I saw a nice console table at a department store (Marshalls) that’s supposedly 100% acacia wood.

How can I make sure this table is actually solid wood?

  • 1
    Well some pics would help....
    – Graphus
    Jan 23 '20 at 7:08

Look underneath the table, where all the sins are hidden. You are looking for how the dimensioned pieces are put together, and where unfinished edges will show you if this is a veneer or not.

A fair amount of modern furniture will use "real" wood (usually imported "hard" softwoods) for the carcase or frame. Larger, more decorative pieces like table tops will often be a veneer because these tend to be the most expensive to make, and it is easier to attach veneered engineered wood to aprons and legs because it is very dimensionally stable. So, it can be hard to identify table tops and the like are 100% wood.

Veneers vary a lot in overall quality, and some can be really hard to spot from the top. There can be some obvious or less obvious giveaways, however:

  • If it is screwed directly to the apron or otherwise attached without allowing for grain movement, it is probably engineered lumber with a veneer. (Or, it is a poorly built table that will start showing cracks and checking by the next change of season.)
  • There may be an obvious seam where the veneer "wrap" overlaps. Look for this on the edge faces, where cheaper veneers can look like gift wrapping. Sometimes you can feel the seam with a thumbnail.
  • Large surfaces, like table-tops, are rarely large continuous pieces, but rather are a panel made from glued-up smaller pieces and then planed and finished as one piece. But you can see the joins. Since veneers are usually manufactured as large unbroken panels, one dead giveaway is that the grain is both unbroken, but repeating. This is a sign you are looking at a table top that has been "peeled" from a log.
  • It depends on the style, but if the table top (or other edge parts) have edge banding around them (even if the banding appears to be real wood) this is a sign that the raw edge of engineered product has been finished in order to hide it. There are styles of construction that use hardwood banding to protect softer edges of real wood, though, so the presence of banding isn't an automatic signal a top is veneered.

That all being said, Acacia (whether true Acacia or one of the analogues that are labelled Acacia) wood is cheap and plentiful enough that when it says Acacia, it probably is.

Depending on how brave you are, once you get underneath the table or chair, an easy trick is to try lightly scoring unfinished "wood" surfaces with a thumbnail along the grain. "Ripping" fibres, even a little, and feeling how your nail digs (or does not dig) into lower layers gives you a lot of information about lumber. Admittedly, this is a bit of an experience thing, but it is literally a rule of thumb I've seen others use in the past.

Finally, just pick a corner of the table up a little. Acacia is light. Even large tables made of Acacia don't have a lot of mass. A modest amount of engineered wood products will feel a lot heavier. Well, unless it is made of that new hollow-core stuff, but then it would be so light you'd notice that, too. Hardwood tables are pretty heavy, of course, so this only works for lighter construction woods.

  • jdv, much good general info here. I've held off upvoting this in hopes the OP will come back with pics of the table in question, or something very like it, so feeback about the exact features he's seeing can be given rather than generalities. If it turns out they've abandoned their Question as is so common here :-( then generalities will have to do! But I think a little more on how to spot veneer from the surface would be of great future benefit, make this the definitive Answer on how to spot it versus solid-wood construction.
    – Graphus
    Jan 25 '20 at 8:19
  • @Graphus let me know if I've missed any. I never really inquired into the question "how do I know this is wood" tests I do almost automatically. It feels strange enumerating them like this.
    – jdv
    Jan 25 '20 at 14:25
  • Yes, I agree. It's one of those things where you eventually do it automatically, so because you don't really have to think about it consciously it's hard to put yourself in the position of explaining all the various things your eyes scan for, or just pick up instantly.
    – Graphus
    Jan 25 '20 at 19:40

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