What counts most in buying furniture is the quality that lies under cover - under the finish or veneer of wood pieces, and under the fabrics of upholstered furniture.

Good furniture should be attractive, comfortable and built to last, but it's not easy to judge a quality piece, consumer adviser Adele Fletcher says.

"Solid wood" furniture is made of planks [WORD ILLEGIBLE] inch to [WORD ILLEGIBLE] inches thick glued together. "Veneered" furniture has several layers of good-grade plywood laminated together, with a hardwood used for the outside.

"Most wood furniture on the market today is veneer plywood over a hardwood frame," Fletcher says, adding this this is not necessarily bad. "This combination means less warping, swelling and shrinking, plus great strength and styling flexibility," she says.

The two basic types of wood serve different purposes in furniture manufacturing. Hardwoods - walnut, teak, birch, mahogany, cherry, maple and oak - are what you can expect in fine-quality furniture. Soft-woods - redwood, pine, cypress, cedar - cost less and are less durable, but serve well as ready-to-finish pieces or outdoor furniture.

"As the salesman about the finish," Fletcher suggests. "Inexpensive furniture has often been dipped, sprayed or coated in one process. This kind of furniture won't look good very long." Finishes one fine furniture require as many as 25 steps. "If the salesman can't tell you what type of finish a piece has, talk to the buyer," she says.

On upholstered furniture, Fletcher says "Check the frame closely. It should be strong enough to hold the spring construction, cushions and upholstery fabric firmly in place." The frame should be corner-blocked, glued, double-doweled.

The base should have strips of jute webbing woven across the bottom of the frame and fastened with closely spaced webbing nails or staples.

"A chair needs at least 12 springs and a sofa needs 27 to prevent sagging," she says. "They should be securely hand-tied eight times - twice each from front to back, side to side, and diagonally both ways."

The insulating material, which adds firmness and keeps the filling from slipping into the springs, is important, too. It goes over the springs and should be well anchored to the side rails. burlap, felted cotton, sisal and hair pads are commonly used.

For cushioning and filler, Fletcher says, "The better-quality materials include down, horsehair, rubber latex, polyurethane foam, fiberfill, kapok or a combination."

Test a cushion for pliability by squeezing it with your hand. if it does not bounce right back to its original shape, you can be certain it won't take much wear.

"When you buy furniture, buy the best you can afford, piece by piece, in your area's most reliable stores," says the author. "It is slow work, but good furniture will last many times longer than cheap furniture and save you money in the long run."