6 Tips To Buying Quality Wood Furniture From Beds to Desks

At some point in your life, you will need to buy furniture. Whether if you are moving into your first home, or if you are a flourishing family of four upgrading to a larger home, you will need furniture. According to GlobeNewswire, the global furniture market will be $850.38 billion by 2025. You may be wondering, why so much? This is because of the popularity of big box stores that sell furniture made of poor materials. While the large figure is great for furniture companies, it’s not great for those purchasing the furniture. At Unruh Furniture, we believe quality, wood furniture is the best way to go.

Buying quality, wood furniture helps prevent buying new furniture due to it breaking or wearing down. Unfortunately, choosing high-quality furniture is more difficult due to limited time, aggressive salespeople, and infinite choices. So, here are six tips that will help you maximize your shopping experiences and help you choose high-quality pieces that will hopefully last a lifetime.

1. Know Your Materials

To choose the best furniture piece for you, it’s best to know the difference between furniture materials. Wood is the best material if you are looking for a long-term piece of furniture. But, there are many materials furniture companies use. But, most furniture falls under one of three categories: hardwood, veneer, or particleboard.

Hardwood

Hardwood is a trademark of high-quality furniture, as mentioned above. Though it is typically more expensive than other types of furniture, hardwood pieces are very durable and you can hand down for generations. So, you won’t have to spend your hard-earned money on furniture every few years. Buying furniture made of wood means no two pieces are alike and it will be uniquely yours. Additionally, hardwood pieces, should they show signs of wear, can be restored. Or, you can restain the piece to fit your changing decorative tastes.

Veneer

This material looks a lot like hardwood furniture. However, it’s actually a mix of chemical-rich fiberboard, particleboard, and glue with several thin layers of better-quality wood. While veneers are lighter in weight and cheaper than hardwood, they are also more likely to experience dents, scratches, and peeling that cannot be easily repaired. Retailers and manufactures won’t directly mislead consumers into thinking that veneers are hardwood. Instead, their product descriptions include terms like “mid-century” and “rustic” and “offer a selection of wood finishes.” So, if you are trying to only purchase high-quality, wood furniture, be sure to make sure it’s not a veneer material.

Particleboard

Particleboard and composite wood pieces are the cheapest furniture material. It’s basically a mix of sawdust and glue. It’s the hallmark of low quality, mass-produced furniture. Within two years, it will likely be among the 9.8 billion tons of furniture waste in our landfills. Both veneer and particleboard furniture can be sold fully assembled through major retailers. Additionally, both are used in the DIY set-up “wood furniture” that we dump out of boxes onto our living room floors. We have all been there, where you spend hours putting together a piece of furniture following complicated instructions.

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Brookside Coffee Table
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The Luongo’s Brookside Coffee Table.

2. Examine the Finish

A key sign that a piece of furniture might not be worth your money is the quality of its finish. Unfortunately, most of us don’t realize that the finish is poorly done until it begins to bubble, swell, or crack from everyday use. However, if you are able to fully observe a product before purchase, take the advice of our master finisher. He says that the finish should cover the entirety of the piece and be smooth to the touch. It should never feel bumpy or like gravel.

At Unruh, we know that every piece of wood furniture, whether it’s new or old, needs a high-quality finish. Each of our pieces gets three coats of clear water-based polyurethane. This is to ensure our pieces will last for a lifetime.

3. Check the Joints

A quality wood furniture company does not glue, nail, or staple pieces together. Quality furniture is held together by dowels (wooden pegs slotted into two opposing holes), dovetails (interlocking teeth), mortise and tenon (the narrow end of one piece inserted into a hole in the other), or screws. Hardwood furniture can expand and contract based on the seasons and climate. So, Unruh Furniture uses Z-clips to fasten our hardwood tabletops to account for those changes. This method also prevents the piece from cracking during dry months and blowing its sutures during the humid ones.

