Furniture & Design Terms

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Acanthus

A type of leaf used as a carving motif since ancient times. Acanthus leaves have a curved shape and somewhat ruffled edges making it very decorative.

Applied Carving

Pieces of solid wood that have been hand-carved or shaped by machine and glued onto a piece of furniture. Resin/plastic shapes are sometimes used as imitations for applied carving.

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Armoire

Another name for a tall wardrobe with doors, and sometimes a few drawers that is used to store clothing. If the inside is fitted for electronics, it is an entertainment center. Another name for an armoire is a clothes press.

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Ash

Light, creamy-colored hardwood that sometimes has a wavy or curly grain pattern. Ash burl has a more pronounced circular and wavy grain pattern and is cut from the tree stump or where limbs intersect the trunk.

Back Panel

The piece of wood that covers the back of a case piece. The best back panels are wood, and are affixed to the back of the furniture with screws. Back panels also add to the structural integrity of a piece of furniture by holding the sides and back in alignment.

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Ball & Claw

A type of carving used as the foot of a chair, table or small chest that looks like a sphere grasped by a bird’s foot. The original inspiration for this carving is Chinese and is said to resemble a dragon’s talons clutching a pearl.

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Bail

The loop or the U-shaped part that the fingers grasp on the hardware pull on a piece of furniture.

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Banding

Decorative veneer edging on case goods that usually has its grain running perpendicular to the edge of the piece of furniture. Banding also refers to layers of veneer inside a veneered piece between the core and the face veneer.

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Bead

This molding is small in size and is a round dowel shape cut in half lengthwise. It is often used to frame drawers or doors with a decorative edge.

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Beveled Edge

Similar to a chamfer, a beveled edge slopes from thick to thin and is often used as a shape for the edge of a mirror.

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Bombé

Convex sides and front on a chest that are shaped in a curved fashion. The sides of a bombé chest bulge in a decorative way.

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Bow Front

Convex, elliptical shaping on just the front of a chest or case piece

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Bracket Front

A two-sided foot where the sides mett at a right angle and are shaped like a bracket at the open end

Brass

Copper & zinc alloy that is stronger than copper alone, and more golden in color than copper.

Bronze

Copper & tin alloy sometimes used as a decorative element on furniture.

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Bun Foot

Circular shaped carved foot that has the appearance of being flatted a little so that it looks more like a bun – or the shape of a jelly-filled doughnut.

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Burl

Growths on a tree that produce small amounts of beautifully grained wood or stumps and areas of the tree where limbs intersect with the trunk and grains move in many directions. Burl is prized as a decorative veneer.

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Capital

The top of a column that is often decorated with a carved scroll or other ornamental element.

Case Goods

Originally used as a term for wood furniture that offered storage, case goodsnow refers to virtually any furniture not used as a seat or chair.

Cathedral

Shape of the wood grain in some straight cut veneers that has the appearance of an oval arc.

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Chamfer

A shaped, sloped edge.

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Chest on Chest

A storage piece that has two sections placed on top of one another – and each section has the appearance of a chest of drawers.

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Corner Block

Triangular shaped pieces affixed to the bottom corners of drawers and other case pieces for strength and reinforcement.

Contemporary

Modern style of furniture design featuring straight and some curved lines and very little ornamentation.

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Cross Branding

Borders of veneer often used as a decorative edge, where the grain of the veneer is perpendicular to the edge it decorates.

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Dovetails

A type of furniture construction joinery wheretriangular shaped edges fit together in an interlocking pattern.

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Doweling

A type of furniture construction joinery where short pieces of rounded dowels are glued into circular holes on either sides of the wood to be joined.

Drawer Guide

Strips of convex and concave shaped wood strips that fit together smoothly in a track. The convex shape is affixed to the bottom of a drawer and the concave strip is fastened to the chest or dresser. The guide keeps the drawer centered and allows it to be opened and closed smoothly.

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Dust Proofing

Pieces of wood affixed between drawers in a dresser or chest that protect items in drawers from dust and critters. Wooden dust proofing is the best quality, and it contributesan additional measure of structural integrity to a piece of furniture.

Ebony

A very hard and dense wood with jet-black coloration that is often used as a slim line in veneer or marquetry patterns.

Emperadora Marble

Hard, crystalline limestone with brown, black and white colorations and dramatic vein patterns. Polished to a high sheen for use as a top for a chest or dresser.

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End Panels

The sides of a chest, dresser or armoire

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Face Veneer

The outermost piece of veneer seen on the exterior of a veneered piece of furniture.

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Fan Veneer

Veneer cut in wedges or triangular shapes resembling an open fan.

Fancy Face Veneer

A face veneer that has a special grain pattern or decorative design inlaid in it.

Faux

Imitation

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Fiberboard (MDF)

Medium density fiberboard is comprised of small wood pieces glued and pressed into a flat board. MDF has no grain and is a strong and stable core for veneered panels and tabletops.

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Frame

A square or rectangular border for end panels on a cabinet, armoire or chest. A frame is also the structure that holds the glass in a mirror or the pieces that hold the mattress and box springs on a bed. Sometimes the skeleton of a case piece is referred to as a frame.

Flitch

A log cut into thin (1/16") slices for veneers. A sheaf of veneer slices or an entire log in slices is referred to a flitch of veneer.

Fluting

Rows of concave grooves or channels cut into a post as a decorative element. Fluting is the opposite of reeding.

Grain

The pattern of wood fibers in a piece of wood. Some grains are straight and fibers stand close together. Others are circular, curved, wavy orother shapes.

