Discriminating consumers today often wish to know if the new or old furniture they are considering purchasing is of solid hardwood construction or a veneer. This paper provides the buyer a means of making such a determination.
The Use of Veneers.
Furniture manufacturers in the past used veneers in constructing case pieces of furniture (tables, sideboards, chests, and the like) on purpose. Veneer construction was less expensive than solid wood construction, and many solid woods absorb moisture from the humidity in the air and warp, split, and crack. Manufacturers today use veneers for the same reasons. The difference between today’s furniture and that manufactured in the first half of the 20th Century is the core over which the veneer is placed.
Older manufacturers used a hardwood core under the veneer, such as oak, gumwood, fruitwood, or poplar. A few cheaper manufacturers used plywood as a core. Today, virtually all U.S. and most foreign manufacturers use compressed particle board as the core, and many are now turning to the use of MDF — medium density fiberboard — a phrase used to denote compressed cardboard. Whether new or old, almost all mahogany, walnut, satinwood, and yew wood case pieces are veneer, and a few may be solid. Because they have a lesser degree of absorption of humidity, furniture made of oak, pine, cherry or maple are normally solid, while a few less expensive models may be veneer.
The first means of determining whether a case piece is solid or veneer is to note the cost (particularly with regard to new furniture.) If the piece is extraordinarily less expensive than comparable models by other manufacturers, odds are it is most likely a veneer. Otherwise, the following techniques can help determine the construction of the piece.*
If the piece is of solid wood construction, the flat surfaces will consist of several planks of wood butted and glued together (trees only grow so wide.) If one can make out the grain of the wood beneath the finish on the surface, you may be able to see a line between two pieces of wood butted together. If such a seam between two planks can be found, follow that line over the edge of the furniture. If the line continues over the edge, the surface is of solid wood construction (and most likely the sides are as well.
Veneer Over Hardwood.
To determine if a piece is a veneer over hardwood, it is often necessary to look at the back (unfinished) edge of the piece. In the case of a dining room table, this determination can be made by looking at the unfinished edge where leafs are inserted in the table top.
As most veneers are circular cut from a tree, they will normally (but not always) not have plank seams in the surface but rather appear as one big board. On the unfinished edge, look for the veneer seam – a line about 1/8-inch below the surface of the piece running parallel with the top. Almost all manufacturers veneered the bottom of the core as well, so there will most likely be another veneer line about 1/8-inch from the bottom running parallel with it.
A hardwood core between the veneers will appear as either a linear cut of wood grain, or the crosscut ends of wood planks butted together. Those who can recognize various types of wood grain may be able to determine what wood the manufacturer used as a core in this type of construction.
Veneer Over Particle Board.
In the case of veneer over particle board, you should again be able to see veneer lines above and below the core. This time, however, you will see no wood grain between them, but the flecks of particle board compressed together. On newer pieces of furniture it may be necessary to scrape off a light coat of primer or paint the manufacturers put over the particle board (so that you won’t see it).
Veneer Over Plywood.
Veneered plywood is the easiest to identify, as the lines of plywood sandwiched together will run parallel with the veneer lines.
*NOTE: Veneered plywood was used by many manufacturers – new and old – to make drawer facings on case pieces, particularly if the drawer face curved. Therefore, it is incorrect to assume that if the drawer facings of a piece are veneered plywood, the rest of the case piece is as well.
With these indicators, you can now tell how your current pieces are constructed as well as how prospective purchases are made.