- Wood Source and Composition
When you’re beginning a bathroom or kitchen renovation, you have lots of decisions to make. Besides settling on a color scheme, design features and layout, you need to find the exact products you want for your home or property. You want sturdy cabinetry and storage solutions that look good and stand the test of time. If you’re new to wood furnishings and fixtures, we’ve compiled this guide to help you determine which wood is the best quality and how to spot the signs of superior woodwork.
Wood Source and Composition
As you evaluate a wood’s composition, look for knots and cracks. Knotty lumber is more susceptible to splitting over time. Look to see if you can locate MDF or particle board used in the construction of the cabinet. Particle board is as cheap as it gets and is typically what you see with products made in China. It is the worst possible product you can put in a bathroom. The problem with particle board is twofold. If it ever gets wet, it will swell up and immediately be ruined. But more importantly, it’s very brittle and breaks easily. Even just assembling something on your own can easily ruin it if you don’t do everything just right. So it’s just a very poor grade construction material, period.
Furniture and fixtures come in many different types of wood, including:
What is the longest-lasting wood? When it comes to furniture and fixtures solid wood is the longest-lasting, best quality of wood. Unfortunately, solid wood construction is hard to find these days because it’s costly and very time consuming to make products from. It’s much more common to find engineered wood furniture with a real wood veneer. Solid wood is lumber cut directly from the tree. As opposed to solid wood, engineered wood is a wood composite. It’s a collection of wood fibers held together with adhesive. With solid wood, you’ll find no fillers or glues – just SOLID wood.
With solid wood, the only material involved is milled straight from the tree. If it’s maple on the surface, you’ll find the same maple running through the material.
Solid wood is an excellent material for all types of furniture, including shelves and cabinetry. It won’t warp as easily as engineered wood. It’s also more affordable to repair than wood veneers because solid wood can be refinished repeatedly.
Wood is generally categorized as either softwood or hardwood. While many trees work as a source of solid wood, we at WG Wood Products make all of our products from solid pine and use solid maple for our doors.
Softwoods come from coniferous trees like pine and maple. Despite the name, some softwoods can be more rigid and durable than hardwoods.
Pine is easy to stain, so solid pine furniture matches many aesthetics. It’s also stiff, strong and impact-resistant while remaining lighter weight and easier to work with than oak. One reason we love pine for bathroom cabinets and fixtures is its ideal humidity and temperature resistance. Pine resists shrinkage and swelling, so it can withstand the conditions your bathroom demands.
All of our products have solid pine construction.
Hardwoods come from deciduous trees like maple and oak, and they’re quite popular for flooring and furniture. Maple is durable, fit for tables and furniture that see heavy use. Hard maple has a pressure rating of 1,450 pounds, making it one of the toughest woods, second only to hickory. That’s why they use hard maple on the floors of bowling alleys around the country – it’s got to be super tough to withstand the punishment of having 16 pound balls lobbed onto it time after time!
We use soft maple for cabinet doors since they need to withstand the daily wear and tear of opening and closing. Maple is also temperature- and humidity-resistant, making it excellent for kitchen and bathroom environments alike. It’s resists warping and cracking. Maple’s natural color is light and creamy with a smooth, ungrainy texture. It also takes stains easily, letting it become a warm medium or dark color according to your preferences. Maple used in cabinet doors won’t typically have knots either because the pieces used are hand selected to avoid those for a better overall appearance.
All of our cabinets use solid maple doors and we have many different styles to choose from. Our Laguna Series, Atlanta Series, Ashley Series and all of our other cabinets have solid maple doors with solid pine bodies.
Medium-Density Fiberboard (MDF)
MDF is another common type of wood material used for cabinetry and other furniture applications. Among engineered woods, MDF ranks below plywood in quality and strength. However, it does have some redeeming qualities and we use it for specific purposes. It consists of wood fiber, resin and wax. It’s typically more affordable than solid wood and remains stable. One of its best qualities is that it is extremely stable – resistant to warping and cracking, which gives it a life span almost as long. Its fine particles make for a smooth, easy-to-paint surface. MDF is commonly used for slab doors on solid wood cabinets because fitting a solid wood door of the same size (in terms of how they are made, think of a butcher block cutting board with lots of strips glued together) would warp very easily.
Our Deerfield Slab and 52nd Street Series frameless cabinets both use MDF doors with a solid wood cabinet box.
Plywood is an engineered wood most furniture makers would consider a quality substitute. It’s made of thin sheets of cross-laminated veneer, glued together using heat and pressure. While the adhesives make it relatively strong, it can’t compare to solid wood. But it works well for large areas where solid wood is not practical or desirable due to warping. If you’re buying plywood furniture, make sure it is at least 3/4″ thick.
At the bottom of the wood world is particle board. Most woodwoorkers will agree that it is a close cousin of trash. Much less durable than plywood, particleboard contains wood particles or chips. These particles are glued together and pressed under heat. Particleboards swell easily with moisture, making them unacceptable for bathrooms and other humid environments. If you’re looking for quality wood products, stay away from particle board altogether – you’ll thank me later.
