Shopping for top quality hardwood furniture? We encourage customers to take their time and learn to enjoy the details that make fine wood furniture an heirloom you family will cherish for generations. This short guide tells you what to look for in your fine wood furniture, including types of hardwoods, joinery and finishes.
America's Top Hardwood Choices for Fine Furniture
The American Hardwood Information Center lists 23 different species of American hardwoods including alder, ash, aspen, basswood, beech, cottonwood, hickory, sassafras and elm. The following are time tested favorites for American made hardwood furniture.
American Black Cherry
Cherry wood is a reddish brown hardwood with a smooth, fine grain. It's perhaps the most prized furniture hardwood in America. People are often surprised to learn that natural cherry wood furniture changes colors over time-- quite a bit actually. It starts out as a light-toned wood and darkens as it is exposed to light.
These top quality hardwoods are favorites in the world of American made furniture: Cherry, Maple, Walnut and Oak.
Sugar or Hard Maple
Sugar Maple Wood (aka: hard maple) is usually light reddish brown in the center or heartwood but sometimes considerably darker (dark maple is often mistaken for cherry wood). Maple sapwood is typically white with a slight reddish-brown tinge. Maple is heavy, strong, stiff, hard, and resistant to shock. It has a fine, uniform texture with generally straight grain, but variations such as curly, wavy, rippled, birdseye, tiger, flame or fiddleback grain occur and are often selected for specialty custom artisan furniture.
Oak has been the wood of choice for many of America's most beloved mission and craftsman-style furniture makers, like Gustav Stickley, Greene and Greene and Frank Lloyd Wright. Oak is a solid, sturdy and very durable hardwood with generally uniform coarse texture and prominent rays in the grain. Oak wood may darken slightly over time, taking on more amber tones however the change is very subtle, unlike the significant color change with cherry wood.
This hardwood bed, night stand and chest set is made of black walnut wood. Black walnut is North America's only chocolate brown hardwood. It's relatively rare and typically carries a 20-40% price premium.
American Black Walnut
Black walnut wood is the only dark North American wood. It's prized by woodworkers for it's strength, grain and color which is a rich chocolate brown-- with occasional purple tones. There are over 20 species of walnut trees but it is the Eastern Black Walnut tree (aka: American Walnut) that is native to North America and is used for our American made walnut furniture.
If real top quality American hardwoods are important to you, be aware that imposters are everywhere. Much of the "maple", "walnut", "oak" and "real cherry furniture" on the market today is actually made from cheaper woods like rubberwood, poplar, alder or other fast-growing wood alternatives. They are often illegally clear-cut from the world’s rapidly disappearing rainforests, then bleached, texturized and stained to look like American hardwoods. When considering a purchase of wood furniture from large "American furniture companies" like Bassett, Broyhill, Lane, Lazy Boy, Kincaid, Ethan Allan, Thomasville, Pennsylvania House, Drexel, Heritage, American Drew and Pottery Barn-- be sure to ask what the wood species is and where it was grown. You may be surprised by the response.
If you're in the market for solid hardwood furniture, what's your favorite wood? Let us know on Facebook or in the comments section below.
Next up: Quality Hardwood Furniture Buyers Guide, Part II: all about fine furniture finishes, joinery & solid wood vs veneers.