You can’t beat the quality of solid wood furniture. Why is solid American wood unbeatable as a raw material for handmade American furniture? Perhaps because if its endurance. Perhaps because of the way it is easily cut, carved and formed into virtually any item of furniture. Perhaps also because of its sheer beauty and glow when fashioned and finished by masters of their craft.
There are many types of furniture on sale in American furniture stores. You can purchase modern tubular steel pieces or the molded plywood furniture designed and constructed by George and Ray Eames in the 1940s. Plastic and fiberglass furniture came in the 1950s and 60s. Much of that original stuff is worth a fortune now.
The Transience of New Materials
None of these new materials has lasted been proved a good alternative to wood. They offered artists and designers an opportunity to move away from wood for high quality furniture. Many designs were popular in their day, but did they ever take the place of solid wood furniture? Never!
With the development of corrosion-proof metals and new plastics, wood became no longer a cool material to use for the modern furniture of the day. For most of history, wood and stone have been the construction materials of choice – for homes and the furniture used in them. Stone was popular in the old civilizations, or perhaps we only think so because all wooden furniture is long gone.
Latterly, metal was rarely used in construction other than as reinforcement. However, it all changed with the development of tubular aluminum and steel, pressed plywood and plastics. Each of these had its day, being used extensively by the artists of their time. However, they were no more than transient, fading into insignificance as wood remained supreme.
The Allure of Solid Wood Furniture
Wood has a warmth to it that you can feel. There is no substitute for the feel of the grain and warmth of genuine wood – even if that is only a thin veneer of walnut over white oak, plywood or particleboard. There is something about the look of wood furniture that no synthetic material can match.
When you feel its weight, solid wood lets you know that you have a substantial and enduring item of home furniture. Nothing looks the same as a waxed pine table top, or a table that has been lovingly French polished to a high, deep shine. No synthetic or metallic material can offer you the same brilliance and high quality appearance than properly finished and polished wood.
The Strength of Wooden Furniture
A major difference between solid wood and plywood or particleboard is that of endurance and strength. It is not possible to fashion traditional joints using anything other than real wood. You cannot cut mortise and tenon or dovetail joints using particleboard or plywood. Such materials must be joined together using glue, screws, plugs and plastic or metal jointing blocks.
The traditional carpentry joints using in solid wood furniture are crafted to use the strength of the wood and design of the joint itself for its strength. A pinned tenon or a properly crafted dovetail joint needs no glue, nails or screws to make it secure. Unlike plywood or particleboard, solid wood joints do not separate their layers or disintegrate when they become wet. They remain strong, and expand and contract along with the parts they bind together in extremes of heat and cold.
Metal, Cane and Other Furniture Materials
Sure, a table made from stainless steel or even painted iron or aluminum will be strong. But none of these has the same look, and wood does not rust or oxidize as metals do. Stainless steel is an exception, in that it retains its brightness. However, while there is a place for stainless steel furniture, few would want to furnish an entire dining room or sitting room using it.
Metals, cane or rattan, and plastics have their place, particularly for outdoor and patio furniture. However, none of these has the look of high quality solid wood furniture. For accent pieces, yes, metals and even ceramics and glass can look great. A smoked glass top on a coffee table can be very attractive in the correct setting, but for a main dining table you cannot beat solid wood.
The allure of wood has been recognized by mankind ever since they found a more comfortable alternative to sitting on the rocks in their caves. Wood became the material of choice due its availability and easy working. Even when the new metals and plastics became viable alternatives, solid wood furniture has been regarded as a symbol of quality. It looks good, feels good, endures and is easy to fashion into furniture suitable for any room in your home.