Grommets

Circular holes framed in metal often used for wire management in entertainment centers.

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Hardwoods

Hardwoods come from deciduous trees – those that lose their leaves once a year. Some examples of hardwoods are oak, maple, cherry and sycamore.

Honed Edge

A polished, curved shaped edge on a stone top

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Incised Carving

Carving technique that cuts into wood – often in geometric shapes. This type of carving is gouged or chipped out to leave an interior design.

Kiln Drying

A process by which pieces of lumber are dried in a large (often room-sized) oven to remove some of the moisture present in freshly cut wood. Kiln drying balances the moisture in wood so that it is suitable for manufacturing and finishing.

Lacquer

Clear, cellulose-based finish used as the top coating on furniture

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Lotus

An ornamental flower with large, curved petals used as inspiration for carving. It is Egyptian in origin.

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Marquetry

Contrasting colors of veneer used to create a picture or embellishment with straight and curved lines. Flowers, shells and intricate, curved shapes are examples of marquetry.

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MDF - Medium Density Fiberboard

Manufactured material made from compressed wood fibers and glue that is often used as a core for veneered products. MDF has no grain, which makes it an excellent core material because it does not expand or shrink. MDF is also heavier and denser than solid wood since it is made from compressed wood fibers.

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Mitered

A 45-degree angle cut in two straight pieces of wood allowing them to form right angles as they join. A miter joins the corners of a mirror.

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Moldings

Decorative strips of wood, sometimes carved, that frame doors, drawers, tops, sides and fronts of some case pieces.

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Mortise & Tenon

A type of furniture construction joinery where a large rectangular tab of wood (tenon) fits into a slot that is the same shape (mortise).

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Ogee Edge

A shape (also known as a profile) made from two S curves that is often used for moldings or feet on furniture pieces.

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Overlays

Carved pieces of wood applied to a case piece before finishing. (Faux or imitation overlays are made from resin or plastic)

Patina

The aged look that a wood finish or leather develops when used over a period of time. Fine finishes can give the look of patina without the wear of aging.

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Ply

A thin (usually 1/16") slice of wood used for veneering. In veneering the core counts as one ply and each layer of veneer is added to the count. i.e. a 5-ply veneer has a core and 2 plys on each side of the core.

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Pocket Doors

Door construction often used in entertainment centers when outer doors fold and slide back into the cabinet so that they are hidden from view.

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Post

Column of wood, often shaped and carved, used on the corners of a bed, or as a decorative element on a case piece.

Primavera

Light-colored wood with pink and yellow tones that is often used as a decorative veneer or for edge banding.

Profile

The cross-section shape of a piece of molding or a turning.

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Quarter-Sawn

A method for slicing wood in which the log is cut lengthwise in quarters. These quarters may be sliced again into quarter-sawn plys of veneer, by cutting lengthwise slices down the straight edge of a quarter.

Racking

A twisting, wobbly motion made by a piece of furniture that is not cut and assembled well. Structural integrity is compromised, allowing the furniture to shake when moved.

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Rails

The horizontal wood pieces of a cabinet, or the side pieces that join the headboard and footboard of a bed.

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Reeding

Strips of side by side, convex, half-circular shaping – often on the post of a bed. The opposite of fluting.

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Relief Carving

A type of detailed carving in solid wood, where the background of the carving is removed leaving a raised design. (Sometimes an overlay looks like relief carving, but the overlay will have a point of demarcation between the overlay and the background wood)

Season Cracks

Openings that appear within the grain of solid wood pieces that have been improperly dried before manufacturing or that have been subjected to changing heat and humidity conditions. Season cracks often diminish when furniture is in warmer and more humid surroundings

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Sleigh Bed

The headboard and footboard of a sleigh bed have a curved, scrolled shape that looks like an old- fashioned, horse-drawn sleigh

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Slipper Foot

Shaped foot on a bed, table or case piece that resembles the curved, pointed toe of a lady’s shoe, and its sole.

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Soft Woods

Another term for wood from evergreen trees – pine, fir, cedar.

Structural Integrity

Building furniture with materials, design, joinery and glues that make the furniture strong and substantial. Structural integrity is a lot like the “belt and suspender” approach to wearing pants.

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Tapered Leg

A leg that becomes slimmer as it reaches the floor

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Tongue & Groove

A type of furniture construction joinery where construction joinery where a curved shape to its edge (tongue) slides into a groove shaped to fit. This joinery is often used in hardwood floors too.

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Traditional

Historic pieces of furniture and well-known design elements are the inspiration for traditional furniture. Complex carvings, moldings and bold shaping on case pieces are indicative of the traditional style as are fancy face veneers, polished finishes and embellished hardware.

Transitional

Clean lines of Contemporary furniture softened with shaping and carving elements of more traditional furniture are indicative of transitional design. Wood colorations tend to be lighter colors with satin rather than high sheen finishes.

Travertine

Stone with a creamy beige coloration often used for decorative tops to chests and dressers.

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Truss

A bracket that gives additional support to two pieces of wood being joined in a perpendicular fashion. A truss system used in bed construction holds multi-ply slats on edge and secures them to the bed frame for strength and structural integrity.

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Turning

Shaping a three – dimensional piece of wood by rotating it while cutting away the edges with sharp blades. The shape of a turning is referred to as its profile and is usually curved in convex and concave ways. Turned pieces are used for bed posters, legs of case pieces, spindles of chairs and other pieces that require a rounded shape.

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Veneer

A thin slice of wood, often with a fancy or decorative grain pattern used to grain pattern used to furniture.