When it comes to buying real wood furniture, it’s important for consumers to know the difference between real wood, solid wood, particle board and fiber board.
These terms are important because they can often confuse furniture buyers. At Furniture in the Raw, we often attempt to inform customers about the different types of materials used in furniture construction so that they can make informed buying decisions.
Medium-Density Fibreboard (MDF)
Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) is an engineered wood product formed by breaking down hardwood or softwood residuals into wood fibers.
MDF combines the wood particles with a wax and a resin binder. Boards or panels are formed by applying high temperature and pressure.
MDF is denser than plywood. It is made up of separated fibers, but can be used as a building material similar in application to plywood. It is stronger and much denser than particle board.
Particle board is an engineered wood product manufactured from wood chips, sawmill shavings, or even saw dust.
Synthetic resin is most often used as a binder, which is pressed and extruded. Many furniture makers, including IKEA, use particle board extensively.
Particle board is a composite material and does not have the structural advantages of solid wood. It is most often used in lower quality furniture. While it allows some furniture makers to produce low cost furniture, it also has some draw backs, especially when it comes to durability and strength.
Unless adequately braced or built with thick material, particleboard shelves will visibly sag over time or snap near the fasteners. Damage to particleboard is normally impossible to repair effectively.
Furniture makers often cover particleboard with real or imitation veneers, in an effort to simulate the look of solid wood.
Veneer is a thin sheet of better quality wood attached to a core, usually of less expensive material like particle board or MDF.
Veneers make it possible to match grain patterns or create designs.
Wood veneers should not be confused with faux veneers that are basically reproductions
They may lack the individuality and beauty of real wood veneers.
Plywood is a manufactured wood panel made from thin sheets of wood veneer. It is one of the most widely used wood products.
Plywood is flexible, inexpensive, workable, re-usable, and can usually be locally manufactured. Plywood is used instead of plain wood because of its resistance to cracking, shrinkage, splitting, and twisting/warping, and its general high degree of strength.
Plywood layers (called veneers) are glued together with adjacent plies having their wood grain at right angles to each other to form a composite material. Cross-graining has several important benefits: it reduces the tendency of wood to split when nailed at the edges, it reduces expansion and shrinkage equating to improved dimensional stability, and it makes the strength of the panel consistent across both directions.
All wood simply means that all parts are made of wood. However, an all wood piece of furniture may include some combination of solid wood and engineered wood.
Hardwood is wood from broad-leafed trees that lose their leaves in winter, such as oak, ash, cherry, maple, walnut and poplar.
Because of its strength and durability, hardwood is generally considered better for furniture construction then softwood.
Softwood comes from needle-bearing trees that remain green in winter, such as pine or cedar.
These are fast growing trees and have a loose grain. These woods are easily carved or worked. Because the wood surface is often quite soft, they are more susceptible to damage such as marks and dents, although popular with the “distressed” finishes.
Solid wood can mean that all exposed pieces of the piece are solid, but areas hidden from view may be another material. There can be one single board or plank of wood, or also several wood boards or blocks that are glued together.