September is the start of what many in the furniture industry call “Dining Season.” Sure, Thanksgiving is still two months away, but with most special-order dining sets taking six to eight weeks to ship, it is best to start your dining search early. But, how do you find a table that will not only take the abuse of a group of tipsy holiday guests but also withstand years of heavy use? By following a few simple guidelines while shopping, you can ensure your purchase will last for decades to come.
Avoid tables made from particleboard or MDF with a thin veneer glued to the top. Not only are particleboard/MDF susceptible to warping and even crumbling when exposed to humidity, but the veneers on inexpensive tables are so thin as to easily scratch and chip. These scratches can expose the fragile particleboard/MDF to moisture, which in turn will cause the veneer to lift and peel at the site of the scratch.
-Look at the edge of the table. If the grain pattern on the top of the table is running in one direction and the grain on the edge is running perpendicular to it that means the table is veneered.
-Look at the informational tag. Words like “engineered wood” means the manufacturer used particleboard or MDF.
Hardwood tables last a lifetime
Look for solid-hardwood tables made from species such as oak, maple, birch, cherry and mahogany. Unlike inexpensive veneers, dents and scratches do not effect hardwood tables durability. Minor dings can be easily touched up with furniture pens found at your local hardware store. If over the years your table is seriously beaten up or the color has gone out of style, it is easy to refinish.
Which finish is right for you?
There are four common finishes used on furniture. Each one has its own set of strengths and weaknesses.
Lacquer Finish – In short, lacquer finishes pigment the wood while providing a small amount of protection. Inexpensive furniture will have as little as one layer of lacquer finish, while high-end furniture can have upward of seven hand-rubbed layers.
-When done right, lacquer finishes create a patina (a beautiful three- dimensional effect) similar to antiques.
-Lacquer finishes are usually clearer, showcasing the beauty of the wood.
-While lacquer finishes provide a little bit of protection, I would still use place mats, coasters and even table pads to prevent damage.
Catalyzed Finish – A catalyzed finish is when a chemical is used as a catalyst to create a reaction that ultimately makes the finish stronger on a molecular level. Catalyzed finishes can be hand applied, like lacquer finishes, and are usually found on medium to high-end furniture.
-Extremely durable. You can leave a wet glass on a catalyzed finish overnight without worrying about a ring.
-Catalyzed finishes are not as clear as lacquer finishes, which means they tend to have a more informal look.
-Catalyzed finishes take 30 days to fully cure. For the first month, you will need to baby your table or risk scratches.
Paint- Paints are fairly self explanatory. Unlike lacquers and catalyzed finishes that stain the wood itself, paint sits on top of the wood. My advice to clients is never use paint on surfaces that will receive a lot of wear such as table tops or the seats of chairs. If you would like to incorporate paint use it on the apron and legs of your table, and the back and legs of the chairs.
-Available in a variety of colors.
-Because paint sits on top of the wood it is easily chipped.
-Difficult to hide repairs.
Unfinished Wood- A recent trend unfinished tables are usually made from reclaimed lumber, typically pine which is a softwood.
Unfinished wood pros:
-It initially looks very nice.
-You can apply a wax to the top of the table to minimize stains, however, any wax or sealant you apply will drastically change the color of the wood.
Unfinished wood cons:
–Any liquid or greasy food will leave a stain, which can only be removed with sandpaper.
-Tables can warp or bend with changes in temperature and humidity.
-Extremely high maintenance. Always use a table pad when dining.
Part II of this article will go into detail on how to choose the right size and shape dining table for your room, as well as how to properly maintain wooden dining room furniture.