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Wood Furniture

By HHI Staff

For centuries, skilled craftsmen made furniture pieces by hand. However, during the 1800s, factories began mass-producing furniture. As the prices went down, the quality sometimes did, too. Completely hand-crafted pieces using solid woods along with natural fabrics and stuffing are now quite rare, and often very expensive.


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Today, furniture is often constructed with a combination of some solid wood (often a softwood such as pine, or an inexpensive hardwood), as well as some composite man-made materials (hardboard, particleboard or plywood). Some pieces may also have hardwood veneers (very thin layers of solid wood) and/or plastic laminates, permanently attached to them with the use of synthetic adhesives. The use of synthetic stains and finishes is routine on most exposed-wood parts.

Frequently, upholstery materials are chemically treated to repel dirt and stains. Flame retardants mean the addition of borate compounds or synthetic fire-retardant chemicals.


It’s not surprising that most new furniture releases potentially harmful chemicals, including formaldehyde. Man-made wood products, finishes, stains, glues, tapes, stuffing, fabrics and special treatments all emit a variety of compounds that can pollute a home’s indoor air. As a result, typical new furniture is often intolerable for sensitive individuals.

Solid-Wood Furniture
Solid-wood furniture can be a healthy furnishing choice and, luckily, there are still a fair number companies and individuals making it. The styles now available range from traditional, country-look and Shaker, to modern contemporary.

The most commonly used woods are probably still pine and oak. Unfortunately, for some very sensitive individuals, both of these woods can be a problem because of the natural terpenes in softwoods and the tannins in oak. These natural compounds can be both odorous and irritating. If you can find it, furniture made with solid maple, beech, birch or cherry is usually more tolerable for sensitive people. A more difficult problem to overcome is the fact that items with drawers, large panels or backings will likely have plywood (most kinds of which emit both formaldehyde and terpenes) used in their construction, no matter how much they cost. That is, unless you have special custom pieces made for you. Therefore, sensitive persons will have to be alert and decide what is appropriate for their needs, then buy accordingly.

You may be able to find some appealing solid-wood furniture at your local furniture stores. However, if you can’t, there are a number of mail-order sources. Some companies are especially welcoming to chemically sensitive individuals, so look around if this is your situation.


From Creating a Healthy Household: The Ultimate Guide For Healthier, Safer, Less-Toxic Living, © 2000 by Lynn Marie Bower. 


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Wood Furniture:  Created on February 12th, 2007.  Last Modified on February 28th, 2011


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