Real Wood Furniture Tips

How to Tell If Furniture Is Real Wood: Ultimate Resource

Whether you are looking to purchase a new piece of furniture from an estate sale or simply seeking to learn more about the furniture you own, identifying the differences between real and artificial wood can present quite a challenge! With improvements being made to artificial wood furniture, you must use a keen eye to spot the differences between these very different types of home furnishings.

How can you tell if furniture is real wood? There are several ways to identify real wood furniture. The truest test, however, is how heavy the piece is. Real wood furniture always weighs more than lookalikes. Other telltale signs include the wood grain, construction, use of ornate details, and cost of the piece.

Learning to spot a piece of furniture made from real wood will prevent you from investing too much in a piece that is simply a lookalike. There are, however, instances where a piece of furniture made from an artificial wood may be a better choice for your situation. In this article, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both real and artificial wood furniture.

Identifying Real Wood Furniture

Identifying Real Wood FurnitureThere was a time when all furniture was made using real, solid wood. However, as furniture became more of a design statement, artificial substitutes became popular. While artificial wood furniture can serve a purpose, real wood furniture stands the test of time. 

It is important to know how to properly identify a piece of real wood furniture. Unfortunately, many retailers today will try to market pieces as solid wood when they are far from it. Failing to recognize this will cause you to invest in an inferior piece that is not worth the higher price tag. Here are a few of the most fail-proof ways to distinguish real wood furniture from an imposter.

Real Wood Furniture is Heavy

The easiest way to identify real wood furniture is by its weight. Real wood weighs significantly more than its artificial counterpart. The solid construction of a real wood piece is not only more durable but also much more sturdy.

While the heavy weight of real wood furniture can be a nuisance to individuals who move frequently, the quality of the piece is unquestionably better than alternatives.

Look at Construction Elements

Furniture that is made using real wood utilizes a variety of construction elements and details that are not necessary when making furniture using artificial material. The easiest way to identify real wood furniture is to look at the places where different pieces come together. 

Drawers, for example, often use a dovetail joint method to attach the drawer to the drawer front. This high level of detail is not necessary or replicated in artificial wood furniture.

Another structural element that will clue you into the origin of the material is looking at the sides or bottom of the piece. If a veneer was used during construction, you will likely be able to see where the sheet of veneer stops at the back of the piece.

On the bottom of a piece of furniture constructed using real wood, you will often find unfinished wood. If a laminate is used, the piece is usually finished top to bottom and you will not find an area of unfinished wood. 

One last telltale sign can be seen along the edges of the piece. Solid wood furniture will not show wood grain on the edges of the piece. Veneer, however, will likely display a horizontal grain pattern.

You can read our tips for determining if your kitchen cabinets are real wood here.

Grain Patterns

The most characteristic feature of real wood furniture is the presence of wood grain. Real wood furniture will always have a grain that varies in pattern across the piece. If the “wood grain” pattern is repeating or appears to be perfectly smooth, it is most likely a veneer. In most cases, furniture that is made from laminate will lack a grain pattern altogether.

Presence of Ornate Details

Real Wood Furniture DetailsA construction and design element that adds great value and character to real wood furniture is the presence of ornate details or designs carved into the piece. This is simply not possible when a piece of furniture is constructed using artificial wood substitutes such as veneer or laminate. If the piece you are inspected as unique, carved details, it is most certainly made of real wood. 

Real Wood Furniture is More Expensive

While it is most certainly worth the added investment, real wood furniture is simply more expensive than artificial wood pieces. This is seen as a huge disadvantage to some individuals. However, real wood furniture not only lasts longer but also retains its value far longer than artificial wood furniture.

Types of Artificial Wood Furniture

If you have inspected a piece of furniture and determined that it is not made of real wood, it is likely made from one of two common materials. Laminate and veneer are often used to closely mimic the look of real wood furniture. While these options are far less expensive, they are often rather poorly constructed. 

This type of furniture is made using an underlayment such as MDF, plywood, or OSB. These materials are not aesthetically pleasing so you must cover them using the laminate or veneer to complete the piece. Unfortunately, any type of manufactured wood is prone to absorbing moisture, causing them to expand or separate over time. 

Laminate Furniture

Laminate furniture has a rather negative reputation, often described as cheap or tacky. Some of the problems that are commonly experienced with laminate furniture include chipping of the laminate or poor construction. Laminate pieces will not last long and are usually best for short-term situations such as dorm rooms. 

The one advantage of laminate furniture is that this material resists moisture. You will not have to worry about marking the furniture with liquid or spills, a common concern with real wood furniture.

Veneer Furniture

Somewhere between laminate furniture and real wood furniture is a veneer. At first glance, a veneer piece will appear as if it is real wood. One benefit of veneer furniture is that you are able to sand, stain, or polish the piece in the same way that you would a real wood piece. 

There are limits though. Because veneer is simply a layer over the underlayment, you are limited with how much you can sand the piece before you expose the underlying material. Similarly, if you scratch the piece of furniture too deeply, you will be able to see the underlayment, with no way to repair the damage.

