Inside the Church Furniture Industry......

A Consumer's Guide to Buying Pews, Church Chairs, Pulpit Furniture & More

                         

 

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What Manufacturer's don't want you to know....

about Church Pews!

There are "insider secrets" in every industry, and the church pew business (and chairs, etc) is no different from other industries.  In fact, since this is something that most folks only do one time during their lifetime, few people are interested in "revealing" what they do know.  Here are some of the secrets...

CHURCH PEWS

One of the first "secrets" has to do with materials.  Those who promote "composite construction" (which means they use particleboard in their products) and those who promote solid wood construction both know that there is no completely perfect material to work with.  Every material has its strength and its weaknesses.

SOLID WOOD ISSUES

Those who use "Solid Oak" or "solid wood" will not tell you that the quality of solid wood available today is far less than the quality of wood available 50 years ago.  The advent of the railroad in the late 1800's allowed for mechanical harvesting and transport of the great Appalachian mountain treasures - the hardwood trees.  From the 1880's to the 1950's the old growth forests of the United States were harvested for the precious hardwood timber that was used in buildings, bridges, homes, and churches.  But once these 200 and 300 year old trees were gone, people began to realize that our country was running out of this precious commodity.

  Old solid logs used to make church furniture

Although trees have been replanted, what is available now to church pew manufacturers are third or fourth generation oaks and maples.  They are quite suitable for building furniture, but are more susceptible  to changes in temperature and humidity (than the more mature old growth wood). There is a tendency for solid wood to check, warp, crack or split if not maintained in an area where the temperature and humidity remain fairly constant.  For our homes this is not an issue, since we use air conditioners in almost every home.  But many churches turn back (or off) their heat in the winter and air conditioner in the summer when the church is not using the sanctuary, which can cause  damage to the furniture over the years. This happens when wood is subject to the heat of the summer, causing it to slightly expand, allowing the varnish or lacquer finish to crack open, which allows moisture and air to penetrate to the wood surface and deeper.  (Current conditions indicate that wood will tend to crack or split after 20-30 years in many areas of the country).  However, there is alternative to prevent this process.  Proper maintenance, including the regular application of a good wood wax to the wood surface areas, will help prevent the movement of moisture in the wood and help prevent problems. (We are not talking about "wax" from a spray can, but wax that is semi solid and is applied by rubbing into the wood). The only problem is that is it hard enough to get people to come to church, let alone ask them to stay and wax the furniture!

CHANGES IN THE 60's

The 1960's brought the innovation and interest in having padding on the pews.  Loose cushions, made from horsehair, were available in the 1950's, but horsehair can be itchy, and these cushions had to have buttons in them to help hold the horsehair in place (the horsehair was tied around the button core). Those buttons sometimes created a painful area to sit on also.  The introduction of polyurethane foam, also known as foam rubber, allowed for the manufacturing of loose cushions, and them later padded sections of wood pews.

The other introduction in the 60's was the introduction of particleboard as a material in manufacturing pews. This was a controversial move considering the history of cheap veneers to that point in time.  (and still is an issue to some)

PARTICLEBOARD ISSUES

In the 1960's, a company named Winebarger Church Furniture of Lynchburg, Virginia, began using particleboard in the seats and backs of their pews, as well as a core material for pew ends and supports.  Like all other materials, particleboard has it strengths and its weakness.  It works well as a core material in vertical applications, but fails in horizontal uses, especially when weight is applied. A further issue is that over 20-30 years the PB glue tends to dry out, creating a weakness is weight bearing areas.  The particleboard pews built during the 60's and 70's by several companies were mainly factory padded pews, with fabric on the seat, back and bookrack side also. This allowed manufacturers to offer a much less expensive, yet attractive church pew. One of the main problems seen in those early days was that the seats would tend to break after some years, and veneered supports tend to see the veneer peal away from folks kicking the support with their shoes.  At this time, many major companies continue to use particleboard in their pews, although it use in seats has been discontinued or modified to strengthen the area.  In cases where the PB is surrounded by solid wood (known as edgebanding) it can provide a stable, strong end or support.

CURRENT TRENDStraditional oak pew end from solid wood

Today, larger pew manufacturer's tend to use particleboard based furniture with solid trim (edgebanding), while smaller companies tend to use solid wood ends and supports with plywood under the seats and backs.  Both are acceptable to a point, that is to say both have strengths and weaknesses.

One of the largest pew companies, Sauder Mfg., in fact, is better known for their knock - down, ready to assemble particleboard furniture that is sold through discount stores worldwide.  They started as a Mennonite pew company, but now the pew business is only a small part of their woodworking operation.

BOTTOM LINE ON MATERIALS

Whether you choose pews that have been made from solid wood or composite construction (use of multiple materials) you may have issues after 25 years or so. We suggest that you avoid pews with particleboard seats as they historically begin to experience a loss of strength after 25-30 years or so. The glue in the particleboard can dry out over time.  Since this area (the seat) bears the most weight, you will want the material best suited for weight bearing.  Think about this... when contractors build a house, they use plywood on the floor (weight bearing) and sheetrock (a particle board like material) on walls.  It is this editors believe that pews with solid oak ends and supports, and plywood core backs and s-eats, covered in a quality foam and fabric, is your best option, so long as you provide some light maintenance (waxing).

HOW MANY CAN WE FIT IN?

