It’s no fun at all, looking at your fresh remodel or custom wood furniture installment, and finding yourself hitting your own forehead with coulds, woulds, and shoulds. “I should have waited until I saw the carpet before choosing the drawers…” Ouch. “I could have asked around for a second opinion, before putting in a floor that’s too soft…” Big ouch. “If only I could start over again…I would.”
The main ingredients in a design you won’t regret are all items we’re familiar with, and the recipes that mix the right ingredients together use instructional and descriptive words, like ‘tone,’ ‘flow,’ ‘coordination,’ ‘spectrum,’ and ‘mood.’
As with following recipes for food, when you go to build, you visit the proverbial grocery store, and match prices and quality between various products, deciding (most often on the fly) which ingredients will go in your supper. The difference? Supper is gone in seconds, whereas kitchens last much longer, and who wants to face the prospect of cooking all their future meals in an unappetizing mistake?
The art of switching things up.
Some ingredients are available in less quantity than others, and so can’t be relied upon to save the scheme when things get hairy. For instance, there are several ways to texture your walls, but if your colors are selected, and somehow you can’t find a way to integrate the fantastic centerpiece you inherited from your grandma, and absolutely have to use, the difference between smooth plaster and walnut shell, and that between gloss paint and flat, won’t magically make the colors and the centerpiece (be it chandelier or table) work together.
Carpet alots more variation in style, but also adds a tremendous number of variables to the mix. Price ranges and care necessities are just a few of those variables, and they require a whole lot of extra planning, and money, too. Wood?
Well, wood’s another story.
When you open your mind to the option of unpainted hardwood, you open yourself not to one look, but to many! You open up to ash, oak, maple, elm, rosewood, cherry, mahogany, birch, cedar, lauan, and many, many more. For this week’s entry, I’ll list off a few hardwoods and their common uses, so that you know what to expect when someone tells you they’ve got a nice coffee table made of x, which may or may not be so nice, depending on what x is…either way, you’ll be better equipped!
Here they are:
If you’ve identified the grains on the surface of your furniture or exterior siding as ash, take a close look before you proclaim it solid ash. Ash is commonly used as a veneer, due to its flexibility and extremely high density. Ash was and is a popular choice for longbows, and has been adapted to provide surfacing for curved features like armrests for the same reasons.
Underneath the Ash veneers are slightly cheaper woods. Pine, which dominates the furniture world, is almost always found somewhere in chairs and tables and beds, and if it’s not on the surface, it’s likely underneath. Poplar or basswood are also likely to be found there.
One of the cheapest woods to buy is Beech. Beech isn’t much to look at, which is why it’s most often covered up or used on the bottoms of things. The nice thing about beech, though, is that it can be disguised to look like maple, mahogany, or even rosewood with a little stain. In contrast to beech are the cream-of-the-crop furniture woods, like walnut and teak. These hardwoods are both rich in color and consistency, though with very different grains.
The grains of walnut are gnarled and warped, curling around knots in a smooth, hard, beautiful way. Teak’s grains are long and straight and look almost luminescent with the right finish. Both are very dense but require dense wads of cash to be paid for…due to price and availability, these woods have also become popular for veneers. Furniture items made with solid walnut or teak are treasures, so if you have one, take care of it!
One last wood that I’d like to mention is one you don’t see much in Montana. Pecan trees, grown prominently in the American south, are so often worked into desks and tables of moderate price, that I’d challenge you to find an office supply store without some pecan for sale. Pecan’s distinct and defined grains can look cheap and boring if assembled in lots of thin planks, but the slabs are actually quite pleasing, and in conjunction with the wood’s practicality, pecan makes for one of the better all-around furniture choices.
Hopefully, with a few of these snippets of info in your pocket, you’re better prepared to go shopping. Be aware, however, that these are just the tiniest tip of the iceberg; there are loads of possibilities, and if the one you think you’ve settled on doesn’t quite live up to your dreams, look again! The right choice is out there.
Your Woodworking Expert,