Once you verify the material itself is high-quality, your next step is to look at their structure. In general, you want your wooden furniture or fixtures to feel sturdy. You want cabinet doors or drawers to sit flush against the front façade. If you jostle the piece, it shouldn’t wobble or squeak.
The specific construction features you should pay attention to will vary a bit by the type of furniture. Check for quality wood construction by looking at:
The way wood panels connect contributes to durability. Dovetail patterns, which resemble square, puzzle-like teeth, are one of the strongest joints. You’ll find dovetails most often used on high quality drawers. Mortise and tenon construction is similar, where a narrow peg coming off one piece of wood locks into place with a precisely cut hole of the same shape on the second piece of wood. Screwed together butt joints is the absolute strongest joint available, and it’s also an easy joint to build with. What makes it so strong is the steel screws! There’s not much stronger than steel. We build all of our products using screwed together butt joints to last forever. We even screw on our back panels which further strengthens the structure.
Another sturdy joint style is the reinforced corner block. These are common for quality kitchen cabinet boxes and vanities, which have integrated triangular braces in the corners to improve the strength and stability of the cabinet. Steel triangle braces are far superior to plastic ones. Typically you’ll find plastic ones stapled in place which is a very poor construction technique originated in China because it’s cheap and fast.
Wood panels can also be held together with dowels or screws such as Ready To Assemble (RTA) furniture, and both offer decent stability. The problem with those joints is that they are also most often used with particleboard – a terrible material for durability. Solid wood glue joints are also very strong. We use a glue joint whenever we can’t use something else. But most of our glue joints are also nailed as well. Avoid joints held together with staples – those will not last. The only thing we use staples for is to hold on our plastic trim surround on our frameless cabinets. The staples work extremely well holding those trims on and are extremely difficult to take off!
If you’re looking at cabinets with frames, rather than frameless cabinets, look for quality frame construction. We use the same equipment that picture framers use which results in the highest quality miter joints that can be done. Our double miter saw cuts both miters at the same time for a frame as perfect as it can be. Then we use V-nail underpinners to hold those joints together – a far superior joint than any other type of frame fastener. It’s why picture framers use it. A frame made with V-nails is extremely hard to pull apart, trust us! A quality frame will keep the cabinet square and level during installation. When installing the cabinet, the structure should be parallel with the floor and plumb along the verticals studs.
If you have frameless cabinets, the construction quality comes down to the box itself. Our frameless cabinets are solid pine boxes and use a thin plastic trim surround on the front of the box. That trim surround is there to cover the rough edges of your drywall opening. Then the door covers the whole trim surround when it’s closed. It’s a sleek and unique type of cabinet which is extremely easy to install because it secures to the studs on either side of the wall opening and does not need to have blocking placed above or below it.
The side of your furniture or cabinet facing the wall should have a high-quality back panel. The thin sheet of wood along the back offers structural security and protection from dust. Look for back panels attached with screws, which provide lateral stability. All of our painted products use 1/8″ masonite for our back panels because it is extremely stable, easy to cut and screw in place, and doesn’t add a lot of thickness on the back of the cabinet. While we could use 1/4″ birch plywood (and we do for stained finish products), it does not paint nearly as nice as the super smooth masonite.
Another way to separate the high-quality wood products from the cheap alternatives is by doing your due diligence during research. Your manufacturer’s reputation is a good indication of the quality you’ll receive. Consider a manufacturer’s:
- Country of origin: As you evaluate a potential supplier, look at where the company is based. American-made furniture tends to be of high quality, thanks to the country’s high manufacturing standards. At WG Wood Products, we make all our products at our one and only production facility in sunny Sarasota, Florida.
- Years in the business: Another sign of a quality manufacturer is the years of experience. Check the manufacturer’s “about us” page to learn about the company’s history and founding date. Look to see if the company has grown steadily since. They should have served many satisfied customers in that time. We’ve been in business since 2002 and have fulfilled more than 1.5 million orders.
- Customer reviews: The best test of quality is customer satisfaction. Search for reviews, whether through the manufacturer’s website or any other online sellers who carry their products. Here at WG Wood Products, we’re proud of our 99% customer satisfaction rating with overwhelming 5 star reviews on our products.
- Customer support: Another sign of a good manufacturer is the level of service they provide. Do they offer useful installation instructions and contractor spec sheets? How thorough are their quotes, and do they answer all your questions? Some manufacturers will send you samples of the materials used or color swatches to help you with your interior design projects.
To look nice and stay protected, a wood product needs sanding, staining and a quality finish. Skipping any of these steps will impact the quality of the end product.
Sanding the wood down to a smooth surface primes the material for stain. Staining or painting the wood gives it the aesthetic quality you’re looking for. Various stains can make a pine or maple surface look like mahogany, walnut, oak or cherry. Other paint colors let your cabinet match your room’s other furnishings.
Finally, finishing adds a clear coat to protect the wood and enhance the color. A finish prevents the materials from swelling or cracking and will also give the final stain more depth. We finish all of our stain finishes in a satin finish clear lacquer.
