Wood Education continued
No discussion of wood can go very far without discussing the word grain. There are more than fifty applications of the term grain when working with wood. Technically speaking, the term grain alone often pertains to the dominant longitudinal cells in a tree. Substituting the term grain direction adds clarity to the word and meaning. For example, you may prefer the uneven grain pattern of a Southern Yellow Pine with its prominent rings to the even-grain look of an Eastern White Pine. While you may not fully comprehend the cellular composition inside trees that causes grain but you certainly know what wood grain patterns you like and which ones you don’t.
The chart below points out some common characteristics of both types of wood:
MDF or Medium Density Fiberboard
Often used as a substitute for hardwoods in furniture, MDF or Medium Density Fiberboard is generally considered to be a lower-quality wood material. But there are many instances where MDF can be used where it’s actually stronger and more stable than a hardwood. It has a lighter density than hardwoods and many softwoods making it an excellent choice for hidden furniture parts, such as drawer-bottoms. And because of its smooth, consistent surface, MDF can be easily painted or applied with wood veneers.
Need a wood product that won’t crack or split? MDF might be your best choice because it is an engineered wood product with no natural grain. And because it can be easily worked with a saw, furniture makers often prefer to work with MDF when they need to create elaborate detail work found in decorative and ornamental furniture.
Not just the face of your wood furniture, a veneer can protect your wood and enhance durability, while at the same time allowing you to create a consistent look in your home. Applied to the surface of other wood materials, veneers are thin layers of wood that give a piece a more uniform exterior appearance, often called the face. The true definition of veneer is wood in the form of a thin layer or sheet with the grain direction of the wood parallel to the surface. Because no two trees produce the same exact grain, some of the most highly figured patterns, such as ash burl or primavera, can only be achieved when they are veneered.
A veneer can also increase the life of a piece by preventing the wood from expanding and contracting. Caused by changes in temperature, this contraction can cause solid wood to split over time. Since veneers are glued in strips of opposing grain patterns, they help stabilize the wood and prevent it from shrinking. The end result is a durable, high-quality piece that also looks great.
Veneering dates back thousands of years as evidenced by Egyptian artifacts displaying surface decorations for art objects and furniture. In post-Renaissance Europe, hand-sawn veneer was the material of choice for the most lavish furniture. It permitted intricate pictorial effects and abundant use of rare and precious woods, on both flat and curved surfaces. Early in the 20th century, veneering flourished in commercial furniture production, even in applications where solid furniture had been used. Because the adhesives then in use could not resist moisture, de-lamination was commonplace. This earned veneer products a bad name that prevailed many years. Since the development of moisture-resistant and fully waterproof adhesives, veneered products now can be routinely made with all the moisture-resisting integrity of solid wood.
Finishing and Protecting Wood Surfaces
The word “finish” in woodworking usually describes some final surface treatment that protects the wood and enhances its appearance. It is an important feature of your wood furniture. The “finish” is the protective coating that gives your furniture its unique color and shine. Applied as a paint, stain or wash, the finish also acts as a protective layer from spills, moisture and sunlight. Finishes also can protect against abrasion or indentation and prevent changes in color due to light or atmospheric pollutants. But the most important function of a finish is to impede the exchange of moisture from the environment into the wood.
If you have pets, and they like to climb on your wood chairs and tabletops, it’s a good idea to protect your finish and surface with a tablecloth, chair cover or furniture pad. Using these products will prevent pet nails from scratching, gouging and damaging your wood surface and finish.
Wood and Moisture…Achieving the perfect balance.
Too much moisture or severe dryness can be detrimental and shorten the life span of your wood furniture. Too much moisture in furniture often leads to mold, mildew and eventually rot. Severe dryness can cause your furniture to lose its luster, cause cracking and weaken joints. Achieving the perfect balance of moisture is one of the keys to keeping your wood furniture looking beautiful year after year.
Below are a few tips to help you keep too much moisture or severe dryness from damaging your furniture:
- Be careful when cleaning your wood; never allow dampness or moisture to be trapped between glass and a wood surface. Make sure your wood surfaces are completely dry before replacing a glass top.
- Avoid having wood furniture in rooms where it will be exposed to excessive moisture like bathrooms and laundry rooms.
- Keep a consistent temperature in your home. Dramatic temperature changes can affect the humidity levels causing more moisture to exist in the air.
- Keep your wood furniture from being exposed to direct sunlight for long periods of time as this will dry out the wood.
- Don’t let air within your home to get too dry. If it gets too dry, your wood furniture could crack, split, become brittle and the joints will weaken over time and compromise the integrity of your piece.
- Protect all wood surfaces from direct contact with water. Use coasters with felt or cork bottoms to eliminate water rings or halos.