Amish furniture in PA and elsewhere is different than mass-produced furniture in many ways. For the eagle-eyed furniture shopper, the difference is clear upon first inspection. Amish furniture is unmistakable in its detailed construction, innate beauty, and impressive strength. But the most important differences are structural. The longevity of Amish furniture stems from supreme construction approaches. Amish craftsman spend years and even decades perfecting these time-tested ways of building furniture.
Construction Methods that Distinguish Amish Furniture
Wood Selection. The superior nature of Amish furniture begins at the lumberyard, where Amish carpenters select wood for different projects. Only properly cut, fully dried wood is suitable for heirloom furniture. Amish craftsmen look for timber with 6% moisture content or lower. Master furniture-makers can also select the best lumber for different projects, matching wood qualities to different purposes. Individual selection eliminates lumber weaknesses that might slide under the radar in mass production facilities.
Proper Hand Tools also make a big difference in furniture quality. Amish craftsmen do not use electricity, instead relying on pneumatic and hand-powered tools. Jointer planes, smoothing planes, and jack planes are used to shape the wood in Amish furniture. A wide array of additional hand tools is needed to cut and fit together furniture pieces. While factory furniture workers understand only one or two steps along the conveyor belt, an Amish carpenter understands the entire building process, and therefore understands how to adapt tool selection to the wood and piece at hand.
Wood and Glue Joints. Finally, while mass made furniture is fastened with nails and screws, Amish furniture makers often opt for fastener-free joints which derive their strength from wood and glue alone. Wood joinery is an art that results in refined, visually appealing, and durable joints.
Ultimately, furniture longevity depends on joint technique, as the joints must hold each piece together. Poorly made pieces tend to fail at the joints, complicating repair and limiting value. Wobbliness also stems from shoddy joints. In contrast, Amish furniture is strongest at the joints, thanks to carpentry expertise passed down through generations of craftsman. Amish joints are dependable, aesthetically pleasing connection points.
Here are a few of the joint techniques Amish furniture makers master.
Dovetail joints are beloved for their strength and beauty. At a dovetail joint, wedge shaped channels called pins and tails interlock, creating a pressure seal that is highly resistant to force. Even without glue, furniture with dovetail joints rarely fails at the joints. Drawers made with dovetail joints operate silently, as the fastener-free construction eliminates rattling and stickiness. This intricate joint requires years of practice to master.
Tongue and Groove Joints
This joint connects pieces edge to edge. The edge of one piece of wood features a protruding “tongue,” while its match has a matching edge “groove”. Tongue and groove joints are often used in flooring, paneling, and table and chair construction. The planks of a tabletop may feature tongue and groove joints, for instance.
Often used to join furniture at the top and bottom, rabbet joints have a recess that accepts a corresponding protrusion. Only sections of each board are jointed in this way, hiding the joint. Casement and door construction often features rabbet joints.
Tenon and Mortise Joints
Within this type of joint, a square or rectangular peg at the end of one piece (the tenon) fits perfectly into an insertion hole in the other piece (the mortise). This is the oldest woodworking joint. It is used in furniture making but also in crafting gates, heavy doors, and load-bearing beams.
Also known as a housing or trench joint, a dado joint includes a channel or slit, into which a corresponding piece slides perfectly. Dado joints may be used in conjunction with rabbet joints.
Exquisite Sanding, Staining, and Finishing completes the Amish construction process. These final steps protect each piece of furniture, creating smooth, warm surfaces that will stand up to years of daily use. While mass produced furniture offers pre-selected color schemes, Amish pieces are endlessly customizable with wood and stain options. Here at Gish’s Furniture, we use a catalyzed converter varnish to achieve a resilient, hard surface that showcases the wood’s beauty.
Amish furniture is handcrafted. Each piece is lovingly realized from wood selection to final finish. This level of craftsmanship is impossible to achieve with factory manufacturing. An Amish craftsman pours his own artistic vision and technical skill into each piece of furniture he creates. The human ingenuity contained in each piece results in wobble-free, beautiful, charismatic furniture. While factory-made furniture is likely to fail due to poor wood selection and unreliable joints, Amish furniture stands up to the test of time.