Advantages of Real Wood Furniture

Real, solid wood furniture has long been held as the standard of excellence by many. While there are a few drawbacks to this type of furniture, there are many advantages.

Durable Heirloom Pieces

Perhaps the most unique advantage of real wood furniture over artificial wood is its durability. A piece of solid wood furniture can easily become a family heirloom that you will pass down through generations. This longevity and durability is hard to find in other types of furniture.

Better Quality for the Price

There is no question that a piece of real wood furniture has a higher price point. However, the durability and quality of the piece are easily worth the investment. When you invest in a piece of real wood furniture, you are investing in a piece that your family could enjoy for decades to come. 

If you decide to change your home decor style, or you simply need to part with the piece, real wood furniture holds its value far better than artificial wood which does not usually have great resale potential. For these reasons alone, it is worthwhile to invest in solid wood furniture.

Often More Unique in Design

Furniture made using artificial wood substitutes is mass-produced. This leads to a lack of character and eliminates the potential for unique pieces throughout your home. Real wood furniture is often much more unique in its design and construction. You are also able to successfully refinish wood furniture!

Additionally, there are many modern woodworkers today who will create custom pieces, bringing your unique furniture dreams to life. This is one of the areas where real wood furniture easily surpasses its artificial counterparts. 

Advantages of Artificial Wood Furniture

While real wood furniture certainly has many advantages, it may not be the best decision for everyone. Luckily, there are many companies today who produce beautiful furniture made from artificial wood substitutes. Here are just a few of the advantages of investing in artificial wood furniture.

Less Expensive

Furniture made using artificial wood will always be less expensive than real wood pieces. Because of this, many young adults and families choose artificial pieces over real wood furniture. Although cheaper furniture will not last as long as real wood furniture, it will allow you to save up for high-quality pieces that you truly enjoy.

Lightweight & Easy to Move

Identifying Artificial Wood FurnitureMany times individuals who move often try to stay away from real wood furniture. There are many reasons for this. First, artificial wood furniture is far less heavy, making it much easier to move from place to place. It also is not as expensive. If it is damaged during the move, it is not as upsetting as it would be with a real wood piece. 

Real wood furniture is typically purchased fully assembled. While this provides a more sturdy construction, it also makes it harder to fit into your vehicle for moving purposes. Artificial wood furniture, on the other hand, is often easy to disassemble, making the moving process much more simple.

Great Option for Temporary Pieces

When you purchase artificial wood furniture, it is important to note that it will not last a lifetime. Most people are aware of this fact. Some individuals actually prefer this! Furniture made using artificial wood is often much less expensive, making it feasible to change your home decor style every few years. 

It is also the best option for temporary spaces such as dorm rooms, short-term apartments, or transient living situations.

Easier Care & Maintenance

Real wood furniture comes with great responsibility. It is important to take care of your investment, often causing you to worry about anything that comes in contact with your furniture. Artificial wood furniture, on the other hand, often requires little to no maintenance. With less to worry about, this is an excellent solution for individuals with pets or small children.

Things to Consider Before Purchasing Real Wood Furniture

Before you invest in your next piece of real wood furniture, there are a few things to consider. Will you need to move the piece often? If so, it is important to note that your piece will be more vulnerable to damage. 

Although real wood furniture is more durable overall, some varieties of softwood easily scratch. To minimize this possibility, you can always opt for a piece that uses a hardwood variety.

Real wood furniture is also susceptible to extreme temperatures and weather conditions. It is important to think about the region in which you live. If your piece will have regular exposure to extreme moisture, it is likely not wise to invest in real wood furniture at this time. If, however, you are able to provide a consistent environment within your home, real wood furniture will be minimally impacted by moisture or large shifts in the temperature.

It is also important to follow proper care and cleaning procedures for real wood furniture to protect your investment. 

Things to Consider Before Purchasing Fake Wood Furniture

Just like real wood furniture, there are things to consider before purchasing furniture made using artificial wood. One of the greatest disadvantages of fake wood furniture is that you have minimal ability to make repairs. Once a piece of artificial wood furniture receives damage, you will likely have to replace that piece. The only repair you may be able to do on artificial wood furniture is to tighten any screws using an electric screwdriver.

As discussed briefly above, artificial wood furniture also has a much shorter lifespan. Whether due to poor manufacturing or regular wear and tear, you will eventually have to purchase a replacement piece.

Which Type of Wood Furniture is Best for Your Home?

At the end of the day, only you know which type of furniture is best for your home. Although there are many positive aspects of real wood furniture, it is not the best option for every family. By considering the purpose of the furniture, your living environment, and lifestyle, you will be able to determine whether real wood furniture is a worthwhile investment.

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Matt McWilliams
matt@mcwilliamsmedia.com

Hi there! My name is Matt and I write for Expert Home Report. I enjoy writing about everything related to home improvement, home tips and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either spending time with my family, doing a DIY project or learning a new skill.