The ability to recognize good furniture comes from an understanding of the elements and principles which are at the bottom of good furniture making.....
While we still adhere to the best traditions of cabinetmaking, both in design and manufacture, our modern ingenuity has developed some methods which take their place beside the time-honored ones. These include new mechanical processes by which pieces of furniture, while retaining all the grace of the old designs, are often constructed by methods which make them more enduring and more adapted to our climate than many of the old examples. Quantity production now makes it possible for everyone to have good furniture, beautifully made, which, in the early days of America, could have been found only in the mansions of the very wealthy. These methods include the modern use of veneers, of plywood, of inlay, and of enduring finishes.
1 Adapted from "How To Recognize Good Furniture," American Home, March, 1930.
In buying furniture nowadays values are determined by two things: Utility and style or design. Utility means strength, comfort, capacity. Style and design mean proportion, form, correctness of traditional details of ornament in a given period, and all those elements which go to make up its value in the eyes of a cultivated community.....
In knowing good furniture it is the little things that we have to look for as the essential points of larger import. There are fundamental principles of construction and finish that make all the difference between good and bad furniture. Good construction may be studied without regard to period, and its simplest details make a fascinating study for the householder, for they include the curing of wood, the ingenious use of plywoods, the knowledge of veneers, of built-up stock, of joinery, and the proper use of all these elements. Let us take up some of these in detail.
There is a method of making such parts of furniture as table tops, the backs of bureaus, and bottoms of drawers that will prevent warping and cracking. This is the process of gluing together thin sheets of wood, layer upon layer, and the method is called "lamination." The gluing is done under tremendous pressure, and the grain of the interior layers is made to run across the grain of the top and bottom layers so that there can be absolutely no swelling or shrinking in any direction. If there are three layers, or laminations, it is called "three-ply"; if five, "five-ply." Good glue, properly prepared, is a marvelous substance. If two pieces of wood, fully dried, are planed so perfectly on their edges that you cannot see the light shining through between them when they are held together, you can apply the thinnest film of glue, rub them together when hot, set them in clamps to dry, and you cannot break them apart on the glued joint. The wood will tear before the glue will give. On exposed tops and on doors there should be always a thin frame of solid wood around the edges to conceal the laminations. For instance, in making a Sheraton sideboard with curved front and doors, it is much better to have these doors built up than to saw out solid wood on a curve, especially when the wood is to be finished with a highly figured veneer.
Points where you should look for laminated or plywood construction are tops, ends, and backs of bureaus, backs of mirrors, paneled ends of bureaus, paneled doors, and drawer bottoms. The makers of cheap furniture have been substituting paper or wallboard backs for bureaus and mirrors. It is well, therefore, to turn a bureau around and look at the back before you buy it. Also, see if it has a dust board between the drawers, as a good bureau or chest of drawers should have. These are thin, horizontal partitions which keep dust from working down back of the drawers, and make it impossible to see into a lower drawer by pulling out the one above it. Thus, one drawer may be locked safely without regard to the other.