When selecting a new piece of furniture for your home, chances are you’re going to choose something made of wood. Whether it’s a sofa, dining room table, or office desk, your furniture is going to consist of a wooden interior or exterior since wood is everyone’s favorite material—and for good reason. Wood has always played an important role in the history of human civilization. We use it for fuel, houses, paper, tools, and so much more, that sometimes we take it for granted. The demand for furniture wood continues to increase annually, but many consumers of wooden products don’t know enough about the source of their new purchase—trees.
Scientists believe there is an estimated 100,000 species of trees on earth with new species being discovered every year all over the world. So where does your new bookshelf come from? As deforestation becomes more of a problem in our developing world, many people are concerned about the trees. We may never stop needing wood, but we can be more informed about what we buy and the materials used to make it. Choosing furniture that’s right for you will ensure that it stays with you for years, so you can save some trees. Furniture Row sells many wooden products, but don’t be intimidated by the variety! Here is a guide to all furniture wood, so you can take home the piece you’ve been looking for.
Why Choose Wood?
Other building materials such as glass, plastic, and aluminum are easily outlasted by wood! Wood is naturally strong, and many furniture manufacturers take advantage of its durability when designing products. It is easy to care for and offers natural beauty that is a great addition to your living space. With a variety of types and finishes, wood furniture can complement any room design, so you don’t have to worry about mixing and matching. Wood is even gentle on the environment! Compared to plastic manufacturers, wood manufacturers have adapted reliable and improved technologies to minimize waste and energy. Many wood products also contain recycled wood too, so you can choose an item you know is eco-friendly.
Hardwood vs. Softwood: Which is Better?
While many people believe that hardwood lasts longer than softwood, this isn’t necessarily the case. The tree from which the wood originates—not its durability, determines classifying wood as hardwood or softwood. While most hardwoods do tend to be durable and hard as opposed to workable softwoods, there are many exceptions like yew trees, which produce softwood that is hard, and balsa trees, which produce hardwood that is soft. Hardwood derives from angiosperm trees that are deciduous, while softwood derives from gymnosperm trees that are coniferous.
Most hardwoods tend to have a higher density than softwoods, making them more fire-resistant and less malleable. Since deciduous trees tend to have a slower growth rate, hardwood products tend to be more expensive than softwood products, but will last longer. Although hardwood is more common, about 80% of all timber is composed of softwood since it is easier to work with; however, most furniture is made of hardwood due to its longevity and resiliency. Hardwoods are more likely to be found in high-quality furniture, but depending on the tree, a softwood product might prove to be just as long-lasting.
Veneers and Solids: What’s the Difference?
When reading a product description, you might wonder why your new bed is made of two types of wood—for example, rubberwood solids and cherry veneers. What is the difference? A veneer is typically a thin layer of hardwood that’s roughly 1/8 of an inch that is glued or bonded to another surface of wood (solid) that is below it. Sometimes a less expensive or stronger wood is underneath veneer, so that furniture manufacturers can design and build beautiful pieces at a lower cost. Veneer can be stained, painted, or grained to get the exact look you want since it is real wood and offers an extra layer of protection on your furniture. If you are purchasing a piece with cherry veneers, this means that although your new bed is made of mostly rubberwood, it will look and feel like it is made of cherry. If your furniture is only made of solids, it can still be sanded, painted, or treated however you wish, but will only be made of one type of wood.
What is MDF?
Many pieces of furniture might be listed as having a frame made of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) or plywood, but this does not mean it’s not made out of real wood! MDF features a mixture of wood solids, resin, and wax that’s bonded under a high temperature to produce a wood-like substance that is much cheaper than solid wood. MDF is generally denser than plywood, which is a wooden board consisting of two or more layers of wood veneer that are glued together. Both MDF and plywood are man-made and offer additional structural support in furniture.
Choosing Eco-Friendly Wood Products
You can be environmentally conscious when buying wooden furniture! If refurbishing the wooden furniture you already have isn’t an option, you can still lower your carbon footprint and save trees by choosing the right product. Here are some tips for choosing eco-friendly wood products:
- Look for certified wood: When buying new furniture, look for wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) that verifies that the piece was built to meet strong environmental and economical performance standards.
- Go local: Choose wood that comes from trees that grow in your area and wasn’t transported long distances. Popular trees used in furniture that grow in North America include pine, cherry, oak, birch, poplar, ash, maple, walnut, and certain species of acacia.
