Guide for buying Wooden Furniture in Asia.
What to look for when selecting and purchasing wooden furniture.
1. Seasoned wood:
The wood has to be kiln-dried to below 12% for it to stand average differences in temperatures.
2. Mature Hard Wood:
Untreated softwood and immature hardwood are easily affected by termites and white ants while mature and dried hardwood has a strong resistance against these.
Furniture has to be well constructed, sturdy and strong.
Dove tails joints for handmade and mortise and tenon joints for machine made furniture are strong and durable.
Finishing materials made from natural sources such as Shellac are long lasting and harmless. Melamine and other cover up materials are only meant to hide the defects in the furniture. An even and a smooth finish without woodchips are desirable.
A warranty of 3 years is a standard practise industry-wide. Be aware of sellers pushing sales by claiming lifetime warranties which usually do not exist.
7. For Custom made furniture:
A price close to similar furniture in store is a good price. A time frame of up to two months for imported custom made furniture and an upfront deposit of 30% to 50% is reasonable and industry-wide practise. However, make sure that the deposit you pay upfront is refundable if you are not satisfied with the furniture when it's made.
8. For expatriates and high net worth individuals.
Choose stores where prices are clearly displayed to avoid having to pay more than other customers. Avoid stores where the furniture does not clearly display prices.
Purchasing wooden furniture in Asia.
Timber is available in plenty in Asia and being a renewable resource, it is a perfect raw material for use in the manufacturing of furniture.
Furniture industry has been an important industry in almost every country. Most consumers spend much of their income on buying homes and furnishing them. In order to fulfil the great diversity of personal tastes and preferences, furniture comes in a great variety of designs, materials used as well as price tags. There is the metal furniture, woven furniture, plastic furniture, wooden furniture and mixture of different materials.
Wooden furniture is by far the most sought after furniture for home use because of its long life and numerous benefits. It also has a rich history and has been made and used by humans since ages. It is the most evolved of all furniture types. It reflects the history, culture and ethics of the people living in the places of its origins. Wooden furniture also makes a home warmer, welcoming and gives it that cozy feeling.
There is a great of variety of furniture available in the Asian market today. China dominates in the export of mass produced home furniture and Malaysia dominates in the high end office furniture space. While Indonesia and Thailand produce a large amount of speciality furniture such as art deco, woven, teak and other hardwood furniture. China is able to mass produce home furniture at very low prices for local and foreign consumption. Malaysia is highly efficient in manufacturing ergonomic office furniture due to its educated and skilled workforce and a large supply of tropical timber. The low labour costs, highly skilled craftsmen and the high availability of timber makes Indonesia an ideal place for the production of teak wood, mahogany and other hardwood furniture. Jepara is the centre of the furniture making industry in Indonesia and exports furniture to almost every country on the planet. Teak was introduced to Indonesia by the Dutch and it is harvested in teak plantations under a strict control and reforestation programme managed by Perhutani, the organisation charged with the duty. Burma also exports teak timber and furniture. However, it has been claimed that the timber is harvested from natural forests under unsustainable practices and it faces several restrictions in western countries.
There is a plenty of choice when it comes to wooden furniture in Asia. While you are shopping for furniture in Asia, it is highly likely that the furniture you see in the market was produced locally or from either one of the above mentioned four countries depending on the furniture you are looking for. Do your research, read the newspapers, yellow pages and google. Most furniture sellers have decent websites that provide information about their furniture. Visit the stores and shop around before you make the final decision to purchase. Compare prices, designs and most importantly the quality of the furniture.
While the quality and other aspects of the other types of furniture can be noted down in specifications, judging the quality of hard wood requires much more than that. A discerning eye, a taste for natural wood and a little experience with wood will come handy when you are out looking for furniture. Then, look for furniture made from seasoned hard wood with a good craftsmanship in construction, joinery as well as finishing. Never buy furniture without a warranty and avoid stores that do not display price tags or refund your deposits.
Natural wood responds to changes in the atmosphere. Non dried wood can bend and/or crack due to variations in temperature. Therefore, wood for furniture has to be kiln-dried to below 12% for it to stand average differences in temperatures. Make sure the wood is kiln dried and not just “naturally dried”. Natural drying process is too time-consuming and hardly used. If the seller claims that their furniture is naturally dried, the chances of it having problems later on are quite high.
Soft and untreated wooden furniture has Termite problems.
Untreated softwood including ply woods and immature hardwood are easily affected by termites and white ants while mature and dried hardwood has a strong resistance against these. Even some furniture made from immaturely harvested timber from hardwood tress can be affected if not treated against. Teak wood has a naturally built in resistance to termites.
Craftsmanship: Joinery: Furniture Finishing:
Custom-made furniture: For expatriates and visible high-income individuals and minority groups: Written by Shahid Bhat. The author has travelled widely and has done extensive first hand research into various types of hardwood furniture with a special interest in Teak furniture. He provides consultation services to furniture buyers.
