#1- Don’t buy pieces that are made with freshly cut woods.
Wood needs time to properly cure before it can be used in furniture. It’s called seasoning the wood, and it’s essential to prevent cracking, bowing, and warping of the wood once the furniture is built. Typical seasoning time is 5 years if done naturally.
#2 – Try to stay away from cheap composites. You get what you pay for.
IKEA may provide any kind of furniture you want at a ridiculous price, but they’re also notorious for providing furniture that lasts a ridiculously short amount of time. The inexpensive particle board they use nearly crumbles under its own weight. You want to look for solid wood where possible, and if you can’t find that, try to get plywood that’s at least 9 layers thick.
#3 – Anything held together with staples or nails will eventually fall apart.
The way joints are constructed may be the single greatest determinant of quality furniture. You want to watch out for things that are held together with staples and nails cause eventually those joints will separate.
Dowels are good and screws are better than nails. But the best joints are either dovetail joints or mortise-and-tenon joints. Dovetail joints are formed by interlocking squarish teeth that are carved into the wood and are very sturdy.
Mortise-and-tenon joints are formed when the narrow end of one piece of wood is inserted into a hole in the other piece of wood. Glue is used to form both the dovetail and mortise-and-tenon joints and forms a very strong bond between the pieces.
#4 – Be wary of buying anything made with a wood veneer.
A veneer is a very thin piece of pretty looking wood that is glued to the top of another piece of wood, so that what is really a low quality mash up of shoddy material looks like a fine piece of solid wood. The biggest problem with these furniture pieces is that they are almost impossible to repair.
If you have a table with a veneer on it, and the veneer gets scratched badly, you can’t sand it down to refinish the surface. You would immediately sand through the veneer, and be left with a worn out, funky looking piece of furniture.
#5 – Avoid a lot of confusion by getting clear on the difference between hardwood and softwood.
The difference: Many people think that hardwoods are hard and that softwoods are soft. Actually, ‘hardwood’ is just a term that refers to wood from a deciduous tree, or tree that has leaves and seedlings. ‘Softwood,’ then, is wood from a coniferous tree (one that has needles and cones). Some hardwoods, like aspen, are actually softer in texture than most softwoods!
The important thing is to make sure that any surface wood is hard. You can test this by running your fingernail across the wood. If it leaves a mark then the wood is probably a little too soft. It’s likely going to scratch over time.
#6 – Don’t forget to check if furniture comes with a warranty on its craftsmanship.
The worst feeling in the world is to buy something, take it home, and have it break the day after you got it. This comes as especially bad news if the manufacturer didn’t provide you with a craftsmanship warranty.
#7 – If you are buying furniture online, don’t forget to check the shipping rates.
Furniture is large and bulky, which typically makes it expensive to ship. Check to see if the company offers free shipping or if the shipping is going to cost an arm and a leg.
#8 – Try to avoid buying furniture that is made in third world countries.
By purchasing furniture made here in the United States, you are not only preventing citizens’ jobs from being outsourced to foreign soils—you are ensuring that the workers who made your furniture are treated well. A lot of countries that produce cheap furniture don’t pay their workers a living wage, let alone provide them with benefits. What’s more, their standards of quality in their products are often extremely low, and subject to mislabeling of bad materials with good names. Furniture made in the U.S. is typically going to be of much better quality.
#9 – If you can help it, try to avoid being removed from the design process.
The real downside to getting cookie-cutter furniture (aside from the fact that it leaves your house looking like very large dorm room) is that it excludes you from any customization. If you can be a part of the design process, dialoguing with the people who design and build it before, during, and after the process of it being made, you’ll have tables, chairs, and cabinets of exceptional monetary and sentimental value. Not to mention, it’s probably going to fit your home or office much better!
#10 – Do your research! Every furniture maker has their own methods, and some are better than others.
Whether you’re concerned with the source of the wood, the shape of the legs, the hardware holding it together, or any other step that exists between raw wood and finished product, don’t forget that it is you who will be using your furniture, and so you mustn’t be afraid to find out how it’s built, and why. Try to discover as much as possible about who’s making your furniture, and the ins and outs of their operation.