Getting To the Truth as You Shop for Cabinets or Furniture

A well-informed consumer is always the best defense against “word inflation”. Word inflation occurs as salespersons continually try to get away with calling their products something that they are not.

Classic example: “Solid Wood”. It comes as a surprise to many people to find out that the cabinet and furniture industries refer to plywood as “solid wood”. For example, “This quality desk is made of 100% Solid Wood!” Then you look underneath and see plywood edges. Puzzled looks and furtive glances.

Now, I have nothing against high-quality veneered plywood. In many situations, it is superior to wood in its natural state. (If it's 2007 or later when you read this, I should have several other articles up on the solid wood vs. plywood vs. MDF topic.) But here's the problem: If our definition of solid wood has now needlessly exanded to include plywood — for which we already had a good word — what are we to call “the substance formerly known as solid wood”?

Unfortunately, the situation with “solid wood” is so far gone that any artisan or salesman who tells you that his item consists of “solid wood and veneered plywood” is at a major disadvantage in the marketplace, especially for internet purchases where the written description plus a picture is all the info a customer gets.

Given this sorry state of affairs, here's what I tell my customers: “I'll be building this item out of solid wood and cabinet-grade plywood, which is also refered to in this industry as solid wood.”

This might serve as a good litmus test to help you know which kitchen/bath showrooms are going to be trustworthy. Ask them what material choices are available. Wait for them to say the words “solid wood”. Then listen to whether they give any explanation of how they are defining “solid wood”. If they don't, that's one strike.

If they offer no expansion, you might ask, “Exactly what do you mean by solid wood?” If, at that point, they quickly admit that their definition includes plywood, then they might be okay.

But if you have to go so far as to stick your head under, behind or inside a piece of cabinetry or furniture to discover an unhidden plywood edge, then — assuming you do indeed find one (contact me if you need help on this) — it's time to walk out.

Again, it's nothing against plywood. It's all about being able to trust the person who you are hiring.