How Can You Say That 8 Way Hand Tied Foundations Are a Waste of Money? You Get What You Pay For!

by | Jun 26, 2022 | Ask the Expert, Furniture Brands, Furniture Construction, Furniture Costs, Furniture Cushions, Furniture History, Furniture Manufacturers, Furniture Upholstery, Sofas & Couches | 2 comments

Question:

I have been selling furniture for a very very long time. I strongly disagree with your opinion that 8 way hand tied foundations are a waste of money. Drop in units can’t adapt to change of pitch and individual frames. Actual hand-tied is much more comfortable . You get what you pay for.

August 8, 2020

Answer:

I will start by disagreeing with your basic premise that “You get what you pay for.”

It is obvious from your question and statements that you primarily sell high end traditional style furniture.

Paying for “top quality” is easy if your budget is unlimited, but that is not the case for most furniture shoppers.

High prices do not guaranty high quality!

One flagrant example is a $10,000 Hancock & Moore sofa sleeper that uses the same cheap Leggett & Platt mechanism as a $799 
Ashley sleeper.

The details can be found in my blog article High Quality Sofas, Sleepers & Sectionals – Do They Still Exist? 

Hancock & Moore is well-known for making furniture that lasts for generations, yet they use a sleeper mechanism similar to those found in sofas with 3 – 5 year average lifespans.

Leggett & Platt sleeper mechanism warranties are typically for 1 – 3 years.

The warranty includes an exclusion clause stating that the mechanisms are not designed for everyday use.

Another broad example is the entire reclining furniture industry.

Reclining sofas typically cost considerably more than stationary sofas made by the same manufacturer, yet their average lifespan is about half of stationary sofas made by the same brand.

That is true for LaZBoy and Flexsteel.

It is also true for Bradington Young and Hancock & Moore.

Thousands of consumers have complained about reclining sofas and sectionals that have broken down within 5 years or less.

These complaints are not just about the cheapest brands or the cheapest models.

Many are from consumers who paid $2000 – $10,000+ for reclining sofas or sectionals that were unusable within only a few years.

The mechanisms used in $1000 – $2000 reclining sofas are often very similar to those used in $5000 – $10,000 reclining pieces. 

Telling a consumer that “You get what you pay for,” when her $5000 bonded leather reclining sectional has disintegrated in less than 3 years, is neither helpful nor true.

In many cases, the furniture’s “high-quality” was specifically touted by the store salesperson.

Nobody pays several thousand dollars for furniture that lasts only 3 years, can’t be repaired and isn’t covered under warranty.

Not all of this furniture that falls apart within a few years is cheap imported stuff.

Much of it is being made and sold by brands that have been in business for many decades and have strong reputations for making “quality” products..

Even the high-end furniture manufacturers don’t always give you what you think you are paying for.

15 years ago, almost every high end traditional style sofa was constructed with 5/4″ solid hardwood lumber frames, 8-way-hand-tied springs and a spring edge on the front rail.

5/4″ solid wood frames often lasted 50 years and more.

Many of those same high end brands are now using 7/8″ plywood.

Yes, it will probably last 20+ years, but it is not what used to be considered acceptable for “high end” furniture.

Many high end sofa brands have eliminated spring edge construction.

Thick, firm cushions greatly reduced the benefit of the spring edge.

Most shoppers couldn’t tell any difference in the comfort.

15 years ago, high end sofa cushions could be relied on to last for 15+ years.

That is no longer universal.

Down/feather cushions have less down and more feathers, sometimes mixed with low-cost fiber.

2.5 density foam and Spring down cushions are still available, but now there are also less expensive cushion “options” available.

Which brings us to 8-way-hand-tied foundations.

I am not sure what you mean by your statement that “Drop in units can’t adapt to change of pitch and individual frames.”

The type of foundation does not have anything to do with the sofa pitch.

Drop-in units (and other types of foundations) are easily adaptable for different frame styles.

150 years ago, 8-way-hand tied seat support foundations were essential in well-made high-quality furniture.

Of course, back then, cushions were stuffed with low-resilience materials such as down, feathers, cotton, horsehair, etc.

On top of that, traditional sofa styles typically called for thinner cushions than what is popular today.

Seat cushions were commonly 4″ thick or less.

When sitting on thin cushions, made with non-resilient fillings, the cushion is going to bottom out and you are going to feel whatever is supporting that cushion and decking from below.

In that situation, 8-way-hand-tied foundations are, by far, the most comfortable option.

Low resiliency cushions are rarely used today.

Sofa styles, calling for thin cushions, are also rare.

Today’s modern and transitional seating styles usually include cushions that are at least 8″ thick.

Cushion technology has improved over the past 100 years.

The Marshall spring coil unit, designed for luxury mattresses in 1901, was first used in sofa cushions in the 1920s.

Spring down seat cushions, with Marshall coil springs inside, are still in use today and available from most high end upholstery brands.

Spring down cushions typically last for 15+ years, with almost no change in firmness or comfort from the day they were taken out of the box.

Polyurethane foam cushions were first introduced in the 1950s.

