Why is Furniture So Expensive?
You’ve probably either thought this to yourself or heard someone say it - “furniture is expensive!” Let's dive in to some of the characteristics of the more budget friendly options while also exploring the features that hardwood provides.
The IKEA Generation
To be honest, I didn’t even understand that furniture was expensive before I started buying materials to make my first coffee table. IKEA became really popular when I entered college and a $75 coffee table seemed reasonable. What was everyone talking about?! Three months later a drunk friend sat on my table. It didn't just break. It turned into dust!
Companies like IKEA and other brands that are trying to put furniture in homes at more affordable prices are delivering poor quality products. In many cases people have no idea how poor of quality these items really are. Now, don't get me wrong, we have an IKEA side table somewhere in our house also BUT I would never dream of passing that down to my grandchildren. Anytime I set something on it I'm in disbelief that it didn't fall apart. What I'm trying to say about this type of "furniture" is that while it might not be something you necessarily save up for, its also not something that will last you through the years. You could potentially end up spending more money over a period of 10 years on several tables from IKEA vs. one hardwood dining table.
To Veneer or Not to Veneer
Another sort of mid-tier table is the plywood veneer table. Veneer is a paper thin sheet sliced from solid wood (walnut, maple, oak) and then applied to a plywood or MDF core. Plywood veneer ranges from poor to good quality like most things but you really only want this material for certain projects. For example, cabinets are a great use for veneer. This is because plywood veneer is light, structurally sound, and in this case doesn't get much contact or hard use aside from opening/closing doors and storing things. Dining tables on the other hand, are a poor choice for this material. The veneer is very thin and does not hold up to abuse over the years. Spills, hot plates, getting bumped, putting a glass down too hard - these could all potentially damage that thin veneer with little options for repair if any. But because sheets of plywood veneer are more budget friendly, companies will offer dining tables using that material and often leave you shopping for a new dining table within a few years.
The Hard Stuff
So, now let's look at hardwood tables. Species of hardwood like walnut and oak are rated using a specific scale called the Janka Scale. This determines the density and hardness of a type of wood. Anything over 1000 is considered a hardwood. Tables that are made from hardwood have a high density, are resistant to scratches and dents, resist moisture, and last much longer. A hardwood dining table could realistically be passed to your grandchildren if maintained well.
The hardness and durability of this wood is a big portion of what drives the cost. Each step along the way from living tree to gorgeous dining table requires more everything. More power, sharper blades, longer drying time, more people, more money, and more space. During the harvesting process you must have powerful saws and sharp blades. I've heard stories of Brazillian marble wood breaking $250,000 machinery just because its such a tough wood. Then the wood is stored for a couple years before it's dried in a large kiln. The denser the wood typically the longer time is needed to dry. Once the wood is dry it's ready to begin its process of becoming a table. That process uses more blades, more sandpaper, and more power to shape and smooth the grain than a table made from a softwood would require.
Then there is the expertise and craftsmanship. Working with hardwood is similar to sculpture. I think of it as "an art of subtraction." Each step of the process you are taking away a small portion of what you started with to reach your final goal. If you end up taking away too much material during any point of these processes it can be detrimental. Understanding where but also when to make the right cuts is very valuable.
Maintenance is also easier with a hardwood table. It's more resistant to scratches and dents but if you do pick up minor damage over the years, there are always ways to repair it. Scratches and small dents can often be sanded and smoothed out without worrying about putting a hole in a thin veneer as the entire table is the same material. Even larger damage can be repair by simply cutting out and replacing that section. Many times the biggest challenge in those scenarios is grain and color matching but a short Google search will blow you away by what people can do.
So next time you're shopping for a dining table I hope this info might help you a little. It's not always in everyone's budget to spend 3,5, or 6 thousand on a table but if you knew that this table could last in your family for 100+ years bringing memories of dinner parties, holidays, family meals, it does feel worth it.
Please contact me with any questions you might have.
Thanks for reading,