How to buy quality wooden furniture without breaking the bank?

Aug 17, 2021

Think of that hand-me-down Furniture that we repainted and reupholstered for its sentimental value, what a satisfying feeling that is.

If only all furniture can last that long.

Well... High-quality wooden furniture can last a lifetime.

That said, QUALITY is the keyword here, so how does one judge whether a piece is likely to last two years or twenty?

The good news - it's not difficult to judge quality in wood furniture, and you certainly don't need to be an expert to do it.

Here's how.


1. You get what you pay for

In the furniture world, price is usually a good indicator of the quality of the furniture you're looking at. 

Yes, cheap furniture could serve you well in terms of look and functionality, but more often than not, they fall apart within a year or two. The cost of replacement can quickly add up over the years. 

Not to mention how we're only creating more junk for landfill. "furniture as fast fashion. Use and discard." - Colleen Hawkes, stuff.

Rule of thumb - if the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.

make it rain gif - buying furniture


2. Do a small stress test 

Ideally, you'd want a reasonably scratch-resistant wood, especially on exposed surfaces. 

You can stress test this quickly enough by attempting to draw a thin line with your fingernail across the wood.

If it makes a visible dent, then you know it probably won't stand up to much use. (Don't go overboard with this though, try and be reasonable)


3. Avoid nails and glue

Look for wood joined at ends and corners, not glued or nailed in.

Dovetail joints are one of the oldest ways of putting furniture together. (for a good reason!)

They make for the most robust and most visually appealing joints.

Telltale signs of low-quality furniture are screws that stick out, seams that aren't finished, and non-visible areas (usually underneath the furniture) are messily done.

image showing where dovetail joint is on a drawer


4. Know your wood types

Personally, I used to think hardwoods were hard, and softwoods were soft. Silly me! I know better now.

Basically, softwood and hardwood are distinguished by the way they reproduce.


Hardwood comes from deciduous trees. These trees typically grow slower than softwoods. So they tend to be denser, making them more suitable for furniture as they can take the abuse of daily use.

Examples of popular hardwoods used for furniture are oak, maple, cherry, and hickory.


On the other hand, softwood comes from coniferous trees. These trees grow reasonably quickly, and as a result, they're lighter, less dense, and easier to cut. Making them more economical (cheaper) than hardwoods.

Examples of popular softwood include pine, redwood, douglas fir, and cypresses.


5. The wobble test

Ever used a chair or desk that wobbles around?

You can do the wobble test by putting pressure on various parts of the furniture (chairs, tables, cabinets, TV unit etc.) to check whether it rocks or wobbles.

If it does, it has low balance and fitting, which is a sign of poor craftsmanship.

Time to move on.

unstable furniture shaking

6. Check the weight

Heavier furniture usually has a better quality of wood than lighter, cheaper furniture. That said, furniture made with New Zealand pine is often quite sturdy even with it's lighter weight.

As long as the furniture's craftsmanship is on point, you can decide if the weight is an essential factor to consider.


7. Take it for a test drive

Whichever furniture you're looking to buy, whether it's a dining table, chair, or entertainment unit - give it a test drive.

Sit on it, bounce on it, test out all the uses. This will give you a good indication of how robust the piece is by using it as you would at home (reasonably of course).


8. Fire resistant

The timber you choose should be reasonably resistant to fire. Denser woods possess a higher capability to resist fire due to their natural insulation.

Therefore, hardwood furniture should be your preference for selecting kitchen furniture - think oak, maple, cherry or hickory.

Avoid having softwood furniture in the kitchen as it has low resistance to fire.


9. Termite resistant

High-quality hardwood and softwood are naturally termite resistant, but they can be quite expensive.

If you're shopping with a lower budget, see that the wooden furniture is polished, lacquered or coated to keep the termite attack at bay.


10. Check drawers and cabinets

Always check the drawers and cabinets. Make sure that they pull all the way out, latches on properly and close evenly. Try opening and closing the cabinet doors. Check the handles and knobs. They should always fit tightly and not jiggle or turn.


11. Porous vs non-porous wood

Why is this important you may ask? Well, non-porous materials stand up better to cleaning vs porous materials.

So while you can easily wipe the grime off a granite counter, it's a different story when it comes to a porous surface.

This is an important aspect you may want to consider when considering installing new furniture in your kitchen.


12. Consider your own living situation

Buying a chair for an elderly person? Don't buy an oak chair, they won't be able to lift or move it. Opt for an NZ pine chair instead which is much lighter.

Have kids or pets at home? Worried your furniture will get destroyed? Opt for a wooden table with a higher density, hardwood is a solid choice in this situation. Instead of purchasing chairs with upholstery, consider getting full hardwood seats with replaceable seat pads for your own comfort.

Have wooden floors at home? Worried about sliding furniture that can scratch your wooden floor every time you sit down? Purchase felt pads, velcro or area rugs to counter the issue.

Everyone's situation is different, so make sure you consider your own situation before making a purchase.


Wrapping up

Congratulations! You are now well equipped to find the perfect wooden furniture that will last a lifetime, and save time and cash while you're at it.

We hope this article brought you some value and if you ever need more advice, don't hesitate to get in touch with us through our contact form below.

Or feel free to post your question on our Facebook community page, we strive to help our customers make the best choice when it comes to furniture shopping and furniture care.


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