Traditionally, architects (and pew companies) have used the formula of allowing 18" per person on a pew.  This is an old assumption!  Sales reps know that many Pastors want to have the "biggest" church they can!  (Yes, Pastors have egos, too!)   Those of us who enjoy a biscuit in the morning generally will not be comfortable in an 18" envelope.  In addition, most folks don't like being squeezed into a tight space, but prefer a little wiggle room.  Allow 24" for adult spaces in your pew for a better design and more accurate sense of how many will fit.  On a 12 foot pew, figure seating for 6 persons comfortably.

THINGS TO AVOID

Be sure to avoid companies that have bombastic (pompous, noisy, boisterous, or loud) websites or catalogs, and who promote such strange notions as triple lumbar pews, claims like "our pews are bigger than your pews" or blinking websites. They are desperate for work. 

INSTALLER SECRETS

One of the things most manufacturer's don't tell you is that the men who come to install your pews, in most cases, are independent contractor's who are not employed by the pew company, and may not be covered by their insurance.  Be sure to ask if the installer's are also the employees who build your pews.  They will best know how to make them fit correctly.

PRICING

There are now a couple of dozen pew manufacturer's building pews in the USA and Canada.  As churches shift away from pews towards the use of chairs and theater seats, and as the economy has suffered in these past years, a number of companies have closed their doors or been "absorbed" by others.

The pew business has also become more competitive in recent years.  Pews have been sold for years through independent brokers or salesmen.  (Almost no women are in this industry since traditionally these men have traveled out to local churches to make a presentation and need to lift the heavy pews to bring them inside).  These brokers are located around the country and buy the pews from the factory at a set price.  They then add their markup, usually 15-25%, to the price.  However, most of the major factories have added incentives, such as a competitive discount process, available for the sales rep to use.  These incentives allow the salesman to bring the price down while maintaining a good commission.  If you tell them you are looking at competitive bidding, the price will come down. Current pricing is in the range of $65-85 per foot for a padded pew. Caution:  if they are "pushed" into making a competitive price, they will often try to make it up by pricing the pulpit furniture higher. Buy your pulpit furniture elsewhere to make sure you are getting a bargain.  Finishes are standardized nowadays and will match without difficulty.  You can even request a wood stain block from the pew company to use in matching pulpit furniture at no cost.

Cantileverd style church pew

Pew pricing is determined by the cost of the components.  Some companies offer a literal menu of options, others price their pews as "all inclusive".  You may select from a padded pew body (some 90% of new pews are fully padded, with upholstery on the seat, back and back of the back), a totally wood pew (for those who enjoy "suffering for Christ"), or a padded seat, back or both.  You generally can get a padded seat and wood back, but not the other way around.  Pew ends are a big influence on cost.  Generally speaking, the larger or more decorative the end, the higher the cost. 

In the early days of padding, the cushioning was added on top of solid wood, making it a more expensive option.  Now the fabric and padding is added over top of plywood (or in some cases particleboard) making the padded pew less expensive than wood pews. 

The newest trend in buying pews is to deal directly with a pew factory.  Few offer this opportunity, but you can save 15-20% or more this way.  By eliminating the salesman you save the sales commission!  You may not get the personal presentation, but factory reps are available by phone and internet to help, with catalogs, fabrics and wood samples coming by mail. Pricing runs about $48-55 a foot this way, a big savings!  Traditional pew companies and reps don't like this new trend, because if foresees their demise in years to come. (A similar example is being able to purchase a casket direct from the internet instead of going through the funeral service at a tremendous markup!)     For examples visit here or here.

LOWER COST OPTION

As we mentioned, many churches are switching from pews to chairs for a less formal look or less structured setup.  There are many good used pews available for sale (and some free).  Some of these used ones are only a few years old, there are options for moving and installing them (and even changing the colors) from many of the same independent installers that install the new pews. Info on installing your own pews is also available.

FINANCES

We have saved one of the most important items for last.  Over the past few years, most churches have switched from using pews to church chairs.  In fact, about 4 out of 5 new churches are using chairs instead of pews. (If you are considering this option, you can sell or donate your old church pews and furniture on this website).   On top of a poor economy, where many churches are just not doing any projects, has created financial hardships on many of the pew companies.  If you check our pew manufacturer chart you will find that during each of the last several years a number of pew companies have closed up, some of them taking their customer's deposit with them.  BEFORE you send any money, be sure you do your due diligence and find out the financial condition of the company you are choosing.  You can get a financial report from Dunn and Bradstreet.  Yes you have to pay for it, but it is alot easier to explain to your church that you invested $100 in a report than to report you lost $20,000 by failing to check out the company.  Our church furniture blog and the Better Business Bureau may also have some info for you.

DELIVERY

The following just makes sense... the further away the pew company, the higher the cost for delivery and installation.  In addition, if you are some distance away, it may be some time before they can come in to do warranty work.  Check our list for nearby manufacturers.

WHO DO WE RECOMMEND

If you need a recommendation on who makes the overall best quality pew in the USA or Canada, it is our consensus that Overholtzer Pews are the best!  The Overholtzer companies have been owned by the same German Baptist Brethren family (an Anabaptist group similar to Conservative Mennonites) which has been serving churches  for over 50 years (yes, they have been building pews for a long time!).    Note: there are others  making an "Overholtzer Style" pew, but there is only one original family making them.  For those on a budget needing a good quality solid oak padded  pew, try Born Again Pews or Affordable Pews

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