The word ‘veneer’ can sometimes be a little misunderstood. It seems to be a common misconception that, for example, furniture with oak veneers is a poor relative to a piece of solid Oak furniture. As a customer we know that things are never as black and white as that, but how can we really tell which is the good, the bad and the ugly?
We caught up with our Product Developer, Lewis, to dispel some of the myths surrounding veneers and find out what to consider when you’re looking to invest in Oak furniture…
Is solid Oak better than veneers?
“The short answer to this question is yes and no. The long answer is that it depends on the situation and more importantly how the furniture has been made. What we can say is that a well-made piece of solid Oak furniture, created in the correct way will normally be better than a piece of furniture that has used veneers, but the difference in quality will largely be driven by who has made the furniture. In reverse a well-made piece of furniture with some veneers will always be better than a cheaply manufactured solid oak piece. To try and use a different analogy saying solid Oak furniture is better than veneered is a little like saying a car with a bigger engine is better than a car with a smaller engine. For most people this would not be the biggest factor when deciding on which car to buy”
Is there a quick way for customers to tell the difference between quality veneers and a poorly made solid Oak piece?
“Not a fool proof one, however you can normally tell a lot about the quality of a piece of furniture by looking at the top, as this tends to highlight some key differences.
There are 4 main ways to construct a top panel on a piece of cabinet furniture…
1. Use of solid planks to construct a solid top
– this is almost always the best way to construct the top as long as the timber has been well seasoned (dried out) and of course well made. This is also the most expensive way to make a top as it uses a lot of timber. The risks of using poorly seasoned timber is that as it dries out over time it is likely to split.
– It is pretty easy to tell if the piece has a solid oak top as the individual pieces of wood used to create the board will have join lines that you can follow from one side of the piece of furniture to the other.
Take a look at our Newark Sideboard for a lovely example of this.
2. Solid oak frame with a solid oak floating panel
This has become a very popular way to make furniture in the last decade as it allows the retailer to say it is 100% solid Oak throughout, but this method uses considerably less timber as the centre panel can be made out of very thin Oak.
The downside of this method of production is that the centre has to be left to float in the top frame to allow the timber to expand and contract. It therefore offers no or little structural support to the furniture and also requires significant grooves / openings to be left around the panel to allow the timber to expand and contract. These are sometimes referred to as “food grooves” coming from the common issue of food collecting in the grooves and being difficult to get out.
3. Solid Oak frame with a veneer panel
This is our preferred method of production. The costs are similar to using a floating panel, but we believe the structural benefits of having the panel attached to the piece of furniture, combined with the removal of the “food groove” makes it a stronger, more functional piece of furniture for our customer.
Take a look at our Oakland Multidrawer Coffee Table above if you want to see an example of this.
4. 100% Veneered
This is the cheapest and worst way to use veneers in furniture manufacturing. Very little Oak is used in the process and the manufacturer literally applies thin veneers of wood, or other materials, on every surface of a piece of man-made board. When used with wood veneers the result is a very unnatural looking piece of furniture with reduced structural integrity. You certainly won’t be finding any products on our site manufactured in this way!”
What are the aesthetic benefits to veneers?
“You can be much more selective with the ‘look’ of the Oak you’re using, which is great when you’re talking about the surface of a dining or coffee table for example. When you find a piece of Oak with a particularly lovely grain pattern, you can produce multiple veneers from that one beautiful piece. That isn’t always the case when using a solid piece; the look is determined by whether the whole piece of timber is usable”
So can this make it more environmentally friendly?
“The use of veneers definitely allows a piece of oak to go further, which makes it far more sustainable. If we want to protect Oak as a natural resource we need to be sensible about the way we use it. We spend a lot of time with our workshops working out the most effective ways to manufacture and get the best from the timber we source. We take our environmental responsibilities very seriously, in every aspect of our manufacturing. Using veneers is an important part of that; if we want to ensure the furniture has a quality finish and remains intact in the customer’s home long after we deliver it, then using veneers gives us a beautiful and sustainable way to do that”
Is using veneers also more cost effective?
“Well, Oak takes an incredibly long time to grow, and when cut, it takes time to ‘season’ properly (seasoning wood allows it to dry out naturally which stops it from bowing and cracking) so you can imagine how valuable and rare that piece of wood is when it’s been properly cared for. Using veneers certainly requires less oak timber, however it does take time to select the best timbers for our veneers. Creating veneered furniture to the standards we want to achieve requires our craftsmen to spend a lot more time on each piece. Therefore the overall cost savings are not a significant influence on the price of the furniture.
Our main saving comes from using solid woods other than oak, in functional areas that aren’t seen; like internal drawer runners for example. This helps to keep the cost down for our customers and also allows us to retain the use of the best quality Oak for the visible areas”
So what advice would you give someone shopping for a piece of oak furniture?
“Make an educated purchase and be aware of the differences. There are benefits to both solid and veneered pieces, so you just need to think about what’s important to you aesthetically, ethically and financially. Solid Oak is a natural, living product, which over time will see the emergence of small cracks and some size changes to the panel and frames. In a well-made piece of furniture, these changes will be minimal and can be endearing and part of what gives the piece character. If however you want something that remains consistent in look from the day you buy it and is a little less rustic, you can enjoy the best of both worlds with a quality Oak and Oak veneered piece. I’d also recommend the following checklist before you buy…
– Remember to always check the returns policy of the company you are thinking of buying from. You find the ones that genuinely have a free returns policy will make better furniture and the reverse to be true.
– Remember to read online reviews of real customers, especially the bad ones, as these will give you an idea of how the company will deal with you if you’re unhappy with your purchase.
– If you are in any doubt about any of our products, call or email our customer services team and they’ll be able to answer your queries”
Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder and it’s important to use your heart as well as your head when investing in a piece of furniture. But if you’re a conscientious shopper and you’re looking for something that’s great value, great looking, well made and environmentally responsible, you’ll find a whole bundle of stunning Oak Ranges that tick every box at The Cotswold Company.