“Show Your Work!” Tips on Shopping for Fine Handcrafted Furniture

I was looking at another furniture company’s website the other day.  They claimed to make fine handcrafted furniture using the finest woodworking techniques and the high prices for the furniture certainly would indicate that they did.  However, while the pieces looked serviceable enough  I couldn’t find much information (either descriptions or pictures) about the construction of the pieces.  I was left with so many questions:

  • How were the bed rails attached? Mortise and tenon? Dowels and some kind of euro hardware? Something else?
  • How are the drawers made? Are they dovetail? If they are, what kind of dovetails? Small, equally spaced, machine cut dovetails or something more handcrafted looking that takes more time and skill but looks infinitely better? Are they all solid wood or are the bottoms thin plywood. Are the drawer fronts part of the drawer box or are the screwed onto a separate drawer box?
  • What are the backs of pieces made of? Solid wood, plywood, particle board?
  • What kind of hinges do they use?  From what I could see it appeared they used mostly euro hinges – the kind you’d see in a kitchen cabinet but, in my opinion, not very attractive in furniture and prone to coming out of adjustment.
  • How do the drawers operate? Do they slide on traditional wood frames or do they all use metal drawer slides?  I’m not a fan of metal slides.  Like the euro hinges they remind me of kitchen cabinets not nice furniture. Do they work well? Sure.  Do they have the look and feel of a finely crafted drawer on a wooden drawer frame? Not even close. Sometimes it makes sense to use these slides.  I always use them for file drawers because of the weight of the contents but certainly never for dresser drawers.
handmade cherry dresser with dovetailed drawers, mortise and tenon joinery and post and panel construction

Dovetailed solid cherry & ash drawers, mortised & tenon joinery pinned with walnut pegs, and post and panel case construction.

There’s a lot of furniture available these days that gives the outward appearance of finely crafted pieces but when you look behind the outer facade you find that it’s really just a dressed up version of a factory made kitchen cabinet.  It makes me think of the math teacher that wants you to show your work, not just the answer. “Show your work! How did you get there?” I have no problem with companies that make serviceable, reasonably attractive furniture to meet a price point.  Not everyone can afford handcrafted, high quality furniture from carefully selected lumber.  What I do have a problem with is companies that claim the finest craftsmanship and price their work accordingly but don’t deliver on that claim.  Perhaps they’re hoping people don’t know what fine handcrafted furniture looks like anymore? Maybe they don’t know what it looks like themselves.

Solid brass butt hinges require skill  to install but never need adjustment or loosen up and look much better than bulky euro hinges.

Solid brass butt hinges require skill to install but never need adjustment or loosen up and look much better than bulky euro hinges.

When shopping for fine handcrafted furniture, especially if you’re shopping online, make sure to look at the details not just the facade. In my experience those furniture makers that truly make fine handcrafted furniture will show the details.  They are proud of their skills and realize it’s these details that sets their work apart. If the details are not shown there’s probably a reason.



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