What is "Fine Furniture"?

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Blog entry by Matt887 posted 02-06-2018 03:53 PM 1097 reads 0 times favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I want to start this endeavor as I have others in my life; with an idea of where I want to go, then let the journey fill in along the way. So where I want to go is this, I want to end up being able to build furniture, fine furniture at that. After asking some questions to folks in the field they ask what I thought fine furniture was. For me the question was answered more by what I have seen in print than in person and became difficult to put into words. Therefore I have come up with a few skills which these items I have witnessed have in common. I am trying to wrap my mind around things like hand cut dovetails and other joinery techniques, cabinet making as it relates to furniture making, and sharpening. These are the areas I hope to focus on in 2018. All indications are that with a couple classes at Marc Adams School I should be on my way. Also in my sights is a book by Matt Kenny which I believe is coming out in the Spring, 52 boxes in 52 weeks, should be a skill builder for me as well. I intend to share many parts of this journey on Lumberjocks for others to: comment on, enjoy, or hopefully learn a few things for themselves. With all that being said I wanted to ask people here, What is “Fine Furniture” to you? Matt

-- "If you want to go fast, go alone... but if you want to go far, go with a team."

16 comments so far

View gargey's profile


1013 posts in 1664 days

#1 posted 02-06-2018 04:28 PM

You’re entering a world of conflation.

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2649 posts in 1535 days

#2 posted 02-06-2018 04:56 PM

I agree … you will find no real consensus. Lumberjocks currently reports having 243,454 members. I do believe you will find at least that many definitions of fine  furniture.

View Matt887's profile


21 posts in 1122 days

#3 posted 02-06-2018 05:17 PM

I do not disagree, I only hope I can find a path to gain the skills needed to build a few of those 243,454 definitions. My problem right now is trying to learn the patience needed to focus and not try to do everything all at once.

-- "If you want to go fast, go alone... but if you want to go far, go with a team."

View Woodknack's profile


13505 posts in 3268 days

#4 posted 02-06-2018 05:35 PM

It’s easy to build a piece of furniture that lasts, quite another to build an extraordinary piece of furniture that lasts. To me, fine woodworking is not just about how it’s put together but also the artistry and materials involved. Again, just my opinion, but selection of materials, harmony, visual interest, elegance, joinery, all combine to elevate a piece from “nice” to “fine”.

-- Rick M,

View CaptainSkully's profile


1615 posts in 4446 days

#5 posted 02-06-2018 05:37 PM

Anything that isn’t built for use in the shop. Anything you need to put a coaster on. Anything you want your children to have some day. Anything that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside after you finish it. Anything that you’re afraid of making a mistake during the build. Anything you’re proud to show off when people come over to the house. Anything you don’t want your kids to destroy with toy hammers and Play-Doh. Anything you carry out to the moving truck because you don’t trust the movers with it. Anything that hurts to sell or give away.

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2649 posts in 1535 days

#6 posted 02-06-2018 05:39 PM

I do not disagree, I only hope I can find a path to gain the skills needed to build a few of those 243,454 definitions. My problem right now is trying to learn the patience needed to focus and not try to do everything all at once.

- Matt887

I’m afraid there are no classes on patience  ... you’ll have to develop that on your own. Just build something, perhaps a one drawer stand. Look at styles such as Hepplewhite or Federal. Keep it simple … build it well … and be proud of your first piece of fine furniture. Maybe build a couple before moving on to a case piece. Good luck!

View Woodknack's profile


13505 posts in 3268 days

#7 posted 02-06-2018 05:47 PM

I’m also looking forward to Matt Kenny’s book.

-- Rick M,

View CaptainKlutz's profile


3743 posts in 2382 days

#8 posted 02-06-2018 06:06 PM

Interesting question. Curious to see answers. :)

IMHO >>>

Craftsmen made Fine Furniture:
= Designed and built to last forever
Hardwood and old growth softwoods only
(fast growth modern softwoods suffer damage too easily to maintain an elegant appearance for eternity)
Large panels designed to accommodate wood movement by use of frame & panel, ship lap, or tongue & groove construction.
Does not use any metal fasteners in corner joinery.
If joinery is exposed, then it adds character to design (dovetails, box joints, spline miters, etc)
Does not use butt joint corners with additional corner wood reinforcements
(instead uses: dado’s, rabbits, mortise/tenon, or maybe dowel pins; to create strong glue joints)
Minimal exposed end grain. (bread board ends on large top surface panels)
No “man made” wood products (plywood/MDF)
No metal drawer slides.
Only metal is found in;
- hinges,
- cast bronze/brass, or hand hammered metal handles,
- decorative brass corner protection on boxes,
- limited use of small finishing nails/brads to reinforce glue attachment of edge or base molding,
- limited use of screws to attach top panel to apron that allows for wood movement.
No plastic parts anywhere!

