The furniture that you put into your house should be made by firms adequately equipped with the proper scientific apparatus for curing the woods. A poorly cured piece of wood will shrink or swell, causing damage that cannot be repaired easily. For furniture, wood must have stood "on the sticks" in the open air in piles, from two to five years. This is very important. After this, it can be put through the kilns. Briefly, the process of curing is to put wood into kilns where warm, live steam can be turned in until all the lumber is brought to the same state of dampness. Then the temperature is increased gradually and the amount of dampness reduced, until each board is uniformly dry through and through. Dry heat applied suddenly would make a hard case around the surface, imprisoning the moisture that would later dry out causing the wood to crack and warp.
Much as we like the idea of furniture built to our special order in some little cabinet shop, we owe it to ourselves to find out what facilities the maker has for obtaining properly cured woods. An unfinished board will reabsorb at least 12 per cent of moisture simply in transportation or when lying around in unheated places.
There is an inherited prejudice against the word "veneer." To many people it means superficial show and this impression probably dates from the time when an atrocious false Colonial type of furniture was produced, where heavy scrolls and brackets were made of soft wood and overlaid on all the surfaces with thin veneers of crotch mahogany. Veneers have their proper uses and the great cabinetmakers of the past employed them on their finest pieces to get beauty of grain in appropriate places. It is only the abuse of veneers that has brought them into disrepute.
It is a very costly and laborious process to apply veneer properly, but it would be practically impossible to obtain the beautiful effects of ferns, waves, and scrolls by any other method. The wood from which they are cut comes where the great roots join together, and solid boards cut from these places would crack and check to such a degree that they could not be used.
The most usual forms of veneer found in high-grade cabinetmaking are crotch mahogany, cut from the crotch of the tree; figured walnut, taken from the heart of walnut stumps; and burled walnut, elm, and oak, cut from burls or gnarled growths caused by the stings of insects in the young tree. Some of these burls grow to tremendous proportions, and I have seen whole groves in the mountains of North Carolina where almost every tree was afflicted with these gnarled and fantastic protuberances, so deformed and yet so valuable to the veneer sawyer.
One of the wrong ways to use veneer was mentioned above, that is, on exposed surfaces where it is liable to be knocked off in the ordinary wear and tear of use. Many people have purchased old pieces of furniture of the style that is distinguished by heavy bracket scrolls, thinking they are valuable simply because they are old and made of mahogany, and have been greatly disappointed when the veneer cracked and came off in large pieces. Good design and workmanship - not age nor sentiment - are the most important features of a piece of furniture.
The proper use of veneer in good furniture building is for the beautifying of drawer fronts, the inner spaces of panels, all inlaid surfaces that are not unduly exposed, and outside edges which have some projecting members of solid wood. For instance, in some fine old models there is a raised bead around each drawer. This is a thin strip with rounded edges that is set into the drawer front like a frame around a picture. It projects slightly beyond the surface of the drawer front and thus offers protection to the figured wood which has been applied for its beauty. When you see an old piece that has beautiful wood in the drawer fronts with these projecting beads around each panel, ten to one it is a good piece in other respects. These details in construction are sure signs of integrity in workmanship, and it is not likely that a maker who executes them carefully would be ignorant of the other elements of good design and good construction.