The most popular type of material is wood. It has been used for centuries. It may have been the original material, but I am not that old and cannot attest to the fact. But, there are several different levels of wood as well. And a goddess needs to discover what wood is used, to determine if it is a worthwhile purchase.
- Solid wood (starting Egyptian times) is expensive. We will discuss various types of wood in another post. But it can be refinished and repaired many times. It can be very strong, or very weak, depending on the particular species. It can warp and bow over time. It can be covered in veneer to give, let’s say, an oak table the look of mahogany.
As a side note, a veneer does not indicate something is cheaply made. It is generally used to make a regular piece of wood look more elegant. Veneer has been around for centuries, and it was only after World War II that it started getting a bad rap because of poor workmanship. Veneers were once, and still sometimes are, made of more exotic, more expensive wood. They are a thin piece of wood that is glued to other types of wood. It can be very thin, or a little thicker, so a goddess wants to check the width of the veneer.
2. Plywood (post World War II) is at least three layers of wood glued together at right angles. This makes it very strong. It does not warp, at least not very easily. And it is cheaper than solid wood. You should be able to tell it is plywood by looking at an unfinished edge, and you should see the layers. This is another type that would go with veneers, and as a matter of fact, some plywoods are made of layers of veneer.
3. Hardboard, better known as Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) (1960s), is wood fibers sealed together with adhesives or pressure. It is usually used for the unseen areas of a piece of furniture, such as backs and bottoms. I believe this is highly likely to have veneer placed on it, and passed off as solid wood. Do some homework on the materials you are looking at, goddesses!
4. Particle board (1950 and beyond) is even lower quality, it is wood particles (not fibers) and adhesives. It is pressed together. It does not split easily because there is no grain. However, it will seriously warp if it gets wet. The most popular use for this type is replacing plywood and covering it with veneer. Again, do your homework. Don’t accept it is plywood, ask lots of questions, or research reviews on the pieces if you are going to a department store. Other buyers will tell you if they discovered something was passed off as something else.
- Metal furniture (1920s) was popular right before the Depression. Especially in the legs of furniture. Stainless steel is the best choice, because there are no rust issues. Other metals can be used as well, such as brass, copper and iron. These would all need some kind of protective coating to prevent rust. So if you are looking at metal furniture, ask what kind of metal it is and how to take care of it.
- Glass (1780s) for table tops (that is of course the only way to use it for furniture, right?) should be tempered. It is heavy. This will be harder to break, but it is glass after all, so it will still break. You want to find out how thick the glass is. Do not accept anything that is under 1/2” thick. This can go with just about any other material, but the most popular pairing is wicker or metal.
- Plastic furniture (1945, Eames was first designer) is usually made with oil. It can be a wide variety of colors, and is VERY lightweight. It does scratch and crack easily, which may be a thumbs down. If a goddess owns any plastic furniture, do research on the kinds of cleaners to use, as to not destroy the plastic any more than nature will. Yes, plastic is so well disguised these days it can even look like wood. But just pick it up. If you think you can toss it easily in the air, it is not wood. This is good for your throw away furniture. Emergency chairs you can store in the basement is the first thing that comes to mind.
- Bamboo/Rattan (1800s) is the last material to discuss. It is strong considering how light it is. It is safe to get wet, which is why it is so popular for deck furniture. Rattan is solid, whereas bamboo is hollow. And wicker is a construction phenomenon, not a material. I did not know this. When looking at this type of furniture, a goddess should look at the overall construction and joints. Fun fact, the Victorian Era thought wicker was more sanitary than upholstery.