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It's all about wood

What’s in wood?

Wood is approximately 50% water. It has a cell structure that looks a little like honeycomb. Quick-growing wood, such as pine, has relatively large cells and contains larger ‘pockets’ of water, making it a softer wood. Hardwood, such as teak, grows more slowly, and therefore has smaller cells and less water. (See examples of solid wood dining tables)

What is meant by the expression ‘wood is a living material’?

Wood constantly adjusts itself to the humidity of it’s surroundings, - trying to equal out the moisture content.

It therefore ‘lives’ on, even after being cut, dried and turned into a piece of furniture. It is particularly apparant in large, solid wood pieces. You’ve seen how doors can suddenly stick when the seasons change. That’s the temperature and humidity changes in the air causing the wood to adjust.

How does a manufacturer judge the wood before using it for production?

He examines it thoroughly, checking for discoloring, holes and knots. No two trees are alike - each has to be inspected. If you’re real good, you can almost see if it’s good furniture wood before you even cut down the tree. But you never really know until the wood is cut. We also pay attention to where the wood is grown. Plantation wood is superior as it is grown for the specific purpose of production. The trees are planted closely, forcing them to grow tall and straight and without too many branches - ideal for furniture.

Is there a “best wood” for furniture?

Teak is ideal because it has a high oil content, making it naturally sturdy. There is also oak, beech, cherry and Honduras mahogany - these are all excellent choices for furniture production.

What happens to the wood after it is cut?

Then begins the most critical process of all - drying! Depending on which kind of wood it is, the drying process can take anywhere between weeks and years. On the one extreme, oak should ideally dry for up to 2 years, under a roof, but exposed to wind and air flow. Beech, on the other hand, should be mechanically dried immediately after cutting if you want to preserve the light color. It’s all a question of getting the water content from 50% down to the 8% level without warping or damaging the wood, and you really have to know your wood to do it correctly. You can’t speed through the drying process or you’ll end up with firewood instead of production material.

What happens if the wood is dried too quickly?

A lot of faults will show up. The surface of the wood will ‘close’, and when the moisture inside the wood comes out, which it inevitably will, it will cause hundreds of small cracks in the surface. Some of these cracks can get up to 1/2” deep. Also, there is the danger of discoloration. If you measure the moisture content of the surface and compare it to the center of the wood, you can see if it has been dried too quickly. It should be about the same all the way through the wood. This is something we do constantly during the drying process - check, check, and check again!

So, how important is the humidity level of ones home? How much change can wood take before it is damaged?

Sudden changes in humidity are never good for wood. I’ve seen a huge solidwood oak dining table that cracked right down the middle with a loud bang just 3 months after the family switched from coal to central heating. As you might guess, this was some years ago.

If the humidity level of your home varies by more than 10-15% throughout a year, then you could be in trouble. But most homes are within this level. If you have central heating and a more or less steady temperature indoors throughout the year, then you should be fine.

There are so many different kinds of wood finishes - oil, soap, wax, lacquer, paint... which is best?

Every finish has it’s advantages and disadvantages. Mostly, we manufacturers choose a finish that will best complement the wood, but there is a bit more to it than that. Oil, wax, and soap treatments bring a soft, rich sheen to the wood, showing off the grain and color. They also protect the surface against dirt and moisture and, when combined with sanding and polishing, give a lovely smooth surface. The advantage of these finishes is that it’s relatively easy to do surface repairs. The disadvantage is you do have a bit of upkeep to maintain the great look. I find a wax finish particularly beautiful on oak, making it look positively alive.

Lacquer is used mostly for veneers. When applied properly, it will literally extend the life of the wood. The advantage is there’s no upkeep. The disadvantage is, any surface repair has to be done professionally.

Paint is mostly used for chipboard furniture. I don’t believe I know anyone who would willingly cover a beautiful wood grain with paint.

How can I be sure that the wood in a piece of furniture has been properly dried and treated?

Quite honestly, you can’t. You have to buy from a furniture dealer you know and trust. Remember though, neither dealers nor manufacturers are happy about complaints, so if we want to stay in business, we have to deliver quality goods. It’s as simple as that.

What’s underneath veneer?

Veneer sits atop a layer of either chipboard or MDF. Chipboard is made from wood chips that are mixed with glue and then pressed together. Both chipboard and MDF are very stable materials, and actually more resistant to humidity changes than solid wood.

Is veneer just as good as solid wood?

The myth that solid wood is always better than veneer doesn’t hold water any more (excuse the pun)! In environments where the humidity conditions are ideal, solid wood is definitely a great choice. Contact our experts to find out more.

Are Danish furniture manufacturers ecologically-friendly?

I can emphatically say yes, and we have been for years. Many of us use our discarded wood to heat our factories. Those who work with pine sell their leftovers to chipboard manufacturers. Recycling has been common throughout the Danish furniture industry for a long time. You must keep in mind that Denmark is a small country. We have a physical closeness here that quite simply forces us to think ecologically - otherwise we’d have our neighbor on our back in a flash!

Also, I’d like to add a point about wood finishes. I think I can safely say I speak for all Danish furniture manufacturers when I say the finishes we use are chosen first and foremost from an ecological point of view. There are no toxins or dangerous ingredients in any of the wood surface treatments from Denmark. We Danes are very dedicated to creating a good ‘indoor climate’ with our wood furniture, and that is best done with natural materials that won’t affect your health.

Article reproduced by kind permission of wharf2.co.uk

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