric coatings that are generally tougher than conventional
nitrocellulose lacquers - being more resistant to heat, moisture, chemicals
and abrasion. These finishes can be shiny or matte, clear or colored. Even
though they are harder to destroy than nitrocellulose lacquers, they are
also more difficult to repair if damaged. Generally, the use of polyester
and polyurethane lacquers are limited to the high gloss look, sometimes
labeled "the lacquer look."
HOT OIL finishes usually consist of
combinations of linseed oil, other oils and solvents. This finish is applied
in multiple steps. It sinks into the wood, bringing out the grain and
tending to darken and yellow the finished product. Oil finishes require
additional oiling or waxing to maintain the finish over time. They provide
moderate heat and water resistance a can be easily repaired and renewed. Oil
finishes are not widely used commercially, but are simulated by applying a
wiping stain, sealer and a low gloss, low sheen lacquer.
SUPERFINISH is a catch-all term applied to
any finish applied to furniture that endows the surface with unusually high
resistance to harmful environmental factors. Superfinishes protect wood
surfaces from some or all of the following: watermarking; damage from
corrosive liquids such as bleach, finger nail polish and alcohol; damage
from abrasion and impact; hot marking problems. These finishes can be
synthetics or have a nitrocellulose base. They are sometimes applied
selectively to dining or occasional tops.
HIGH PRESSURE LAMINATES and vinyl wrap
coatings are surfacing materials that are bonded to core materials. They are
not wood finishes, even though they are often made to resemble wood.
High pressure laminates, often called "mica"
impart soil, stain and wear resistance to furniture surfaces. Full laminate
tops, tops inserted into wood frames or completely sheathed mica furniture
is common. Wood grain laminates should be grain and color matched to
surrounding wood surfaces. They should also be free of any marks or
abrasions, since these cannot be repaired.
Some simulated wood tables are made by
applying a wood grained vinyl sheet or foils over particle board. The
advantage of this method over engraving (see glossary) is that grained
effects can be applied to curved surfaces. Vinyl wrap surfaces may be
damaged by heat and cannot be repaired if the surface is marred. Some
manufacturers put a UV topcoat or glazing lacquer on these products for
added protection. discount furniture
There are thousands of species of wood, and
hundreds that are utilized in commercial furniture production. Described
here are some that are most frequently used, and most often mentioned at
retail. Woods are listed under their common names, which though inexact,
refer to one or a number of related species having similar end product
OAK is the most widely used hardwood. There
are more than 60 species of oak grown in the U.S., which can be separated
into two basic varieties; white and red. The red variety is also known as
black oak (a reference to its bark).
History: Oak was the wood of choice for the
Gothic furniture made in the middle ages. It remained popular through the
seventeenth century. Quarter cut oak boards known as wainscot were brought
to Northern Europe as early as the fourteenth century. Traditionally oak has
been used for styles that require only a moderate amount of carving.
Properties: Oak is a heavy, strong, light
colored hardwood. It is ring porous, due to the fact that more and larger
conductive vessels are laid down early in the summer, rather then later.
Prominent rings and large pores give oak a course texture and prominent
grain. Oak also has conspicuous medullary rays which can be seen as "flakes"
in quarter sawed oak lumber.
Uses: Oak is the most popular wood used to
craft American and English country designs. it is also used for Gothic and
William & Mary reproductions as well as many transitional and contemporary
MAPLE: There are 115 species of maple. Only 5
commercially important species grow in the U.S.. These are most often called
hard rock maple or sugar maple.
Properties: Maple is so hard and resistant to
shocks that it is often used for bowling alley floors. Its diffuse evenly
sized pores give the wood a fine texture and even grain. Maple that has a
curly grain is often used for violin backs (the pattern formed is known as
fiddleback figure). Burls, leaf figure, and birds-eye figures found in maple
are used extensively for veneers. The Birds eye figure in maple is said to
be the result of stunted growth and is quite rare.
Uses: Maple is used extensively for American
colonial furniture, especially in medium and lower priced categories. It can
also be stained to simulate cherry wood, which it resembles.
MAHOGANY: mahogany, also known as Honduras
mahogany is a tropical hardwood indigenous to South America, Central America
and Africa. There are many different grades and species sold under this
name, which vary widely in quality and price. Mahogany which comes from the
Caribbean is thought to be the hardest, strongest and best quality; logs
from Africa, though highly figured, of slightly lesser quality. Philippine
mahogany, has a similar color, but is not really mahogany at all. It is a
much less valuable wood, being less strong, not as durable or as beautiful
History: Mahogany was known in Europe since
the time of the Spanish explorers, but it was not widely used for furniture
before the 18th century when it largely replaced walnut as the predominant
cabinet making wood. It was at this time that English Georgian cabinetmakers
such as Chippendale and Sheraton, and Americans like Goddard and Townsend
used it extensively. The Empire, Federal and Victorian craftsmen were also
great consumers of this fine wood.