Polyurethane foam has been the favored filling for sofa cushions since shortly after its introduction.

It has proven to be the best combination of comfort and cost.

With the introduction of polyurethane foam, cushions could be made thicker, firmer and cheaper.

When cushions are thick and firm, the foundation support below the seat makes much less difference in the “feel” and comfort of the sofa.

8-way-hand-tied foundations are being gradually eliminated by many upholstery manufacturers.

Modern high end upholstery styles almost never have 8-way hand-tied foundations.

The streamlined “European modern look” simply doesn’t have enough space beneath the seat deck for a clunky 8-way unit.

Also, the highly inefficient 8-way-hand-tied production process does not fit well with streamlined, highly efficient production methods in modern upholstery factories.

Modern upholstery designs have replaced traditional as the most dominant upholstery style worldwide.

Another major reason for eliminating 8-way-hand-tied foundations is the difficulty in finding craftspeople who know how to make these units correctly.

New upholsterers don’t want to take the time or effort to learn this difficult and boring skill.

Upholsterers who do a lot of 8-way-hand-tying frequently get carpal-tunnel syndrome, arthritis or other hand injuries.

Building 8-way hand-tied units is highly inefficient, slowing down the production process and significantly increasing costs.

8-way-hand-tied craftsmen are among the highest paid in any upholstery factory.

There are almost no women who do this work, which requires tremendous hand strength.

Most customers really can’t really tell the difference in comfort when sitting on good quality, thick foam or spring down cushions.

8-way-hand-tied foundations are designed to “give” several inches when someone sits down on a low resilience cushion.

The ability to flex several inches creates a noticeably more comfortable feel.

When sitting on a highly resilient cushion, the foundation flexes about 1 inch for an average size person.

Most of the “flex” action is taking place in the cushion, not the foundation.

Cheaper, less flexible foundations are all capable of flexing 1 inch,

8-way-hand-tied foundations are still around primarily because the feature is such a strong marketing tool.

It is the easiest and most effective way for salespeople to communicate the quality of the furniture.

Any brand that uses 8-way-hand-tied foundations is automatically to assumed to be “top-quality.”

To a large extent, that assumption is true.

Anyone who sits on an 8-way hand-tied sofa with expensive down/feather cushions will be easily convinced of the foundation’s superior comfort.

So, the extra comfort is not completely an illusion.

IMHO the slight additional comfort experienced when the 8-way foundation is used in combination with highly resilient foam or spring down cushions is not worth the additional $500 cost.

Despite the strength of the marketing pitch, high end brands have been gradually introducing new models without the 8-way feature.

Bradington Young (and many other high end brands) do not offer 8-way-hand-tied for their reclining and sleeper models.

This is another example of furniture products where customers are not getting what they think they are paying for.

Many Bradington Young customers (and store salespeople) assume BY uses 8-way foundations in all their furniture.

Over 30 years ago I was at the International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, NC where a supplier was introducing a new suspension system that was priced slightly above sinuous wire.

As a demonstration, they had two identical sofas side by side.

One was made with 8 way hand tied springs, the other with their new suspension system.

Both sofas had identical thick (firm) foam cushions.

The two sofas were different colors so that they would not be accidentally confused.

Visitors to the market space were invited to sit on both sofas to see if they could tell which was the 8 way hand tied and which was the newly introduced cheap alternative.

I participated in the test.

My “guess” really was a guess.

I was not at all certain that I was correct when I made my choice.

I never saw the final tally, but when I was in the space, the running total of votes was approximately 55% for the real 8-way hand-tied and 45% for the cheap alternative.

Interesting factoid:

In 1986, I was a participant (and witness) in a court case featuring Drexel-Heritage vs. Flexsteel.

The lawsuit was filed by Drexel-Heritage after GSA (the General Services Administration) had awarded a contract to Flexsteel for supplying sofas to U.S. government employees living overseas.

Drexel protested on the grounds that the specifications called for “8 way hand tied or equal.”

The complaint alleged that Flexsteel’s blue steel flat spring did not fit this requirement.

The court case took several months.

In the end, Flexsteel’s blue steel spring foundation was judged to be “equal to or better than” the 8-way hand-tied specification.

Flexsteel’s contract was confirmed.

(I was Flexsteel’s U.S. government sales representative from 1984 to 1989.)

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Jeff Frank

Jeff Frank

Furniture Consultant

Jeff Frank is a 45 year  furniture industry veteran. He created this blog to provide detailed facts, inside information & advice for furniture shoppers. 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Alice Donnelly

    I found a Drexel sofa .. that is approximately 10 + years in age .. style hill crest .. I believe the # is 841 or 851 … I’m trying to determine if it has 8 way hand tied springs… it’s 5 hours away so I can’t try it out first .. would you possibly know ? Thanks

    Reply
    • Jeff Frank

      Sorry, I can’t help you with this. Most Drexel Heritage sofas were made with 8 way hand-tied springs, but Drexel also had another division making contract furniture, which did not use 8 way hand tied. I don’t know which category this sofa fits into.

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