Know Your Wood Furniture Products

Here are some definitions of terms, from the Unfinished Furniture Association, to help you learn about and shop for wood furniture. Trees are classified as hardwood or softwood, though the terms have little to do with the density and feel of the wood.

Hardwood – From deciduous trees, which have leaves and lose those leaves each fall. Includes most woods used for unfinished furniture, such as oak, maple and birch. Softwood – From conifers, which produce cones and commonly have needles rather than leaves. Pine is the only softwood commonly used to make unfinished furniture.
Solid wood – All exposed parts of the furniture are made from solid boards of lumber, with no veneers added.
Plywood – Thin layers of solid wood glued together.
Particle board – Chips and particles of wood glued together and pressed into sheets. Veneers glued to the top. Its hardness and strength are determined by how tightly the manufacturer forces the particles together.
All wood – this term in the furniture industry means that all parts of the product are made of wood. That can include solid wood, plywood and particle board, but it does not include non-wood veneers.
Veneer – A thin layer of wood or artificial product such as vinyl or plastic attached to the surface of particle board and sometimes plywood to recreate the look of wood grain. Most veneers are produced by a photographic process, according to Tom Karkos of the Unfinished Furniture Association. “You can’t put stain or varnish on a print,” he explained. Particle board covered by a veneer is much less expensive than solid wood. Manufacturers of finished furniture frequently use veneer-covered particle board for sides and backs of furniture.