Furniture buying guide, how to tell apart good and poor quality furniture

Having been in the furniture making business, I increasingly feel the need to explain good and poor quality furniture, so that more and more people can make an informed choice when buying furniture. My suggestion is not that everybody should purchase high quality furniture. All I am concerned about is that you are well informed of good and poor furniture so that you pay a fair price for what you are receiving in turn. Below you will find a check list to follow when shipping for furniture for your home and business.

What is the furniture made of?
Good quality wood furniture are constructed out of either solid hard wood or cabinet grade plywood. Poor quality furniture is often constructed from thin plywood, fiberboard, particle board, and press board.

Does the furniture have knots?
Good quality furniture will have very few knots even on areas that are not exposed. Knots are susceptible to cracking. This is why wood such as pine or douglas fir are less desirable in terms of quality.

How are the furniture pieces joint together?
On wood furniture a good place to tell the quality of construction would be the joints. Dovetail, mortise & tenon joints are great. Corner blocks, dowels and screws are also good. Furniture joint with staples and nails are of poor quality.

What is the finish on the furniture?
Poor quality furniture are usually oil finished or has no finish whatsoever. High quality furniture would have some type of urethane or lacquer based finish. Lacquer coat is the strongest finish available. Although, some people do prefer oil finish as some may find enjoying the natural properties of the wood more attractive than a plastic film over the wood. If it is for a business, laminate surfaces may be more appropriate than wood depending on the usage.

Does the furniture sit level with the floor?
Good quality furniture will sit even level with the floor (unless the floor is not level!). Bad quality furniture wobbles due to lack of structural durability.

Is the furniture relatively scratch resistant?
Good quality furniture piece are relatively scratch resistant. If the surface dents easily the furniture will not stand up to much use over the years.

Are drawers on metal drawer rails?
Good quality furniture drawers open and close easily on metal glide rails. They also have stops to prevent them from pulling out too far. The best drawers have bottoms that float in a groove and will not be affixed to the sides. This allows for expansion and contraction due to changes in humidity. It also provides extra strength. Lowest quality furniture will have wood on wood sliding drawers or plastic drawer rails.

Are there any joints where the sapwood is?
Sapwood nearest to the bark is comparatively weak and having a join at one of the weakest point of the wood is an indication of poor quality furniture. Unless durability is not at stake (i.e. small doors), sapwood joints are to be avoided.

I hope this check list helps you the next time you go out shopping for furniture.