Properties: Mahogany is strong, with a
uniform pore structure and poorly defined annual rings. It has a reddish -
brown color and may display stripe, ribbon, broken stripe, rope, ripple,
mottle, fiddleback or blister figures. Crotch mahogany figures are widely
used and greatly valued. Mahogany is an excellent carving wood and finishes
well. discount furniture
Uses: Mahogany is used extensively in the
crafting of Georgian, Empire and Federal reproduction furniture. Mahogany is
also used in styles ranging from Victorian furniture reproductions to
CHERRY: Cherry is grown in the Eastern half
of the U.S.. It is sometimes called fruitwood. The term fruitwood is also
used to describe a light brown finish on other woods
History: Cherry was used in much original
American colonial furniture. European cherry was also used for provincial
Properties: A moderately hard, strong, close
grained, light to red-brown wood, cherry resists warping and checking. It is
easy to carve and polish.
Uses: Cherry veneers and solids are used in a
variety of styles. Cherry has been called New England mahogany and is often
used to craft 18th century, Colonial and French Provincial designs.
WALNUT is one of the most versatile and
popular cabinet making woods. It grows in Europe, America and Asia. There
are many different varieties.
History. Walnut and oak were the primary
cabinet making woods in 17th century Europe. Walnut and mahogany were the
primary woods of the 18th century. In 18th century America, walnut was often
stained to imitate mahogany. The 1820's and 30's in America are often
referred to as the "Black Walnut Period" due to the preponderance of this
wood. The Queen Anne (1702-1714) period in England is often referred to as
the "Age of Walnut."
Properties: Walnut is strong, hard and
durable without being excessively heavy. It has excellent woodworking
qualities, and takes finishes well. The wood is light to dark chocolate
brown in color with a straight grain in the trunk. Wavy grain is present
toward the roots, and walnut stumps are often dug out and used as a source
of highly figured veneer. Large burls are common. Walnut solids and veneers
show a wide range of figures, including strips, burls, mottles, crotches,
curls and butts. European walnut is lighter in color and slightly finer in
texture than American black walnut, but otherwise comparable.
Uses: Walnut is used in all types of fine
cabinet work, especially 1 8th century reproductions.
PINE is a softwood which grows in most areas
of the Northern Hemisphere. There are more than 100 species worldwide.
History: Pine (also fir, deal) was used
historically for structural components of furniture and drawer linings in
Europe, as well as for simple country designs.
Properties: Pine is a soft, white or pale
yellow wood which is light weight, straight grained and lacks figure. It
resists shrinking and swelling. Knotty pine is often used for decorative
Uses: Pine is often used for country or
provincial furniture. Pickled, whitened, painted and oil finishes are often
used on this wood.
ASH: There are 16 species of ash which grow
in the eastern United States. Of these, the white ash is the largest and
most commercially important.
Properties: Ash is a hard, heavy, ring porous
hardwood. It has a prominent grain that resembles oak, and a white to light
brown color. Ash can be differentiated from hickory (pecan) which it also
resembles, by white dots in the darker summerwood which can be seen with the
naked eye. Ash burls have a twisted, interwoven figure.
Uses: Ash is widely used for structural
frames and steam bent furniture pieces. It is often less expensive than
HICKORY: There are 15 species of hickory in
the eastern United States, eight of which are commercially important.
Properties: Hickory is one of the heaviest
and hardest woods available. Pecan is a species of hickory sometimes used in
furniture. It has a close grain without much figure.
Uses: Wood from the hickory is used for
structural discount furniture
parts, especially where strength and thinness
are required. Decorative hickory veneers are also commonly used.
RATTAN: Any of several climbing Asian palms
whose stems grow to great lengths.
Properties: The rattan pole is round (1/4 to
2 inch diameter), solid and strong. It can be bent into many shapes or cut
into the core material used for wicker work.
Uses: Whole rattan poles, and smaller
diameter core materials are often used to make casual dining, bedroom and
upholstered furniture (see FURNITURE WORLD's OUTDOOR AND CASUAL GUIDE).
BEECH: The American beech is a single species
which grows in the eastern half of the United States.
Properties & Uses: Beech is a hard, strong,
heavy wood with tiny pores and large conspicuous medullary rays, similar in
appearance to maple. This relatively inexpensive wood has reddish brown
heartwood and light sapwood. Beech is often used for frames, a variety of
bent and turned parts. Quarter sliced and half round cut beech veneers are
BIRCH: There are many species of birch. The
yellow birch is the most commercially important. European birch is fine
grained, rare and expensive.
Properties & Uses: Birch is a hard, heavy,
close grained hardwood with a light brown or reddish colored heartwood and
cream or light sapwood. Birch is often rotary or flat sliced, yielding
straight, curly or wavy grain patterns. It can be stained to resemble
mahogany or walnut.
CEDAR: Several species of cedar grow in the
southern United States, Central and South America.
Properties & Uses: Cedar is a knotty softwood
which has a red-brown color with light streaks. Its aromatic and moth
repellent qualities have made it a popular wood for lining drawers, chests
and boxes. Simple cases and storage closets are also constructed from this
light, brittle wood.
REDWOOD: Indigenous to the Pacific United
States, redwood trees grow to more than 300 feet tall and 2,500 years old.
