Choosing wood for your furniture
Buying a custom-made piece of large furniture for your home is a unique experience. Gone are the rows and shelves of identical, mass-produced plywood and veneer tables, thin, flat nylon cushion and plastic trim. In their place are rich, solid woods with unique grains and enriched with custom finishes; sturdy, well-built furniture that will last a lifetime and be worth every extra penny you spent on it.
But how do you go about choosing the right wood for your piece of furniture? Which ones will work for your dining room and how well will they last?
The hard and the soft
It’s tempting to say, only use hardwoods for furniture, but the term hardwood can be slightly misleading. Softwood all comes from coniferous trees and anyone who’s ever had furniture made out of pine, for example, will know that the wood is perfectly adequate to the job. At the same time, balsa is technically a hardwood, going by this definition, but you wouldn’t make your dining table out of it!
When you’re talking furniture manufacture, however, hardwoods are literally hard wood – denser, more difficult to work, but much longer-lasting. They’re also more resistant to damage, like scratches and dents which, again, anyone with that pine piece of furniture can tell you, it’s not that hard to make a noticeable mark in it.
They’re also more heat resistant, which means – although we strongly recommend you don’t do this – if a hot cooking pot sits on it briefly, it won’t get quite as badly or noticeably burned. This will, however damage the stain or varnish and the wood, so don’t do it!
At Amish Tables, all the woods we use are hardwoods, both by the technical definition and by the furniture manufacture definition, so the one thing you can be assured of is that the quality of the wood is going to be excellent. So which one should you choose?
Because all the woods are strong and long-lasting, selecting a wood for quality is really difficult. You’re getting quality whichever one you choose. Therefore, a good place to start is the way the wood looks. Each wood has its own, recognizable grain and coloring, which you can see in example here.
Do you prefer a tight, linear, highly visible grain? Maybe Red Oak is the one for you. Prefer a lighter color? What about White Oak?
Maybe you prefer a swirling, looser grain with a few visible knots. Then you could choose Cherry with its deeper, more golden color, or Hard maple with its pale beauty.
How it ages
All wood matures over time and knowing what your table will look like in ten, twenty or fifty years may make a difference in what you choose. Cherry, for example, darkens as it is exposed to light, and that darkening happens quite fast. By the time your Cherry wood table is three or four years old, it’s going to be a medium brown color, which can be enhanced by the type of stain or finish you choose.
Oak, on the other hand, retains its color very well. It will become slightly more golden over the years, whether you choose red or white oak. Traditionally, Oak is given a clear varnish finish, to allow its natural beauty to glow through.
One of the most important factors to consider when buying a dining table is the room this table will live in. The table needs to suit, complement and enhance its surroundings, encouraging a pleasant, familial atmosphere.
For example, if your dining room doesn’t get a lot of natural light, or the walks are a darker color, you could brighten the room with a lighter wood like White Oak or Maple. By contrast, if the room is already filled with light, a darker, richer color will stand out, showing off its grain and heart.
Take your time when choosing the wood for your Amish Table, because this piece of furniture is going to be with you a long time. Research the woods and find out which ones will darken and which will stay much as they are. And remember, if you love a particular grain, but the color doesn’t quite work, they can be stained.
- Amanda Griman