When the futon industry was born back in the 1980’s, the frames were well thought out and well constructed. Whether it was softwoods or hardwoods, the frames featured good fundamental designs made from solid wood. These futon frames would incorporate new working mechanisms and ideas in operation that made futons appealing not only in their design but in the quality of materials and construction that went into them. The futon industry was doing well and growing with these frames heading into the 1990’s but then the black metal futon frame came onto the scene.
At first it was widely regarded as a great addition to the futon family of products. Finally, a futon that could be offered at a much a lower price point. Black metal frames were being imported from China, Malaysia and Taiwan. Many of the early black metal frames were packaged with an import mattress made up of ground up textile materials and a colored covering with tufts. These packages were often anywhere in price from $199 – $249 and started out in specialty futon shops as a great way to introduce customers on a budget into a lower priced futon option. It was soon discovered though that these frames were not such a bargain that they appeared to be.
The first problem with black metal frames is the round metal bars that make up the seat and back sections of these frames. Where as wood futon frames are using flat slats, black metal frames have hollow round bars. Thinner mattresses would slide through the gaps between the round bars. On wood futons this was never a problem. The other issue with the hollow bars is that if enough weight was placed on a spot they would begin to bend. The issue became so bad that a 90 day warranty was put in place by most manufacturers of these frames.
Another issue the black metal frames suffered from were bending stretcher bars or rails. Again the hollow nature of these strecther rails presented issues with breakage and bending. Early designs involved a steel tooth design that would fit into pocket welds on the arms. These would snap off over use. The alternative design was to run a bolt through the arms and into the rails. While better it still did not address the issue of bending stretcher rails.
Bent hinges also added another issue that would happen from use over time. While not as common as the other problems this issue still led to the failure of many black metal frames. The hinges were attached to the arms of the futon frames with two bolts and two nuts. While this design was OK the hinges themselves would fail when too much weight was applied to one side or the other. These would also bend out rendering them useless in the operation of the futon.
Most specialty futon retailers pay little to no attention to black metal futon frames. Retailers I’ve spoken to have said that the black metal futon frame is the number one service headache when it came to futons with over 95% of service issues being the failure of a black metal frame component. Replacing these parts were made more difficult by the fact the manufacturers were located overseas and obtaining the parts past the 90 day warranty period often involved the retailer having to purchase the replacement parts and charging the customer.
If you’re shopping for a futon, here are some things to think about if you see a black metal futon frame in a mass merchant or big box store. Consider the fact that most solid wood futon frames carry a warranty anywhere from a year to a lifetime warranty. Black metal futon frames have a 90 day warranty. It says something about how much the manufacturer stands behind the product. Black metal frames are made overseas. Expect to wait for a part if something breaks or if you’re past that 90 day warranty, expect to pay for all replacement parts and associated costs to get your frame up and running again. Consider too that parts may also no longer be available should something break. Metal bars allow mattresses to slide into and through the gaps between each bar. This puts lumps in your mattress and can make the futon quite uncomfortable when compared to flat wooden slats on wood frames.
Futons do make a sensible investment as they provide all of the features and benefits of a sofa sleeper but at a fraction of the cost in many cases. If you find the right frame that is well built from quality materials and a good mattress your futon experience is sure to be a positive one. Avoid metal futon frames that are made more to hit a particular price point then they are to be a piece of furniture that can offer longevity as a dependable sofa and sleeper for your home. The right futon can provide you and your family with years of quality use. The wrong futon frame will simply become disposable furniture.