Modern Fine Furniture:
= Deigned and built to last a couple of lifetimes.
Same as above with some exceptions:
Can use top of line ball bearing metal drawer slides with 1.5X weight rating that drawer can handle
Can use high quality Baltic birch plywood for drawer bottoms, and back panels of large pieces that are not intended to have back surface visible.
Can use metal for adjustable leveling feet (attached to wood via inserts, not a stamped metal bracket attached with screws).

Some might argue that more plywood is Ok in modern fine furniture?
I think when you use plywood for cabinet sides or internal panels, you move from “fine” to “average everyday use” furniture category. Nothing wrong with this level of furniture, but veneer plywood is not going to repair easily when finish is damaged. (or more simply, not designed to last a very long time)

rant mode on:

Actual Modern “Fine” Furniture you can buy in average furniture store:
All panels are veneer plywood, only hardwood is found in face frames, drawer fronts, and moldings.
Use of lowest cost hardwood or “rubber wood” that can be stained to imitate a quality hardwood
MDF/plywood for hidden or back panels.
Cheap flimsy metal drawer slides, plastic guides, and plastic leveling feet.
= designed to last just past the warranty expiration date. :(

Do not get me started on IKEA/Walmart style furniture…... Yuck!
Apologies for veering off topic with list of what is not “fine furniture”. :)

rant mode off:

-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

View MrRon's profile


5946 posts in 4131 days

#9 posted 02-06-2018 06:09 PM

I feel one of the most important things is dedication. I like to take the Japanese craftsman as an example. Although the Japanese way may seem over ambitious, they are world recognized for their fine craftsmanship. Short of the Japanese way, an apprenticeship under a recognized craftsman would be the next best. The road to perfection is a long and hard process. As to my definition of “fine” furniture, it can be of any style, but it has to be made using recognized woodworking standards; that is, no fiberboard or void fillers. Finishing is an important step in fine furniture. Some may say the use of plywood is not “fine”, but a lot of furniture that is considered fine uses veneer overlay and that theoretically is plywood.

View Manitario's profile


2816 posts in 3771 days

#10 posted 02-06-2018 08:10 PM

Rather than concerning yourself with others definitions of “fine” furniture, find something that you like, that inspires you and learn the skills that you need to build it. The core skills are the same regardless of what you want to build.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View TangoFox's profile


60 posts in 1027 days

#11 posted 02-07-2018 03:14 PM

A fascinating question…

I would offer the suggestion that “fine furniture” should mean whatever you want it to mean. If all you want is to be able to look at some furniture from the outside and proudly say “I built that”, then there’s nothing wrong with pocket screws and rabbets instead of mortise & tenons and dovetails.

Case study #1: I’m making a shaker-style table right now and screwed up badly enough that the only way to fix it is with pocket screws. It pissed me off pretty good, but I was trying to explain it to my wife and she looked at me like I was nuts (which may be true, but still…). As far as she’s concerned, the only thing that matters is what she can see from the outside once the project is done.

Ultimately – what you want to do is completely up to you. As Manitario said – just focus on learning the skills, and eventually you’ll decide what YOU think “fine furniture” should mean.

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4222 days

#12 posted 02-07-2018 03:45 PM

Maybe the dictionary is a good place to start. excellent, first-class, first-rate, great, exceptional, outstanding, admirable, quality, superior, splendid, magnificent, beautiful, exquisite, choice, select, prime, supreme, superb, wonderful, sublime, superlative, very good, of high quality, of a high standard, second to none, top, rare; More

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View a1Jim's profile


118143 posts in 4465 days

#13 posted 02-07-2018 04:02 PM

As others have said, you have to define what “fine Furniture” is for yourself after 30 some years of woodworking I don’t believe I’ve ever made one single piece of fine furniture. I think you’ll know it when you see it, this helps you define your own idea of what fine furniture is, Take a look at furniture makers furniture such as Charles Neil, Philip Lowe, Darrell Peart Garret hack, Christian Becksvoort, Roland Johnson, Steve Latta, Marco Aurelio Gumaries. and so many others once you have viewed others work you may get inspired as to what path you’re interested in taking.


View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


16948 posts in 3506 days

#14 posted 02-07-2018 04:21 PM

I like captscully’s answer best so far.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View Andre's profile


3746 posts in 2694 days

#15 posted 02-07-2018 05:11 PM

When you glide your hand over the work of some one like James Krenov you will realize what fine furniture is!

-- Lifting one end of the plank.

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