- Pick wisely: Many species of trees are rare or endangered such as teak and monkey pod, and others take longer to grow and cannot be easily replaced such as certain species of oak, mahogany, and cedar. Instead of choosing these woods, opt for eco-friendly alternatives such as mango wood, which you can read more about here or bamboo wood, another sustainable and hardy material.
- Buy reclaimed or recycled wood: Many softwoods such as fir and pine can be recycled, so choose a piece that turns the old into the new! Reclaimed wood also offers antique beauty, and with the perfect distressed paint finish, you can add a dash of vintage chic to your living space. Check out the Chevron Cabinet and the Del Norte Bookcase from Furniture Row for recycled wood examples.
Everyone is familiar with this evergreen tree! Pines are the most commercially important trees since they are fast-growing softwoods that can grow in large masses for timber and wood pulp that’s used to make paper. Pines are also long-living and can typically reach ages of 100-1,000 years if left untouched. Unlike other coniferous trees such as spruce trees, pine trees create durable softwood that is great for building. Pinewood is inexpensive, lightweight, and resists shrinking and swelling. It is typically yellowish or whitish with brown knots, holds paint easily, and wears well over time, making it a great material for rustic pieces. This Christmas tree is certainly capable of creating great furniture!
Did you know? The oldest tree in the world is a bristlecone pine tree in California’s White Mountains. Nicknamed Methuselah after the longest-living man from the Bible, this majestic pine is believed to be 5,000 years old, but you can’t visit it since its location is a Forest Service secret for its protection.
Most people enjoy maple trees for their vibrant changing leaves in the fall and sweet syrup, but this Canadian icon does a whole lot more. Apart from furniture, maple wood is the wood of choice for sporting equipment such as baseball bats, bowling pins, and archery bows and is also used to make paper. Dried maple wood is also used for the smoking of food, and its charcoal can be used to make whiskey. As one of the hardest woods, maple is a creamy white hardwood that sometimes has a reddish color and is great for heavy-use items such as cabinets and dressers. Maple is extremely durable. It will still gleam after years of use, and takes dark stains well to produce a rich color similar to cherry and mahogany. It also has a highly decorative rippled wood grain that is 100% unique depending on the tree. The maple is truly majestic!
Did you know? Maple wood is a tonewood, or a wood that carries sound waves well. Since maple is denser than most hardwoods, it creates a bright sound so it is used to make many musical instruments such as violins, cellos, drums, and guitar necks.
Considered as one of the better-known trees, the oak is so popular because it lives on almost every continent! With over 600 different species, the oak can live in forests in temperate or tropical climates. They are fairly large in size and require a large amount of water, so they do not grow very fast. About 78 species of oak are listed as endangered due to habitat destruction, invasive species, and fungal diseases. In addition to furniture, oak wood is used for building ships since it is so durable. It is also used in the manufacture of barrels for storing wine, whiskey, brandy, and other liquors since it adds a special aroma. Oak is a hardwood that is very grainy and comes in two varieties: red oak, which ranges from light brown to reddish with a swirling pattern, or white oak, which is yellowish with a striped grain and flecks. Oak wood is very durable and is resistant to warping. It looks best with a clear finish since it already has a distinctive look and is ideal for traditional wooden furniture such as panel beds and bookshelves.
Did you know? Oak trees produce more than 2,000 acorns every year, but only one in 10,000 acorns will grow into a tree.
The rubber tree is in high-demand, but not just for its wood! Known for producing a milky white sap called latex used to make rubber, the rubber tree is mostly native to tropical regions in Africa and Southeast Asia. After rubber trees reach about 30 years of age, they are harvested since they can no longer produce latex and their wood is used primarily for furniture. Rubberwood is not rubbery; instead it is moderately hard and stiff. It dries rather easily and can be cut to build dining chairs, tabletops, and other paneled products. It is also takes stains well, so you can find rubberwood in a variety of finishes. The natural color of rubberwood ranges from pale cream to yellowish brown and the grain pattern is mostly straight with large vessels.
Did you know? The first use of rubber traces back to 1600 BCE when the Olmecs boiled harvested latex to make a ball for a Mesoamerican ballgame that is still played by indigenous populations today.
Everybody loves this tree’s sweet red fruit! Grown only in temperate climates, the cherry tree is a favorite for its fruit, gorgeous white or pink blossoms, and beautiful wood. Around two million cherries are produced each year, and unlike most fruit trees, the cherry can continue to produce fruit for up to 100 years. Cherry wood is a hardwood with a fine, straight grain that ranges from reddish brown to blond. It can be easily shaped and polishes well. Rich in color, this wood looks best when it’s not stained and darkens with age. Cherry wood tends to be more expensive since the trees are difficult to grow and keep alive because they are susceptible to rotting. For this reason, a lot of furniture features cherry veneers since solid cherry is costly.
