10 Common Construction Terms for Wood Furniture

Hardwood, Softwood, or Engineered Wood?

High angle view of dining room table
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There are some common construction terms for wood furniture that come up again and again. What does it mean when the manufacturer says it is made of hardwood? Softwood? Engineered wood? Here is your chance to find out before you buy wood furniture next time.

All Wood Construction:

All wood construction simply means that all parts are made of wood. However, the piece of furniture may include some combination of solid wood and engineered wood.

Artificial Laminate:

An artificially laminated surface consists of plastic, foil or paper that is printed with a wood grain pattern. This is then bonded to a composite such as particleboard or medium density fiberboard.

Engineered Wood:

There are two kinds of engineered wood: plywood and particleboard, which is also called fiberboard.

When wood is engineered from slices of lumber it is called plywood. Plywood can have 3 to 5 thin slices of wood glued together under high pressure.

When chips and fibers that remain after a tree is milled into lumber are combined and glued together it is called particleboard or fiberboard. Medium density fiberboard is made by breaking down wood chips into fibers, mixing the fibers with glue, and fusing the resulting mixture under heat and pressure to produce a board.

Hardwoods:

Wood from broad-leafed trees that lose their leaves in winter, such as oak, ash, cherry, maple, walnut and poplar is known as hardwood.

Hardwood is generally considered better for furniture construction than softwood (see below) as it has strength and stability. Conversely, it can present difficulties in carving or detailing. There are many tropical hardwoods that come from tropical forests, such as mahogany, teak and ipe.

Inlay:

Inlay is a decorative technique that is used to create designs in wood by placing pieces of contrasting wood into a surface, usually at the same level, to form a design.

A design or pattern created by using this technique is also known as inlay.

KD or RTA:

This term is used for furniture that is sold unassembled or partially assembled which is known as "Knocked Down." furniture It is also called often referred to as RTA furniture which stands for “Ready to Assemble” furniture.

Kiln Dried:

Kilns are large ovens or in which wood is dried or cured through carefully controlled heat and humidity. Kiln drying removes about 93% of the moisture from wood. Wood that has been kiln dried resists warping splitting and cracking.

Softwoods:

Softwood comes from needle-bearing trees that remain green in winter, such as pine or cedar. These are fast growing trees and have a loose grain. These woods are easily carved or worked. Because the wood surface is often quite soft, they are more susceptible to damage such as marks and dents, which may not guarantee a very long life for your furniture.

Solid Wood:

Solid wood can mean that all exposed pieces of the piece are solid, but areas hidden from view may be another material. There can be one single board or plank of wood, or also several wood boards or blocks that are glued together.

Veneer:

To veneer is to apply thin sheets of better quality wood to a core, usually of less expensive material, which could be solid wood or engineered wood, for decorative effect.

The thin sheets are also known as veneer. Veneers make it possible to match grain patterns or create designs. Wood veneers should not be confused with faux veneers that are basically reproductions, and may lack the individuality and beauty of real wood veneers.