Signs of Quality Finish
Since finishing a wood product also involves sanding and staining, look for production quality in several areas. Some telltale signs of a quality finish include:
- The smoothness of the surface: The wood itself should have a flat surface that shows it’s been thoroughly sanded.
- Even tone: The coloration should reveal an even stain, without any blotches or dark spots. The front façade, sides, ends and interior all appear the same tone.
- No missed surfaces: The surface should be finished on all exposed sides. Obviously it isn’t necessary or needed to finish the outside of a cabinet that is going to be placed into the wall. Doing so would only add unnecessary time and cost to it and would do nothing to protect the wood from moisture and temperature damage anyway.
- A smooth clearcoat: Look for a satiny-smooth finish, with no rough spots, dust specks or bubbles.
- Depth and color quality: Proper technique calls for several coats of finish and sanding between applications. Many layers of finish reveal depth and richness in the wood’s color and texture.
Signs of Poor Finish
A low-quality finish will be less attractive. It can also lower the product’s life span by leaving the wood fibers exposed to the elements. Spot an incomplete or poor-quality finish by its:
- Rough surface: Wood that’s been sanded across or against the grain won’t be as smooth. You can tell if the wood has been sanded against the grain if it has scratches or dark lines. Splintered edges are a sign the manufacturer skipped them during sanding.
- Uneven coloration: An irregular or blotchy stain can also show the wood wasn’t properly sanded. Dark spots might appear if the stain wasn’t evenly applied. Look for dark or clear teardrops dried into the surface around the edges on vertical panels.
- Obscured wood grain texture: Too much finish will dry too glossy or too cloudy, hiding the wood’s natural texture.
- Dull spots: If parts of the wood aren’t as shiny or rich in color as others, it indicates missed areas or not enough coats of stain or finish.
- Bumpy finish: Bumps in the finish represent air bubbles or dust trapped under the surface. After sanding, the wood needs to be properly dusted off before the finish application.
Perhaps the easiest way to tell quality wood from cheap substitutes is the price. Low-cost production methods and materials will produce pieces that sell at a lower cost. Quality wood and construction comes at a higher price.
It’s no surprise solid lumber costs more than engineered wood, which is infused with cheap adhesives. One of the main reasons many furniture makers use engineered wood is its inexpensiveness. Any engineered wood beneath MDF’s rank will likely see steep declines in quality alongside its price.
Another factor that raises the cost of wood products is manufacturing quality. Nailed, stapled or glued joints don’t require intensive labor or training, allowing furniture makers to sell them at a much lower cost. A dovetail or mortise and tenon constructed joint requires a skilled hand and a thought-out design. Screwed together butt joints are a perfect blend of super strength and efficient assembly, keeping the costs lower. Even the simple act of applying enough layers of finish and sanding it down between applications increases the amount of time and materials that go into a wooden fixture. All the labor involved naturally raises the price.
The average American spent $520.99 per unit of furniture in 2019, and it’s hard to get much lower and receive quality wooden furniture. More so than in other industries, the furniture market has a close relationship between the cost to build and the retail price. The sector has thin margins, and the cost of materials has a predictable impact on price. You won’t find a cheaply made piece for sale at a luxury price due to savvy marketing.
In the furniture and cabinet industry, especially, you get what you pay for. If you want a piece of furniture or wooden cabinet fixture that will look great for years to come, expect to pay more. This fact comes as a relief for many customers. When you pay a bit more, your furniture provides the lasting value you expect. When designed and assembled properly, a high quality cabinet such as ours will last forever.
Benefits of High-Quality Wood Products
Now that you know how to check wood quality and evaluate construction, you might wonder what difference quality makes. Solid wood and well-crafted construction and design have many advantages, such as:
- Character and charm: You can’t replicate the beauty of natural wood grains in plastic or laminate surfaces. Real wood gives off a pleasant, warm appearance. It also provides a timeless look and a solid feeling you can’t get with low-quality engineered wood.
- Customizability: Real wood, as opposed to a wood veneer, can be carved into many shapes and patterns. It can also be stained and finished to match many interiors and aesthetics. Since even solid wood is easy to manipulate, it offers the most design flexibility. Ordering a plastic cabinet or shelf in a custom size might require the manufacturer to change its molds or tooling. Meanwhile, wood can be cut and shaped to many different sizes and designs. When you work with WG Wood Products, most of our customizations come at no extra charge!
- Durability: Solid wood and quality construction add years to a product’s useful life. It resists warping, cracks, scratches and dents. Also, solid wood can be re-sanded and refinished many times, giving it an even longer lifespan. Wood veneer generally can’t be sanded or refinished because the wood layer is extremely thin.
WG Wood Products is your go-to source for quality, solid wood recessed cabinets, shelving and other storage solutions. We make everything from spice racks to recessed toilet paper holders from solid wood right here in the United States. We offer the widest selection of recessed cabinetry, and if we don’t have what you’re looking for, we’ll build something custom.
Shop our collection of wood cabinetry and storage solutions for bathrooms and kitchens. If you find something you like or want to request custom sizing and finishes, complete our quote request form to discuss your project. Have questions, or want to experience our excellent customer service for yourself? You can always send us a message online and even include pictures of your room for advice.