What wood for your next piece of furniture?

What wood for your next piece of furniture?

Picture credit: commons.wikimedia.org/ Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler/ Grid Engine

Woodwork is a very crucial part of building a house or renovating one. The woodwork and furniture can make or break the look of the house.

Of course, the easy way out these days is to buy ready-to-assemble kits of common and most used furniture items like cots, cupboards and shelves. This choice is convenient and the furniture can be set up in no time. Quality can be good if bought from a good dealer or from a reputed brand. However, the pieces come pre-laminated and there is no real guarantee about the quality of wood or what kind of wood has been used.

There are two basic kinds of woods that can be used for furniture viz. hardwoods and engineered woods.

Hardwoods are just planks or boards of teak, rose, sheesham, mango, birch, cherry and such other types. Engineered woods are boards made from mixing any of these woods or other processes. Some examples of these are particle board, plywood, block board and fibreboard.

Buying or getting furniture made from hardwoods can be a very expensive proposition. This is so particularly in the case of teak or rosewood. Hardwood furniture can look absolutely magnificent. However, if the wood is not seasoned and treated well,

The economical option is to get furniture made with engineered wood. Designed and made the right way, engineered wood furniture can look almost as good as hardwood furniture. The final output also depends on the kind of engineered wood selected.

Particle board

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Particle board or chipboard is the cheapest of all engineered woods. It is made by pressing wood chips and glue into a flat board under heat. Cheaper furniture is made with this wood. Obviously, lower cost means that it will not have the strength or durability of other kinds of woods. It is also more likely to absorb moisture and change shape if it is not painted properly or covered with some kind of laminate. Due to this, products made of particle board are definitely out of the question in damp places like bathrooms or outdoors. Particle boards can be painted but they are generally laminated to prevent moisture from ruining the wood.


Picture credit: hi.wikipedia.org/ Bystander

Plywood is better than particle board in that it is stronger. For shelves or wardrobes, plywood is the better option because of its strength and ability to handle heavy loads. This wood can hold screws better. Particle board is much smoother than plywood, but the latter can be sanded smooth and polished or painted. Plywood is made by gluing and pressing sheets of veneer under heat and pressure. Veneer is thin shavings from logs of wood. Veneer is often used as a laminate and then polished.

Plywood is lighter than particle board and resists moisture better than particle board. Except for the slightly higher cost than particle board, plywood is a good general purpose choice for shelves, cabinets and such other furniture. Another variety is marine grade plywood and resists moisture.

Medium density fibreboard

Picture credit: commons.wikipedia.org/ Vaderluck at English Wikipedia

Medium density fibreboard (MDF) is another option for building furniture because it is denser than plywood. This is made by pressing wood fibre and glue into boards. MDF is very stiff, cheaper than plywood and has very smooth surfaces. However, being made of wood fibre, moisture will cause it to expand and the furniture will be ruined. So, lamination or painting is a must. One big advantage with MDF is that it can get very fine and sharp edges when cut. Plywood and particle board are prone to chipping and turn out to be ugly looking. Another disadvantage is that the high glue content dulls saw blades quickly. MDF is also available in moisture resistant and fire retardant varieties.

MDF is preferred for loudspeaker building due to ease of working but the higher end speakers are made from exotic varieties like Baltic birch plywood.

The other good part of MDF is that intricate designs can be made since it is fibre-based and sharp edges can be cut without chipping.

Blockboard is another popular variety of wood that is used to make cupboards and shelves. It is made by gluing strips of soft wood between veneer.

All these woods are available in thickness of 4-5mm to 25mm or even more.

There are several other varieties of engineered woods like densified wood, laminated timber, cross laminated wood and several others. These are for specific applications but the above three varieties are generally sufficient for domestic use.

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