Home Furniture Construction: Signs of Furniture Craftsmanship

Home furniture construction is every bit as important as its looks – perhaps even more so. Most home furniture manufacturers offer much the same type of furniture, with not a great deal of intrinsic difference between their overall design and appearance. It is how furniture is made that matters, because you want it to be comfortable, hard wearing and last a long time.

The standard of furniture craftsmanship employed is very important, whether you are purchasing a table, cabinet or sofa. Here is what to look for in your own home furniture before you part with a single cent:

The Construction

You can always tell how well a furniture manufacturer builds it furniture by checking a drawer. Just one drawer is all it takes to make a fairly accurate judgment. Remove the drawer and check the joints. There should be dovetail joints all round, signifying strength and durability. The front joint should be hidden dovetails, so they don’t show on the outside face.

Inspect the outside and inside of each drawer to make sure everything has been properly smoothed down, and its contents are unlikely to be snagged. The sign of good furniture craftsmanship is that even the outside surfaces of the drawers, including the bottom, have been properly smoothed and finished. They should also open smoothly, preferably with a central drawer guide rail to prevent any lateral movement.

Rails and framework should be fitted using proper carpentry joints: cross rails using dovetails or pinned mortise and tenon joints. Mortise and tenons should be used on the main frame of chests, cabinets and armoires. The wood finish should be added in steps. This should begin with a preservation coat and then the staining and finishing coats added.

Back panels should not be stapled – these frequently loosen, and the furniture could be weakened. In fact, if the correct jointing techniques have been employed in home furniture construction, the back panels should not be needed for strength – the frame should be strong enough itself. Nevertheless, panels should be attached using screws and corner blocks. An important aspect of taller furniture is that it has been tested for stability. You don’t want a tall chest tipping over when you pull out a filled top drawer.

Furniture Craftsmanship in Upholstered Furniture

Here again the strength of the frame is all-important. You sometimes find upholstered home furniture construction given less attention than that of cabinetry because it is not so visible. However, the frame should at least be constructed from a properly jointed hardwood frame, and not just from plywood panels nailed together as you sometimes find. A well-built frame provides a solid base for the springing and other upholstery, and your chairs and sofas will last a long longer because of it.

The base of the seat should first be correctly webbed and then sprung using steel springs of the right size for the depth of the seat. The springs should be properly secured to a solid wood frame and tied together so that the seat is comfortable to sit on. They should then be covered with canvas or synthetic burlap, and then stuffed using a suitable natural or synthetic stuffing material before adding a final cotton batting that acts as a base for the cover.

The External Covering Fabric

The cover fabric should be hardwearing, meeting industry standards for upholstery fabrics and also meet any fire-resistance regulations applicable. The cover should be properly tacked to the frame, although it is common these days simply to use a staple gun. The cushions should be filled comfortably, some preferring a coil sprung filling wrapped in a layer of foam or batting. Whichever type is used, the internal fiber should be effectively secured and distributed evenly.

Finally check the overall appearance of the furniture. If your upholstered furniture has been manufactured using proper standards of home furniture construction, it should look good, feel completely stable and also be comfortable to sit on. The covers and cushions should fit correctly, and be neatly sewn, and the seat should offer support at the front edge and not sag.

Home furniture construction is very important, and without being sure that proper standards of good furniture workmanship have been employed in its manufacture, you should not expect it to last. While furniture hand-crafted from solid wood and the best materials can be expensive, you should assess that against the cost of replacing poorly made furniture that fails to last.