The Wood Products Extension group at  North Carolina State University has been working on a project to review opportunities for using underutilized hardwood species for higher value furniture and other wood products.

These woods can be dried flat and free of stain and can be finished in clear or light to heavy stain. Woods such as beech, sycamore, black gum, tupelo, hackberry, sweetgum, and wormy red maple are typically priced as green lumber in truckload quantities at the sawmill for a quarter to one-third the price of premium woods such as hard maple and cherry.

Furniture pieces made of these seven underutilized species were manufactured at the  Hodges Wood Products Laboratory at North Carolina State and displayed at the  High Point Furniture Market in April of 2008. Show attendees were asked to complete a short survey about their perceptions of the use of these species for higher value products based on the furniture displayed.

Of the 41 respondents to the survey, 30 percent were involved in furniture design services, 25 percent managed furniture retail stores and 19 percent were furniture manufacturers. A quarter of respondents were from other woodworking companies, cabinet manufacturers, hardware and specialty products manufacturers.

Respondents were asked to rank their preference for the seven species on a scale of one (best) to seven (worst) based on the displayed furniture items of tables, chairs, bookcases and shelves made of these species.

Sycamore and wormy maple were the most preferred species ( see Table 1 ). Red oak was perceived as the second most preferred species followed by beech, sweetgum, hackberry and tupelo/black gum.

Most respondents preferred solid wood furniture to veneer construction ( see Table 2 ). About 93 percent of respondents would like domestically made furniture, and 80 percent of that group did not like imported furniture. Customers also preferred character marked furniture to clear grain.

Almost half of respondents preferred delivery within three to four weeks, and 22 percent wanted delivery within six weeks of their order.

These survey results are preliminary findings about customer perceptions of the use of underutilized species in furniture. Similar surveys will be conducted at other home/furniture shows to get a better and much larger sample of customers to understand retailer and homeowner preference for furniture made with underutilized species.

The authors wish to thank the USDA and USFS's  Wood Education and Resource Center in Princeton, W.Va., for their support of the project and to the respondents.

For more information contact  Harry Watt.

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