Properties & Uses: The best quality redwood
comes from the heartwood which is resistant to deterioration due to
sunlight, moisture and insects. It is used to craft outdoor furniture and
decorative carvings. Redwood burls have a "cluster of eyes" figure. They are
rare and valuable.
TEAK: True teak is indigenous to Southeast
Asia, but similar wood species also grow in Africa.
Properties & Uses: Teak is a yellow to dark
brown hardwood which is extremely heavy, strong and durable. Often strongly
figured, teak may show straight grain, mottled or fiddleback figures. It
carves well, but because of its high value, is often used as a veneer.
Scandinavian modern, and oriental furniture styles are often crafted of
teak. discount furniture
AIR DRIED: Wood that is dried without the use
of artificial heat sources such as a kiln.
ALL WOOD: "All wood" furniture can be made of
wood products such as hardwood and softwood lumber, veneers, plywood,
particleboard, chip core and composition board.
ANTIQUE FINISH: A finish which gives the
appearance of age. This is normally accomplished by highlighting or
lightening areas that (in older pieces) normally show wear and by darkening
other areas to simulate age and soiling.
BURL: veneers made from trees that have knots
in them. These veneers have a decorative irregular mottled pattern.
CELLULOSE: The chemical component of wood
which is the structural portion of cell walls.
CHECK: A crack or split in wood; often the
result of drying.
CHIP CORE: A board made of chips of wood
which are held together with resin and compressed into a strong, warp
resistant pane. Particle board and press board are other names for this type
of product which is produced to meet a variety of quality specifications.
CROTCH VENEER: A veneer cut from the
branching point of a tree. Crotch veneers can be cut, assorted and matched
to produce varied patterns.
DISTRESSING: Wood that is purposely marred to
give a rustic look or the appearance of great age.
ENGRAVING: A process whereby a patterned or
wood grained effect is printed on top of a panel.
FACE VENEER: The top veneer layer that is
seen in the finished product.
FIDDLEBACK FIGURE: A wood pattern in woods
with a wavy grain
FIGURE: The characteristic markings or
pattern seen in wood solids or veneers. Figure can result from uneven color,
growth rings, vascular rays and variations in grain.
GROWTH RINGS: The rings seen in a cross
section of a trees' trunk. The rings are formed in both hardwoods and
softwoods by the relative rate of disposition of wood in the trunk.
HARDWOOD: Wood derived from angiosperms
(broad leafed trees such as oak, beech, maple, mahogany and walnut). Some
hardwoods are actually softer than woods categorized as softwoods.
INLAY: Wood or other materials which are set
into corresponding carved out recesses, often producing a pattern.
KILN DRIED: Kiln drying reduces the moisture
content of the lumber, a process
which inhibits checking, splitting, and
strengthens the finished product.
LAMINATED: Layers of wood that are glued or
fastened together. Strictly speaking, plywood is made from laminated
the term is usually used to describe
furniture components made from relatively thick plies of wood which are
glued together with the grain of each piece facing in the same direction.
PARQUET: Joinery or inlay which has geometric
or other patterns usually made from different colored woods.
PLYWOOD: A structural wood material composed
of thin sheets of wood veneer (plies) which are glued together. Adjacent
layers are usually placed with the grains at right angles - giving plywood
exceptional strength and resistance to warping. Some plywood is made by
laminating equal numbers of veneer sheets on top of a thicker lumber core.
RAY: The radial, medullary or pith rays run
outward from the center of the tree, across growth rings. They function in
the living tree as horizontal food conduits and storage vessels. In some
woods, like the Oak they are very pronounced in the wood, giving it an open
RIBBON FIGURE: Also striped figure; is common
in tropical timbers, being caused by grain fibers that spiral in opposite
directions in adjacent growth layers. discount furniture
ROTARY CUT: A veneering process where veneer
is peeled with a stationary knife from a rotating log in a single continuous
sheet (in paper towel fashion).
RUBBED FINISH: A finish which is rubbed with
an abrasive and lubricant to produce a smooth, level surface that is free
from lint and dirt specks, and has a reduced sheen.
SAPWOOD: The outer, living portion of a
tree's wood. In many species the sapwood is lighter in color than the
SAWED VENEER: veneer cut by sawing lumber, a
somewhat wasteful process usually reserved for cutting thicker than normal
SEASONING: The process of removing moisture
from wood through air or kiln drying.
SLICED VENEER: Veneer cut from a log or
flitch by moving it against a stationary knife.
SOFTWOODS: Woods from a conifer or gymnosperm
(cone bearing tree with needle-like leaves) such as Pine, Spruce and fir.
SOLID WOOD: This term indicates that the
exposed parts of the furniture so marked, is made of hardwood or softwood
SOLIDS & VENEERS: Furniture labeled "solids
and veneers" can be made of hardwoods and softwoods, veneers, reconstituted
wood products (particleboard, composition board, chip core), plywood, and
materials such as artificial laminates.
VENEER: A thin decorative layer of wood which
is applied to underlying wood solids or particle board. Veneers are used to
match and balance grain, create inlay and banded effects. discount furniture
WARP: Once straight wood that has become bent