Most hardwood furniture for indoor use is made by hand. And there is a huge difference between furniture made by experienced carpenters and trainees. Proportionate pieces and joints show the difference. No matter how dried and mature the wood used to make the furniture is, there are slight changes. And a good craftsman makes the furniture such that these changes go do not affect the look and functionality of the furniture. For example, small gaps between the door and frames ensure that the doors do not become hard to open and close. An experienced cabinet maker is well versed with that fact and makes the cabinets as such. Outdoor furniture is usually made with small planks and ample spaces in between to allow for any contractions and expansions.
In short, if the furniture looks well constructed, sturdy and strong, it probably is. Look under the table and carefully examine the construction. Better to be safe than sorry later. Flip the chair and see if any extra support has been added, that is not normally visible without flipping the chair. Good quality chairs usually have extra support built underneath, which suggests that it is made considering the safety of the user.
While standing at a distance, open a drawer to the maximum holding it firmly, if it comes out of its holder, it shouldn’t be at your home! If it falls down and breaks apart, don’t be sorry! It’s not considered sold either! Imagine a drawer falling on your feet or that of your family member. It can cause pain and injury.
An issue unique to solid hardwood is that drawers are too heavy for normal rails and the wheels wear out within a year or so, depending on usage frequency and load factor. Therefore drawers without rails, but with a smooth mechanism are more durable. Small quantities of wax can also be added to the sides to make the operation easy and smooth.
Hardwood furniture is usually made for large corporations and large furniture companies under contract by subcontractors and smaller companies. Quality control is crucial and strictly regulated in the industry. This also results in a large amount of furniture produced that is rejected by the large corporations. These rejected items are bought at extremely low prices and sold by small and independent retailers. This furniture usually has good looking designs but also individual problems that may have been made hard to detect. However close inspection should reveal a perfect piece of furniture from rejected furniture.
Strong construction of wooden furniture depends on its joints. Finger joints and Dove tails joints for handmade furniture are strong and durable. Good dove tail joints are usually made by master carpenters. The type of glues used is also important, especially in outdoor furniture and water resistant glues and sealers perform better.
However, mortise and tenon jointsare preferred in machine made furniture
as it is easy to make and strong at the same time.Very wide planks are not available for all timber such as teak wood, therefore joints in table tops and furniture surfaces are common and good joinery becomes all the more important. Look out for these while selecting your wooden furniture.
Finishing materials made from natural sources such as Shellac are long lasting and harmless. Shellac functions as a tough all-natural primer, sanding sealer, tannin-blocker, odour-blocker, stain (pigment), and high-gloss varnish. Melamine and other cover up materials are only meant to hide the defects in the furniture. Many manufacturers fail to recognize that finish is, if not the most, important concern of a home owner. So it is usually left for the trainees and the new comers. It is not done by experienced carpenters, since it will take off their precious time. However, there are many who are expert at the art of finishing of the furniture.
Look out for a smooth surface and consistency in the patterns and shades of the furniture. Avoid melamine and go for shellac finishing.
Good furniture usually comes with warranties from one year to 10 years. A warranty of three years is considered standard in the furniture industry.
Small issues occur with furniture such as scratches, discoloration or small breakages of woodchips due to normal wear and tear. It is crucial that the place where you are about to buy furniture also has the capacity to repair and restore furniture. Otherwise you will be left to look for furniture repairs on your own and very few businesses take the risk of restoring precious furniture. Small damages can cause losses to the restorer and therefore a good restoration requires experience and skill.
However, be aware of sellers pushing sales with promises of lifetime warranties. Read the fine print, these “lifetime” warranties usually come with so many conditions that they are no more than empty promises meant to give you a false sense of security. These are also extremely difficult to challenge in courts of law; since sellers can claim that the exaggeration was “mere puffery” and not a term of the sales and purchase agreement.
Sometimes it is a good idea to get furniture custom made as it can be made to fit dimensions and individual tastes.
A furniture company having the capacity to produce custom make furniture in a reasonable time frame is usually a manufacturer itself or has strong ties to the manufacturers. It is a sign that the company can also be relied on to stock good quality furniture. And manufacturers usually do not charge high prices for custom made furniture because it save them on warehousing and marketing of the furniture. At the same time, do not expect whole sale prices. A price point similar to the price of a furniture piece in that particular store, which most resembles your order, is a good way to judge a fair price. Buying custom make furniture usually requires you to pay a deposit and a 50% deposit is standard in retail furniture business. And up to two months is a reasonable timeframe to produce and ship furniture from overseas. However, make sure that the deposit you pay is fully refundable if there is a problem. Ask the seller: What happens if the furniture you make is not up to my expectations? If the seller is willing to refund you the deposit or make a new piece of furniture, the seller is reliable. Do not pay a hefty deposit that is non-refundable.
If you have experienced prices being hiked up at all types of stores just because of your skin colour or other cues that are used to identify you as a high net worth individual, you are not alone. It is very common practise, especially in Asia. Avoid buying at stores without clear price stickers or tags.
For expatriates and visible high-income individuals and minority groups:
Written by Shahid Bhat. The author has travelled widely and has done extensive first hand research into various types of hardwood furniture with a special interest in Teak furniture. He provides consultation services to furniture buyers.
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