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Lake House Platform Bed
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4. Test Out Wood Furniture

You wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive. You shouldn’t buy furniture without making sure it’s functional. Open the doors of a sideboard to make sure they stay open. Pull out the drawers of the desk to make certain the slides run smoothly. Test your height and weight on the bed-frame and your comfort in the chairs. Gently swing the cabinets of the hutch. Jiggle the knobs. Make sure your investment latches properly, shuts completely, and sits evenly.

This will be nearly impossible to do if the furniture is in a box and you have to build it yourself. Still, if you’ve ever worked in retail, you know the likelihood of returns. Therefore, examine the box itself for defects. Chances are, if the box is damaged, so is the product inside. This is of utmost importance since most mega-retailers only give you three days to a year from the date of purchase to return an item. However, you won’t receive a replacement or refund if you assembled the product incorrectly or cleaned it with “the wrong cleaning chemicals.” If the damage is deemed incidental, the result of normal wear and tear, or if the item is not in a resalable condition, all you can do is write a negative review.

5. Buy Close to Home

It’s best to buy furniture close to where it is designed and manufactured. Just like you’re taught to be skeptical of “fresh” shellfish in North Dakota, you should also know that the farther a piece of furniture has to travel, the more likely its structure will get demeaned by the time it reaches your home. Buying wood furniture from the United States also ensures the highest quality control. Additionally, it means that the piece is likely sourced from renewable materials—not synthetically pressed in some far-away factory

According to the EPA, pressed woods like particleboard, medium-density fiberboard (MDF), and plywood all have the potential to emit formaldehyde which they consider a “probable human carcinogen.” Likewise, the International Agency for Research on Cancer considers formaldehyde a “known human carcinogen.” Cheap furniture is likely to emit higher levels of gas. Additionally, formaldehyde can cause short-term health effects like watery eyes and respiratory irritation. So, be sure to pay attention to these factors when buying furniture. Again, solid wood is the best way to go.

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Holton Desk
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Holton Desk
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Our Holton Desk and Coleman Bookcase in the Henson’s office.

6. Go For Handmade

Buying close to home is good. Buying handcrafted furniture from local expert craftspeople is even better. If they are honest, industry experts will let you know the maximum life of particleboard furniture is five years. That’s if it’s never exposed to moisture, and you disassemble it each time you move it. But if you intend on actually using it, that lifespan shrinks by half.

And though hardwood veneer has double the lifespan, it still has a particleboard core which means formaldehyde emissions. Think of the veneer as a top coat of nail polish. It’s pretty and protective for a time, but any damage means another trip to the nail salon.

The Advantage of Wood Furniture

The advantage of handcrafted wood furniture is that it is often made with more attention to detail, and is less susceptible to being destroyed by everyday use. Additionally, handcrafted furniture gives you the opportunity to provide design input. Unlike the one-size-fits-all method of megastores, craft furniture shops can build pieces to the precise specifications of your needs and available space. Additionally, retail giants use their lack of product flexibility on warranty agreements and protect themselves from the liability of any damage they may cause to your purchase or home during delivery.

Though you won’t be able to “walk out of the store with it” and may have to wait a few months before production is complete, buying locally and handmade ensures a higher quality piece. Buying close to home also gives you the opportunity to build an actual relationship with your vendor, to check and double-check your available space, and receive immediate customer service if your product fails.

Where the Fortune 500 furniture companies only offer limited time warranties that don’t cover consequential or incidental damages (even if they caused it), Unruh Furniture has a lifetime warranty for all its wood furniture and proudly honors it. We understand that buying quality furniture is a big decision. Not only is it a serious financial investment, but it is also a major investment of time. We don’t want you to waste either. Whether you choose to buy handmade or wholesale, from Unruh or your area furniture mart, we believe that you deserve high-quality wood furniture. Hopefully, these tips help you make your best decision.

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I started Unruh Furniture in my garage in 2012 when my wife was pregnant with our first. Today I have 4 kids, 20 employees, and plenty of fires to put out every day. It's a great life and I am a happy man.

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