buying furniture

Being a non-worker, I'm seeking advice on how to identify what is quality furniture at a retail store and what is junk. Is it generally safe to say that the more expensive stuff is better than the cheaper stuff? Any specific retail manufucturers that produce a good product? Any I should stay away from?
I'm going to be buying a wall unit entertainment center come this winter and want to know what I'm halfway doing since I haven't made any major furniture purchases in quite a while. Looking to spend about $3000 and need a unit that will acoomodate a rear projection HDTV.
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Why not get one custom made? There are many good cabinet shops that can give you exactly what you want, in the wood you want.
This fellow just updated his web page and probably has some god examples of what you want. Find someone in your area to do the same. http://users.snip.net/~tjwatson
-- Ed snipped-for-privacy@snet.net http://pages.cthome.net/edhome
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Rick,
If you go look at furniture in a showroom, you should look for all solid wood or solid plywoods with no particle board or pressboard. You should also look at the drawer connections to see if they are dovetailed (the best) or dadoed/sliding dovetailed or butt jointed (like my kitchen, I pulled a drawer front off the first day in our brand new house, "Honey, I need to buy a dovetail jig"). Finally, solid wood door panels (usually raised) rather than plywood is a class touch, but plywood works too. You may not be able to tell the quality of the cabinet jointery unless it is exposed, but real jointery techniques with a minumum of fasteners is another sign of quality.
I have plenty of experience with particle board furniture and I can tell you that the above guidelines are what you need for the most sturdy furniture. Especially if it will ever be moved. To really get all of these features, you are either going to have to go very high end, or have someone custom make this stuff for you. I try to tell my wife that the $10,000 worth of tools in the garage means that she will never have to look at another busted particle board shelf. She could dance on top of any of the furniture (I encourage this) that I make with no risk of damage.
Noel Montgomery

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When looking at a furniture store the first thing I look at is the drawers. Do the drawers seem to be almost as deep as the cabinet or does it only come out about 11" and is only 3/4 the depth of the cabinet? You are paying for the cabinet, you might as well get the full use of it. Shallow drawers waste your valuable room. Better drawers will be constructed with Dove Tail joints and the manufacturers that take pride in their product pay attention to the details that are behind closed drawers and doors. Are the dove tail joints sanded smooth, or are they rough to the touch..

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If you are truly looking for "quality" furniture, shy away from particle board or particle board veneers in the construction. You can often tell by looking at the back, ends or bottom of the piece, although manufacturers are getting better at hiding it. However, be prepared to pay.
Careful how you ask the question ... ask specifically whether there is particle board in the construction ... in Texas, if you query a salesman with "Is this wood?", they can legally say "yes" (and will), even if it is constructed entirely from particle board (a wood product).
That is not to say that particle board does not have its place in furniture building and won't suffice for budget, or even mid priced pieces that are certainly functional ... but I would hesitate to expect to hand those piece down to your grandkids.
After a recent flood, any furniture in my house containing PB in the construction was considered an immediate and total loss by the insurance company, no further questions asked. ALL the "real" wood pieces were salvageable with a minimum of restoration for the most part.
Cabinet grade plywood is acceptable, maybe even desirable in some areas of the construction for its dimensional stability, although the absolute best furniture seems to be made entirely of wood with as few steps as possible from the tree.
Again, be prepared to pay for wood construction.
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Swingman wrote:

I agree, but even our most high-dollar rich people furniture with all the fancy oak carvings isn't pure wood. You just about aren't going to be able to purchase pure wood furniture if you're buying from a store. Plywood is all but a foregone conclusion.
As far as plywood though, I don't see that it's a big detractor if it's quality plywood. I have a solid oak desk large enough to land an airplane on that I got for $5 at auction. It's predominantly oak plywood, with thick, solid facing everywhere that's visible. The drawers are oak all around, including the bottoms and the dividers. It's the nicest piece of furniture I own, hands down, and I don't think any less of it for using plywood. It would be difficult to make something this big without plywood.
(And it was only $5.... I just used this message as an excuse to brag about my desk again... :) $5!! )

Pay BIGTIME. Thousands and thousands.
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On Mon, 04 Aug 2003 21:30:11 -0400, Silvan

Here in the UK, that was true until a couple of years ago. Now our better department stores are flooded with SE Asian furniture that's made of quite nice timber, no plywood, but appears to have had the joinery done with an axe and a trowel full of car bodyfiller. You can usually spot this stuff because it only comes in one colour, dark filler-hiding brown.
I make pieces with or without plywood. I'll do you a bookcase with shiplapped oak back panels if you want, but it'll cost more.
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For that sort of money I would be looking at getting it made for you - look under Cabinetmakers in the Yellow pages and check out some of the local work.
Things I would look for:
1. Materials - real wood vs chipboard or MDF - ask as some of the veneers can fool lots of people. 2. Joins are they dovetails in the drawers? The right angle joints nailed or screwed or with a nice rabbeted joint? 3. The finish - is it some sprayed laquer or a hand rubbed French polish? 4. The design - To me mass produced things have a "look".
That is just my opinion - others may disagree or think other things more important.
Mekon
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If you are lucky enough to live near Amish country, you can custom order furniture from them. Not cheap, but always quality. You can sometimes tell quality by close inspection and turning the piece upside down. I don't think buying a furniture piece specifically for a TV is a good investment since TV's are changing, and will likely become some sort of gas-plasma picture that hangs on the wall--then your entertainment center won't serve much purpose. Perhaps an armoire would be a better choice?
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Good furniture is expensive. Not all furniture that is expensive is good.

In general, materials to stay away from are particle board, adhesive veneers, and kind of fiber board, and staples. I can never bring myself to spend a lot of good money on furniture. My thinking is like this: If I spend a little money for junk and it breaks, who cares. If I spend a lot of money for nice furniture and it lasts a while, great. But if i spend a lot of money for junk, it irritates the daylights out of me.
Sometimes, at the mall, when my wife is wandering arround a store i don't want to go to, I'll visit the furniture stores for a laugh. The first thing I do is open a drawer and look at the side. Dovetails are best (almost never see them). Sliding dovetails second best and accetable. Stapled butt joints are worst and never acceptable. I'd say i see stapled butt joints maybe 90% of the time. The next thing I do is knock on the back of the furniture piece. That board on the back triangulates everything and makes a huge difference in the stability and quality of a piece. How thick the back is, how it's attached, and what it's made of will determine how many times you can move that piece of furnture before it disintegrates. 3/8" or thicker is best. That's what I put in the furniture i make and I've never seen that in a store bought piece. 1/4" plywood is acceptable. And fiber board or anything 1/8" thick is not acceptable. (to me). If the back is stapled or nailed on only, the fasteners can work themselves out. I perfer to glue on the back.
In my opinion, veneers are ok if the veneer is figured. If not, there's no excuse for not using solid wood.
Similar to the back, knock on the bottoms of the drawers.
Many hand carved looking details are apliques. I like to avoid such stuff.
brian
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Veneering has a long and distinguished history. It is quite useful when you are making items that must be dimensionally stable. However veneered crap is still crap.
-Jack
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