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MaryAnne Scheuble Bio

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Casegoods/Wood Finishing 101

Posted by MaryAnne Scheuble on May 1, 2015

  One of my favorite activities is exploring antique shops not only for the unique finds, but also because of a deep appreciation for artfully-crafted furniture. I have been known to linger over a well-joined edge on a piecrust table, a more-intricate Louis XIV carved chair or a simply-designed Amish cabinet. My love of wood pieces (aka ‘casegoods’) also extends to more contemporary designs. To me, each piece of furniture is a work of art.

  Many of us have at least a rudimentary wood-working knowledge gained perhaps, from crafting a Pinewood Derby racer, taking a high school shop class, finishing a re-cycled piece of furniture, or watching the Ellen DeGeneres Furniture Design Show. We know what we like but how can we determine quality? Construction and finish are key.

  The glossary listed below provides definitions plus why each term is important. Test your wood-working knowledge by scanning the glossary, read more to understand how to make the best furniture decisions for your needs and enjoy a little science while you’re at it.

  Casegoods: general industry term for furniture items crafted of wood such as end tables, cabinets, bookcases, bedroom furniture, dining furniture.

  Chip Core: board material of wood chip particles held together with adhesive. Inexpensive interior base construction. For furniture, wood veneer is applied on sides.

  Construction: method used to build. Determines quality based on engineered design and adhesives. Low end, ready-to-assemble furniture uses lock fasteners with few stabilizing cross rails. High-end manufacturers create lasting quality with variety of adhesive types, fasteners, solid wood cross rails engineered to a solid and tight construction. Quality construction includes panels held together with glue, mechanical screw and nail fasteners.      

Cross Rails: horizontal slats. Provide stability and structural integrity to chairs, tables and cabinets.

  Finish: final steps to enhance the beauty of the wood. Finish components include: sealer to lock in wood structure, stain, glaze for color and character, topcoat (one – multiple coats) for sheen and greater protection.       

Hardwoods: deciduous trees with broad leaves; produce fruit or nut; go dormant in winter. Examples: Hickory, Pecan, Maple, Oak, Beech. More expensive woods that make for long-lasting furniture.

  HDF/MDF: (High Density Fiberboard/Medium Density Fiberboard) engineered product made from wood fibers, wax and resin, shaped via heat and pressure into panels. These panels, when used for furniture, are typically laminated with wood veneers, high-pressure laminates, vinyls, etc.

  Inlay: pieces of wood, metal, etc. set into a surface for decoration. Adds beauty and cost.

  Laminate: surface made of veneer, plastic, foil or paper which is printed with a design (often to look like wood). Laminates are bonded to composites panels – chip core, MDF, plywood. Laminates can provide easy-care, heat and stain-resistant, anti-microbial surfaces. Quality may vary.

  Moisture Content: most critical aspect affecting quality is moisture content. It doesn’t help that the cell structure of wood makes it act like a sponge! Ideal wood moisture content of furniture in the continental United States of America is between 6 to 8 percent. Over time, furniture with high moisture content will dry out resulting in splits, cracks, warping and twisting. Joints can begin to open.

  Plywood: produced by laminating multiple layers of wood sheets. Strong core material.

  Softwoods: fast-growing conifers trees have needles, not leaves. Examples: Pine, Cedar, Spruce, Redwood. Good structural lumber. Not useful for intricate designs.

  Solid Wood/All Wood: exposed parts are made of hardwoods; base underneath may be wood composite.

  Tropical Hardwoods: woods that are not native to North America. Examples: Mahogany, Rosewood, Teak. Durable when harvested properly. See Moisture Content.

  Veneer: a decorative layer of fine wood applied to the surface of casegoods. Veneers allow for intricate pattern designs and/or a more stable surface.

  Science, design and use or application should drive your decisions. MDF/HDF and other engineered products provide a solid base for laminates and practical furnishings. Affordable softwoods and more desirable hardwoods allow for greater design choices. Check for sturdy construction and a finish that enhances plus protects the wood. Decide what suits the purpose then look for furniture from reputable manufacturers. The old maxim ‘You get what you pay for!’ is never truer. And to keep it simple, I like to think of it as useful artwork.   

Many thanks to: Mike Wallace, Hekman/Howard Miller; American Hardwood Association; Jeff Jewitt, and Fine Woodworking Magazine.


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