Did you know? The Japanese tradition “Hanami” includes viewing cherry trees while they are in bloom. People gather in parks and temples to celebrate the beauty of the blossoms.
This deciduous fast-growing tree grows in temperate climates in the northern hemisphere. Although there’s only 35 species, poplar trees vary a lot in size and color. Since they require a lot of moisture to grow, many poplar trees can be found near rivers, ponds, and swamps. In addition to furniture, poplar wood can be used to make snowboards due to its high elasticity, musical instruments such as guitars and violas, bio-fuel, paper, and is the main ingredient in plywood. Ranging from greenish brown in color with streaks of gray to a pale yellow, poplar is typically straight grained with a fine texture. It has very few knots and is usually used for more industrial and creative purposes since it is inexpensive, workable, and takes nails, screws, glue, and paint finishes well. Poplar is a hardwood but is actually on the softer side.
Did you know? The famous painting, the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, was painted on a panel made of poplar wood.
This tree is famous for its nuts, but it can also create the most intricately carved furniture! People consume 2.5 million tons of walnuts each year with California as the world’s largest exporter. Apart from furniture and its delicious snacks, these trees also produce shells that are used in the production of grit paper, glues, plastics, inks and brown dyes, and cleaning products. Walnut wood is particularly used for decorative furniture such as headboards, ornate antique-style dining tables, and mantels since it’s strong and stable and can handle carving. It is a hardwood with straight grains, and tends to be on the expensive side since it is extremely high-quality. Walnut looks best when clear-coated or oiled to bring out its rich color that ranges from chocolate brown to yellow. This majestic wood really is gorgeous!
Did you know? Walnuts are a rich source of vitamins A, E, K, and minerals such as manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron that can improve blood flow, reduce cholesterol and blood sugar, decrease inflammation, improve kidney and liver function, and heal wounds.
Known for its beautiful white bark, the birch tree looks beautiful inside and out! This deciduous fast-growing tree likes temperate climates around the world and can usually be found close to lakes and rivers. The birch is known as a pioneer species since it can grow quickly in environments destroyed by fire. Apart from furniture, the wood, bark, and sap from the birch tree can be used to make tea, soaps and shampoos, herbal medicine, syrup, sugar substitute, canoes, toys, and paper. Birch is a common, moderately expensive hardwood that looks a lot like maple wood. It is light, yellowy brown with close grains and is popular in most furniture. You definitely can’t ever go wrong with birch.
Did you know? The wood of a birch tree is highly flammable. It can catch fire even when it is wet, so it makes great firewood.
This deciduous tree grows in both cool and warm climates, and produces some gorgeous hardwood. Some ash trees are in danger of extinction however, due to the emerald ash borer, a wood-boring beetle that kills trees in North America, so it is important to make sure the ash wood in your furniture does not come from an endangered species. Woodworkers enjoy this hardwood since it is strong, bendy, and easy to work with. It is used for a number of things including firewood, smoking meat, and sporting equipment such as baseball bats, hockey sticks, and canoe paddles. Ash veneers are also popular in the manufacture of office furniture. The wood of an ash is typically very tough, course textured, and features straight grains. Ash varies in color from creamy white or gray to light and dark brown. It is moderately priced and commonly found in bent furniture pieces requiring maximum strength such as tables.
Did you know? Ash trees are commonly found in mythology and folklore that spans back thousands of years. The Vikings even worshipped it as sacred.
Seeing an acacia tree probably reminds of you of an African savannah, and you’re not wrong! This shrub or deciduous tree needs a lot of sun and loves dry habitats. Although it doesn’t grow very tall or live long, the acacia plays a vital role in the Australian and African ecosystem since its leaves are an important source of food for camels, goats, cattle, and giraffes. Since acacia wood is very strong and durable, it used in the manufacture of toys, jewelry, and tools. Tannins isolated from the tree sap are also used to tan leather and acacia flowers are also boiled down to make perfume, cosmetics, herbal medicine, and liquor. Unlike other hardwoods, acacia is very water-resistant, so it is ideal for heavy-use items that come into contact with liquids. It comes in a variety of deep browns and its attractive, natural grains look handsome with the rich color. This exotic wood is truly one-of-a-kind!
Did you know? Stinging ants live inside swollen-thorn acacias in Africa. The acacia provides shelter and nectar to the ants, and in return they protect the tree from herbivores.