Which woods and finishes are most durable?

05/16/2016
by Vladimir Prokhnevskiy

 Which woods and finishes are most durable?

We are frequently asked this question in the store and like so many things in life the answer is... it depends!

There are five main factors that determine how well the surfaces of your wood furniture from Geitgey's Amish Country Furnishings will wear:
1.  What is the hardness or density of the wood?  The scientific name for this is specific gravity.
2.  What is the grain texture of the wood?
3.  What stain color are you choosing for the wood?
4.  What is the finish treatment being used?
5.  What is the application of the piece of furniture?

Let's examine each of these items in order to help you make your best choice.  Here are the domestic species of hardwoods that we offer in descending order of hardness:  Hickory, Red Oak, Hard Maple, Walnut, White Elm, Cherry, Brown Maple.  The hardness of the wood could matter when you have a surface that might get a repeated amount of physical abuse - like a table or desk top that is exposed to lots of dropped or dragged items that would otherwise dent a softer wood more easily.

But the reality is that almost all woods can be dinged, dented and scratched so we feel it's even more important to consider the grain texture of the wood you are choosing because the texture is what will determine how well the wood can camouflage the inevitable ding, dent or scratch.  Coarse grained woods like Oak and Hickory will do a much better job of hiding damage than finer grained woods like Brown Maple or Cherry.  Oak and Hickory also tend to have a lot of "movement" or pattern in the wood that can also serve to hide scratches.  Many of the fine grained woods can be very glass-like and reflective, especially when placed underneath a pendant light or in front of a bay window as you would with a kitchen table, and while these are certainly beautiful woods they will typically reveal more of the daily wear.

Also contributing to how well scratches and dings can be concealed is the stain color that is chosen for your furniture.  Dark colors have been trendy and popular for some time now, but dark stains such as Onyx, Espresso, Rich Brown and Java as well as black paint are  bound to show scratches and dings more easily.  Think of the analogy that a dark or black colored car is harder to keep clean than a lighter colored car.  These colors will also require more frequent dusting and cleaning.

Considering the proper finish treatment is also important when choosing your furniture options.  We are not necessarily talking about the type of finish here, as all of our furniture is already finished with a catalyzed conversion varnish which is a very durable finish.  More information on this finish can be found in this short video: Conversion Varnish Video.   What we really mean by treatment is whether the piece is finished "pristine" or "distressed".  Pristine is when a piece is stained or painted and then simply top-coated and left in a more or less flawless or unblemished state. Distressing occurs when we add tooling detail (dings, dents, faux powder-post beetle holes, edge sanding, etc.) that give the furniture the appearance of having some age and use.  Distressing can take the anxiety out of the first ding you might inflict upon your furniture yourself and make the piece a more livable and relaxed addition to your home.  We also have the option on many of our species to use a "rustic" or "character" grading of the lumber that will allow for more knots, mineral inclusions and imperfections in the wood than a select grade of the same species might allow.  In addition, we can also use roughsawn or planking effects to further add to the character of a piece and to make it look like a well-loved part of the household.

Finally, consider the application of your furniture.  Just because an interior designer on a television show said that you need a dark pedestal table with a high-gloss finish in your kitchen does not mean your four year old will respect that decision!  Oily hand prints and fork marks will win in the end.   Know that furniture is fashion, yes, but furniture is also where your family gathers, eats, sleeps, works and relaxes.  Considering all of the above factors when making your purchases of hardwood furniture will help to ensure you enjoy your furniture for many years to come.

As always, the staff at Geitgey's Amish Country Furnishings in Dublin is glad to help with questions related to this article or any other matter.  Just call, email or stop in anytime.

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