Here’s the Real Secret Behind DCI’s Long Lasting Furniture

In Blog by Morgan Dix

What’s the secret behind our long lasting furniture?

One time-honored principle of sustainability gives us a simple way to understand the answer to that question.

When people think about sustainability, they often think about the obvious things like reusing and recycling parts, powering your operation with renewable energy, creating zero waste, and making nontoxic products.

Of course, those are all valid and important.

A Simple Secret About Sustainability

But there’s an ancient element of sustainability that a lot of people overlook. You might even say it’s the original principle of sustainability.

Of course, I’m talking about durability. Make products that last a really long time! That’s the heart of sustainable practice. Simple.

It’s easy to forget that the whole ideal of sustainability emerged in response to the unanticipated and adverse impacts of our mass production throwaway culture. Before industrialization and the modern era, most products—especially furniture—were made to last for generations.

Mass produced furniture designed to last only 10-15 years is a very recent phenomenon.

It’s All In the Family

Come to think of it, I’m writing this article while sitting at a lustrous solid hardwood desk that my father built in his high school woodworking class back in 1960…nearly 60 years ago!

At this rate, my two year old daughter will take it with her when she grows up and moves out.

That’s the kind of sustainability I’m talking about.

And it’s one reason why we build such durable hardwood furniture. Durability is the very cornerstone of our sustainability practice.

Here’s another compelling example of long lasting furniture.

long lasting furnitureWe still have furniture in heavy rotation at the University of Maryland that we installed 35 years ago. It looks great and functions perfectly. But the story doesn’t stop there.

Soon after the installation at UMD, DCI founder Henry Kober gave his sister a UMD study desk for her daughter. Eventually, said daughter went to college, then med school, and now she’s a Doctor.

She passed the desk on to her own daughter who recently graduated college. It has since gone to one of the younger cousins who uses it today.

How We Build Such Long-Lasting Furniture

UC Berkeley's long lasting furnitureSo how do we build such sustainable and long lasting furniture?

One of the bedrocks of creating long lasting furniture is construction. What materials do you use and how do you put them together?

For the last 40 plus years our local craftsmen have used time-tested methods to construct solid hardwood furniture.

dovetail joint for long lasting furnitureYes, it’s true that our factory today is filled with modern machinery and finishing equipment, but here’s the thing.

We don’t lose sight of the old world craftsmanship that ensures our furniture will last for decades.

What does that mean exactly?

For one thing, we use joinery techniques to make incredibly strong cabinets backed up by a 25-year warranty.

This kind of joinery easily surpasses the strength of frame and screw only construction used by some manufacturers.

But don’t just take my word for it. Let’s review the two main joinery techniques we use in constructing our furniture and explore why they account for the strength and durability of our products.

Double Dowel Joinery

Hardwood double dowel joinery is the primary construction method we use here at DCI. Here’s how the Cabinetry Guide describes the dowel joint.

The dowel joint is another quality type of wood joinery technique.  It does not use nails, screws, or staples, which often fail and present a potential safety hazard. The dowel joint offers the same hidden joint look as dovetail but costs less.

We reinforce the dowel joints with glue and screws. Why do we use dowel joinery?

For a few reasons.

It’s A Clean Joint

As the quote above alludes to, dowels don’t require additional equipment – no staples, screws, or nails that can sully the surface of the wood. We choose to use screws to further reinforce the joint so the furniture will last longer.

It’s Very Strong

Another reason we use dowel joints is because it’s one of the strongest joints, if not the strongest. Even though it’s super strong, some people say that it’s not as strong as mortise and tenon.

That’s the conventional wisdom.

However, there are some folks who have found that dowel joinery is stronger than mortise and tenon. Steve Morris over at the website Canadian Woodworking and Home Improvement ran an extensive test comparing the different joints.

Surprisingly, the dowel was the clear winner in terms of the strongest joint. Steve writes:

Test results show that dowels are the strongest method for cre­ating this type of joint. The dowel joint in solid oak failed at an average of 650 pounds pressure, mortise and tenon joints failed at 500 pounds and biscuits failed at 325 pounds. Variations in the pressure at failure was less than 5 percent.

Some residence hall furniture manufacturers use only nails, screws, and glue for their joints. Although that might allow for quick assembly, it renders a vastly inferior product that won’t last long or stand up to the rugged demands of a college or university residence hall.

Dovetail Joinery

We also use dovetail joinery in our cabinets. All our drawers are fully dovetailed. What does that mean?

Here’s a description of dovetail joinery from SFGate.

Dovetail joints are commonly seen connecting drawer fronts to the sides. A set of pins are cut to extend from the end of one board and connect with a set of tails cut into the end of an adjoining board. The result is an extremely strong joint that resists being pulled apart. Once glued, the trapezoidal-shaped pins and tails are permanently fastened without the need for nails or other reinforcement.

Although dovetail joints are hidden, they are beautiful to behold and reflect the true art of woodcraft. And, in terms of sustainability, they last for ages!

Do You Want Incredibly Durable Furniture?

So that gives you a quick overview of our construction approach.

We build all our furniture with durability and longevity in mind using the finest and strongest solid hardwood. These are the hallmarks of quality. They also represent the essence of sustainability.

Do you want long lasting furniture that will live a minimum of 25 years? That’s our guarantee. But the truth is, our furniture is likely to last much longer, saving you both money and time.

(Photos via Flickr CC: J JongsmaSam WilsonFabio Battistetti)