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Solid vs. Engineered Wood: How to Tell Them Apart and Decide Which Is Better

An avid creator, Anjlee enjoys advising on design and home decor topics.

Learn how to distinguish between solid and engineered wood.

Learn how to distinguish between solid and engineered wood.

How to Choose Which Type of Wood

When choosing furniture, it is not enough to focus only on the design and price of products. It is also essential to consider the materials used to make your favourite pieces of furniture. We have carefully curated this article on the differences between solid and engineered to help answer all your queries.

The modern furniture market offers a wide range of products made from natural raw materials and composite materials. Information about their advantages and disadvantages is often contradictory. To not "get lost" in it, you need to have at least a minimal understanding of the most popular materials used in furniture production.

Solid vs. Engineered Wood

Wood has long been used in the manufacture of furniture, as it has always been in abundance in most every part of the world. Two types of wooden panels are used in the modern manufacturing of furniture:

  1. Panels made of solid wood. After being cut from the raw material, they are treated by drying, spraying with insect repellent, and applying primer to increase moisture resistance and fire retardance.
  2. Glued wood boards made of natural wood elements joined together with adhesive solutions, also known as engineered wood.

Thanks to the unique manufacturing process, furniture boards do not shrink and are incredibly durable and resistant to moisture and pests.

Pro Tip: Solid wood furniture is better to buy from a trusted manufacturer. This guarantees that environmentally friendly and safe paints have been used to make it.


Matching the Wood Type to the Furniture Piece

All types of wood have unique properties, so furniture made from them will vary in quality. The following points must be taken into consideration when choosing the material for the interior furnishings:

  • In terms of hardness, wood is divided into softwood (pine, poplar, spruce, alder), hardwood (birch, oak, maple, ash), and very hardwood (hornbeam, iron birch, yew).
  • In terms of decay, a distinction is made between resistant wood (pine, ash, oak) and medium-resistant wood (the core part of beech, spruce). Birch, sapwood, linden, and aspen are more susceptible to rotting.
  • The density of wood is divided into dense (ash, applewood), medium-density (birch, beech, walnut, oak), and low-density (pine, aspen, spruce, alder).

For each piece of furniture, a specific type of wood should be selected. For example, beechwood, despite its durability, does not tolerate water contact—so it is not suitable for kitchen worktops.

The Benefits of Solid Wood Furniture

In the age of plastic and other human-made materials, natural wood products are growing in popularity, and for a good reason.

  • Solid wood furniture is environmentally friendly and safe. The rooms in which these are installed have a special microclimate that is good for the health of children and adults.
  • Wooden furniture is durable and long lasting. If you follow the simple rules of maintenance, it will last flawlessly for several generations. This is due to the natural characteristics of the material and modern processing methods that eliminate the few imperfections.
  • Each wood type is special. So all wooden furnishings have a unique pattern and texture.
  • Wooden furniture can easily be given a "second life" by renovation.
  • Natural wood products are less prone to breakage than products made from other materials. There are fewer sharp corners, and wood is able to absorb shocks.

Engineered Wood in the Furniture Industry

Engineered wood or laminated chipboard, also known as particleboard, is used commonly in cabinet furniture production and imitates solid wood. It is essentially a standard particle board with a decorative surface coating.

The idea of mixing wood waste with glue to form panels came from an American entrepreneur, Ernst Hubbard, in 1887. The first engineered wood panels were laminated with luxury wood veneers, so only the wealthy could buy them.

How Engineered Wood Is Made

These are made up of two components:

  1. Filler (sawdust, shavings, scraps). To reduce production costs, waste from woodworking and wood processing plants is often used as such (in this case, the chipboard production line is located close to these plants). The chipboard is also made of substandard wood such as tree branches and limbs and the scraps from sawing logs at sawmills and the cutting of boards, logs, and beams.
  2. The main component is phenol-formaldehyde or urea-formaldehyde resin. These components make the wood water-resistant and robust but have a severe disadvantage: toxicity. Polymerisation resins are practically harmless, but they have reduced thermal resistance. So the products made with them are unstable.

To glue the prepared woodchips together, resin and polymer mixtures are used, which become adhesive when exposed to high temperatures. The mix of chip and adhesive is shaped and then pressed, cut, and cooled.


How to Tell the Difference Between Solid Wood and Engineered Wood

There are not many dedicated furniture experts amongst the average consumer, so there is a lot of chance of becoming a fraud victim. Nowadays, the furniture market is full of "bargain" offers of inexpensive wood, which soon turn into beds and wardrobes made of low-quality composite materials.

To avoid getting into this situation and to be able to tell the difference between engineered wood and solid wood at the time of purchase, it is essential to pay attention to points that are an obvious indication of the quality of the furniture.

  • Composite products have a rectangular shape and have sharp corners. On the other hand, in the case of natural wood, it is possible to make ends rounded or to carve fancy curves that give a unique character.
  • The quality of the edges. Poor-quality chipboard furniture is often revealed by excess glue build-up at some areas and a loose surface layer in places.
  • A "perfect" wood pattern, which is identical on the entire surface of the product, indicates that it was engineered. This is not possible with natural wood.

Be Sure to Consider the Safety and Durability

Whether you go with solid wood or engineered wood furniture, it is a personal choice. However, as well as with the original design, trendy colours, and price, you need to consider the safety of the materials and the durability of the furniture before you purchase.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Anjlee Yadav