Construction & materials: breaking down seating selection

By Amanda Opdycke

SCIENCE BEHIND SEAT ICONWhen we think of worship seating construction and the types of materials used, what questions first come to mind? Is engineered wood better than solid wood? How will the longevity of the fabric impact the overall life of the pews, chairs or auditorium seats? What’s a realistic expectation of foam degradation?

The unknowns can be daunting. Knowing the right questions to ask can quickly put your mind at ease.

Detail of joinery of the pew seat and back into the pew cap rail. All three pieces feed into the pew end to provide overall strength of the pew.
Detail of joinery of the pew seat and back into the pew cap rail. All three pieces feed into the pew end to provide overall strength of the pew.

Wood quality

Wood quality is impacted by the process a company might use to achieve optimal moisture content.
The drying process is important, as it’s a means of controlling moisture content, which can impact the manufacturer’s ability to rip the lumber into the correct lengths and widths needed for the furniture.

Having control over the drying process ensures the shrinkage and swelling of the wood doesn’t result in serious flaws prior to manufacture or once the seating is installed.

Wood species selection is also important, as each congregation will have unique needs. The type of wood used in the seating can be a major factor in the decision-making process.

Fabric durability

Fabrics should be independently rated as extra-heavy-duty and include some level of stain resistance.
The Wyzenbeek Test is a method of testing used to determine the durability and abrasion resistance of a fabric in what the fabric industry refers to as “double rubs.” The higher the number of double rubs, the more resistant to abrasion the fabric will be.
Finish quality

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Finish quality is a two-part piece of the equation. You will want to find out if the manufacturer uses stain, sealer and top coat formulated to be formaldehyde-free. Is the stain applied by hand, a manually operated spray system, or a combination? Stain can be wiped down to ensure penetration into the wood grain and reduce the opportunity for the stain to streak or run.

Does the manufacturer use a two-component catalyzed sealer? This can be applied using the manually controlled spray system.
Is the furniture air-dried or oven-cured? Does the manufacturer use a UV-stable top coat to prevent yellowing while providing sratch resistance and protection? This results in a quality finish that’s more resilient and durable than lacquer finishes.

Construction of upholstered pew seat
Construction of upholstered pew seat

Foam quality

Foam will naturally degrade over time. In fact, most conventional foam will degrade at a rate impacted by use, as well as the interior environment. Pounds-per-square-inch is an indicator used to determine the realistic life expectancy of foam. Fewer pounds per square inch are proportional to a higher rate of degradation over time.

Pew, chair and auditorium seat construction

Stylistically, furniture design is important to the church; but, the design should also speak to the construction. How are the parts of the furniture attached to enhance durability?

A contoured seat will provide additional support against sagging without the need for additional boards, which add to a bulky appearance. The pew end should be routed to allow the backs, seats and cap rail to attach directly into the pew end. The cap rail of the pew is also attached to the pew end by using tongue-and-groove construction methods. Attaching each component directly into the pew end alleviates any issue that could be experienced if the attachment method uses a wood cleat as part of the joinery.

Amanda Opdycke is Worship Market Manager at Sauder Worship Seating in Archbold, OH. 


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