Enso Coffee Table, handcrafted by TY Fine Furniture

Signs of Quality in Wood Furniture to Spot the Perfect Piece

Finding a piece that truly stands the test of time in a world of mass-produced furniture can feel quite challenging. But there are signs of quality in wood furniture that you can learn to differentiate well-crafted gems from their hastily manufactured counterparts.

In this post, you can explore the features that set quality wood furniture apart. Understanding these signs builds your confidence in choosing furniture worth investing in.

First Sign: Wood Quality

Some might argue that the first mark of quality in furniture is the construction. This is true especially if you judge a piece of furniture by craftsmanship. But to the untrained eye, this can be challenging. It may be more practical for a regular buyer to check the wood quality first.

Mass-produced pieces are often crafted from engineered wood or softwoods. They are usually the more affordable option and are often aesthetically pleasing. But they may not last for generations like high-quality solid wood furniture does.

Solid Wood vs. Engineered Wood:

Solid wood is essentially top tier in the realm of furniture materials. It’s dense and durable, with a rich patina that grows more beautiful with age. Because it’s natural, there are subtle differences in color, texture, and grain, making each furniture unique even if the design is the same.

Engineered wood, such as plywood and particle board, is made from wood fibers mixed with inorganic materials. While they can be dense to some extent, they are not as durable as natural hardwood. They are typically more affordable, but their lifespan is shorter.

Coffee table surface
The Essentials Coffee Table up-close. Natural wood does not have a uniformed pattern.


Hardwood vs. Softwood

Different wood types offer unique characteristics. Hardwoods like oak, walnut, and maple are prized for their strength and beautiful grain patterns. Softwoods like pine are a more affordable option but may dent and scratch more easily.

Veneer and Laminate

Veneer is a thin layer of real wood that is applied to a less expensive core, resulting in an aesthetically pleasing appearance. However, it is prone to peeling and damage and the core material may not be as durable as hardwood.

Laminate is the artificial version of veneer. The layer covering the softwood or particleboard core is usually made from plastic—think office furniture with white surfaces.


Second Sign: Construction Quality

The way furniture is constructed speaks volumes about its quality. Shaker furniture, for example, is built using traditional construction methods, which often involves piecing wood together, almost like a puzzle, without nails and screws.

Enso Bed Frame
The Enso Bed Frame up-close, featuring traditional joinery.


Traditional joinery like mortise and tenon withstands the test of time, which is ideal for natural solid wood. They can “expand and contract” with the moisture and temperature changes occurring in the material as it ages, keeping pieces together in a way that regular nails and screws can’t.

When checking construction quality, here are some of the things to look for:

  • Joinery Techniques: The best furniture features strong, time-tested joinery. Look for dovetail joints for drawers, where interlocking pins create a virtually unbreakable connection. Mortise and tenon joints, where a protruding piece (tenon) fits into a carved-out slot (mortise), are another sign of quality construction.
  • Drawer Material: For furniture with storage, one tell-tale sign that its high quality is that the material used for the drawer box and bottom is the same as the rest of the furniture. Sometimes, manufacturers use a different material in these areas, often cheaper and sometimes put together with staples.
  • Stability: A well-constructed piece feels sturdy and resists wobbling when pressed with weight. Uneven frames and any indication of swaying may mean the joinery is loose and the materials used are inferior.


Third Sign: Finish Quality

Applying a high-quality finish enhances the beauty of wood and protects it from damage. Natural finishes made from oil and wax bring out the wood's natural beauty with a subtle satin sheen. Lacquer and varnish provide a more protective layer but can mask the wood grain and natural color variations, especially if tinted. They can appear overly glossy as well.

Aside from the type of finish used, also check the quality of its application: Here are the hallmarks of a well-applied wood finish:

  • Smoothness: Run your hand over the surface. It should feel even and free of bumps, bubbles, or streaks.
  • Uniformity: The color and sheen should be consistent throughout the entire piece.
  • Hand-finished: While a high-quality machine applies the finish smoothly and consistently, a hand-applied finish provides a certain depth and character to the furniture. Look for subtle variations in sheen or color, which can signify the hand of a skilled craftsperson.


T.Y. Fine Furniture uses its own signature Oil and Wax Wood Finish, formulated from organic ingredients with zero VOCs. Even the beeswax is unbleached. This finish is so safe, you can apply it to cutting boards and serving boards.


Fourth Sign: Detail Quality

While material and construction are paramount, other details, even small ones, speak volumes about the quality:

  • Hardware Details: High-quality furniture typically includes well-made hardware such as hinges, knobs, and pulls. The hardware must be made of solid metal or high-quality wood that enhances the overall design. Flimsy and misaligned hardware may suggest shortcuts in production.
  • Curves: Curved parts such as the back of the chair, table legs, or headboard often indicate a higher level of craftsmanship. Curves in natural solid wood are typically achieved through steam-venting or carving. Mass-produced furniture with curved parts may be constructed using glued or laminated sections, potentially leading to splitting over time.
  • Smooth Drawers: Drawers and doors should open effortlessly. Uneven gaps, drawer faces and doors not fitting the frame, or any disturbance to ease of function are obvious red flags.


Value and Trust

High-quality solid wood furniture often belongs to a considerable price range. While price is a factor, remember, that quality furniture is an investment. Fine solid wood, traditional joinery, and meticulous finishing and detailing all contribute to a higher price tag. But they all contribute to creating a piece that lasts more than a lifetime.

Explore your local community for furniture crafted by skilled artisans who prioritize quality and traditional techniques. Reviews are helpful but trust your judgment when choosing the furniture you bring into your home. Arm yourself with the knowledge to identify true craftsmanship so that you know you're spending your money on pieces that truly last. 


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