Six factors go into the budget breakdown of your favorite wooden furniture
If you’ve ever wondered why a wooden dining table can be so costly, you’re not alone. Designers and homeowners alike are commonly in the dark when it comes to all the factors that affect the price of case goods. Whether you’re making a dresser, bench, or console, it’s so much more than just the species of wood.
Though the species does have the largest impact, characteristics like grain, thickness, and finish also play a huge role in dictating the price of casegoods. Unexpected specs like length that’s divisible by ten and intangibles like craftsmanship can make a major difference, too. “There are things that make casegoods more expensive that you don’t even see,” explains Buildlane founder Frank Eybsen.
To help demystify the pricing factors of casegoods, Eybsen breaks it all down feature by feature. Here’s everything you need to know:
Wood species is the biggest determiner of case goods costs, but a higher price tag isn’t always associated with a higher quality wood. Recognizable species tend to be the most expensive, while lesser-known — yet equally beautiful and durable — species are far cheaper.
“Alder and maple are the least expensive,” Eybsen shares. “You can make alder look pretty similar to walnut, though. They have similar characteristics and you can apply a walnut stain to alder, but people are looking for the cache of walnut. Nobody wants an alder dining table.”
Right now, white oak is even pricier than walnut because it’s extremely trendy. Teak, which is ideal for outdoor furniture, and rosewood, which has a charming pink tone, are more expensive than that.
Designers and homeowners seeking a uniform appearance and a stronger material, however, should opt for MDF with veneer — which happens to be less expensive than solid wood. “If you want it all to look the same, you have to go veneer. If you like variation in the wood, solid is the way to go,” Eybsen declares.
Trees are cut in different methods to create different grain patterns, each of which has a different cost. Plain sawn wood is the least graphic and the least expensive. Quarter sawn wood is significantly more eye-catching and much pricier. Rift sawn wood is the most visually striking and the most expensive. Rift sawn wood was so sought-after that there was a shortage in the beginning of the pandemic, making the price skyrocket even higher. “The difference between plain sawn and rift sawn is insane,” Eybsen insists.
Eybsen’s favorite type of grain, however, has nothing to do with cutting technique. Burl is a cancerous tree growth that results in one-of-a-kind, strangely stunning grain patterns filled with small knots. Since each one looks completely different from the next, burl is impossible to replicate. That means it’s sold for extremely high prices — but many woodworkers say it’s worth it.
Thickness is simple: the thicker the wood, the more expensive it’ll be. “If you get a quote for a dining table and want to get it lowered, the first thing you do is look at the thickness,” Eybsen instructs. “If you have a two-inch top, make it three-quarters-of-an-inch and you’re going to save thousands of dollars.”
Everyone knows that bigger pieces require more wood and therefore more funds to make, but some easy math can actually save a lot of money when designing case goods. According to Eybsen, most types of wood and veneer are sold in 10-foot-long sheets.
“If you have a piece that is 121 inches, rather than 120 inches, it’s double the cost because they have to buy twice as much wood,” he notes. “Nobody ever takes this into account, but the closer you are to a length you can divide by ten, the better value you’ll get.”
The cheapest way to finish case goods is to, well, not. Unfinished wood has an earthy, organic feel that some people prefer to any stain or sheen. Many stains are inexpensive because factories have them on-hand, while color changes like bleaching a dark wood into a lighter hue can be pricey. “The more you try to change it, the more expensive it’s going to be,” Eybsen says.
Standard sheens, like satin, semi-gloss, and gloss, shouldn’t be too expensive either. But high gloss and piano finishes, which require many time-consuming coats, can hike up the price a ton. Weathered texture finishes, like wire brushing, are costly, too.
6. Craftsmanship and Labor
If you’re looking for high-quality, enduring case goods, you’ll have to pay the price of craftsmanship and labor on top of all the materials. “Wood should last a long time and a lot of it has to do with how you put it together,” Eybsen admits. “If you’re a hobbyist, you might not know some of the secrets of high-end artisans.”
Skilled craftsmen build most case goods with hidden metal supports that allow the wood to naturally expand and contract without the piece falling apart. They also offer clean lines, even finishes, and chic designs — which justify the cost of their work. And of course, United States manufacturers with fair pay and good working conditions are more expensive than alternatives, but always the right choice.
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