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Mass-Market furniture. UGH!

Mass market chair from Thailand with finish rubbing off!

With few exceptions, furniture from mass market retailers is awful!

Maybe I’m being unfair because I make furniture – or maybe I’m just the right guy to know what is good – and what is bad – furniture.

I’ll make my case. From my experience, I see three different kinds of furniture being produced out there; one is the Sauder put-it-together-yourself stuff, typically sold at Wal-mart, K-Mart or Target. This is basically a kit made with “engineered wood” – essentially, saw dust and resin to make fake wood. It’s then covered over in a “laminate” – essentially a sticker, a wood “photograph” – to make it look like the real thing. They actually do a fairly good job replicating the real wood look. You get an instantly smooth surface with the exact amount of sheen the manufacturer desires. If you spill water on the outside of the “wood”, you can wipe it up quickly with no damage; however, if the water seeps into a “joint” – where there is no laminate, the water will damage the engineered wood e

asily, turning it to a mush fairly quickly. In fairness, water is never a friend to wood, but this stuff just goes down the tubes with moisture. They have these hidden cam and dowel fasteners that work ok, but certainly Sauderaren’t as tight as real joint with glue. Does the finished Sauder stuff look good? Yes, it’s looks OK, from a distance; but it won’t hold up for a long time to real-world use, especially drawers and tops that get a lot of use, such as kitchen tables – which interestingly, they don’t make!

The Sauder stuff isn’t all that cheap either; this mission style nightstand goes for about $150. It’s only 25″ x 18″ x 25″ – pretty small. It’s suppose to look like oak. I can tell you right now, I could replicate this nightstand, in real oak, for less than $50 in materials, and you’d have real wood, and a piece that would be solid for life. Ah, but the labor! If you produced it in a small shop that did, say ten at a time, I bet you could make them for about $200 each. However, all some people see is a price tag, and even if you put a real wood identical piece next to this put together abomination, they’d picked the latter every time. Simply, they are fooled.

Next up, we have real wood pieces made in other countries, typically China, Mexico or Vietnam. You’ll typically find this stuff in your mass market furniture retailers like Ashley Furniture (no relation – my last name is Ashley!), or other local kitchen furniture stores or general furniture stores regionally. To be fair, some of it is made in the US as well, but that doesn’t mean it’s better. What it means is slammed together parts with a cheap finish. You’ll find drawer fronts attached with staples, and a finish that will literally, rub-off. Before
I got into woodworking seriously, we bought furniture at the stores as well. Here is a picture of the finish rubbing off of a pair of bar stools. That should NEVER happen – especially, the color! The “finish” is simply colored shellac (probably), and when it rubs off, both the protective coat and the color comes off. This is cheaper to make of course, because you can both “stain” the piece and top coat it in one operation. This chair is also made with a hardwood I’m not familiar with, but is very hard, though not attractive in grain. I’m assuming it is a species from Asia. In fairness, the chair has held up well mechanically; it’s just the finish that stunk. As I recall, these chairs were about $325 each. This furniture typically won’t last either, especially heavily used items, like kitchen chairs or couchesThen we have the third category of furniture – the real stuff. This is stuff that could have been mass-made, yet was done so correctly, and was finished by hand. I’m talking about Stickley or Amish furniture, and of course, furniture made by craftsman like myself, or Kevin Rodel, who are both Mission style fans. Mission style seems to be favored by furniture makers because of it’s straight line designs, making for easier production. Mission style is also quite timeless. In this third category, you’ll find Mission Chairfurniture made of all solid wood, such as cherry, maple or oak. Also, some is made of plywood – but for the right reasons. Plywood is not just the stuff you see on the sides of houses being put up, with the ugly knots; plywood can have a fine wood veneer, such as maple or cherry. You’ll find furniture craftsman using it in such cases as table tops and shelves. Why? Because for one, you can’t get a piece of cherry, for instance, 12 inches wide – you can with cherry plywood. Another reason is movement; wood contracts and expands depending upon humidity. This can warp or crack table tops, or raise problems with joints. Plywoods are very stable due to their engineering, and move very little. They are not that much cheaper either, usually comparable in price with solid wood counterparts.With craftsman-produced furniture, you’ll get furniture that will last a lifetime, if taken care of decently. High-quality brands, such as Stickley, tend to keep their value as well, and should they need to be refinished and/or repaired, a competent craftsman can make it look like new.There is a difference between price and value; price is a one-sided component. Value is getting to most “mileage” for the amount of money you spend. You can pay $150 for the nightstand shown above, and have it last 5 years, or, spend $200 and have it last the rest of your life.Which is the better value?

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Posted by on January 24, 2012 in BlogNotes



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