When is Wood not Wood?

Wood is wood, right?  Wrong!  If you’re considering any furniture made primarily of wood, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting.  That mahogany dresser you just paid big bucks for may not be mahogany at all!


Veneered wood is not one solid piece of wood.  It’s an inexpensive wood covered with a thin layer of more expensive wood.  Why does it matter?  If you decide to refinish a piece of furniture that’s veneered, you remove the old, damaged surface – but if the furniture is veneered, you may be removing the entire surface veneer.  That’s not good. 

Veneer can also be fragile, it can chip and crack.  You can’t sand down a veneer chip, it needs to replaced and it can be difficult to match the veneer exactly.

Another difference is the quality and expense.  Higher quality wood furniture is solid wood with no veneer, expect to pay more and expect to get better quality.  Make sure if you’re purchasing a piece of furniture that it is solid wood.  If not, the price should reflect that.


Stains are a great way to make an inexpensive wood look better than it actually is.  Make sure if you’re purchasing a walnut dresser, it is not a less expensive wood stained to look like walnut.  Woods have different grains, pine has little knots, walnut has flecks – you can find photos of the different wood grains online. 

Always ask exactly what the wood is that you’re purchasing.  A pine dining room table stained a mahogany color should be far less expensive than a solid mahogany table.

Some of the more popular catalog furnishings, such as Pottery Barn, are a less expensive wood that is stained.  There’s nothing wrong with this, as long as you know exactly what you are getting and the price reflects it.

Particle Board

The less expensive ‘wood’ furniture is often made of particle board, which is basically sawdust and resin compressed into sheets and veneered or stained.  It’s usually the furniture that comes in kits and needs to be assembled, such as Ikea. 

Again, there’s nothing wrong with it, but make sure you know what you are paying for.  Particle board is the least expensive ‘wood’ furniture and what you will find at Walmart and Target.  Prices should reflect the quality and it is not going to be the most durable furniture.

There are several budget alternatives to purchasing solid wood furniture.  They’re perfectly acceptable, just make sure you know what you are purchasing when you’re buying wood furniture, make sure you ask questions and do your homework!