There are many types of wood and we’re not talking about the different species of wood. When it comes to manufactured wood, you can count on different materials with various content, manufacturing processes, and uses.
Manufactured boards are modified wood created by mixing and pressing various wood pieces. These pieces are held together by strong glue and are dried and cured to produce the best results. There are many types of manufactured boards. Let us explore the various types and their many uses.
What is Manufactured Wood?
Furniture makers are often asked if the furniture piece is pure wood or solid wood. When told that it’s manufactured wood, people often get mixed reactions. So before we learn about the different types of wood, let’s first take a closer look at what manufactured wood means.
Officedesk.com gives a good description of what manufactured wood is. Also called engineered wood, manufactured wood or boards come with a top layer of genuine wood or wood veneer. This top layer or veneer is typically protected with a coat of melamine to keep the wood surface protected from scratches, burns, stains, and marks.
Underneath, the veneer layer is pressed board or MDF (medium-density fiberboard). MDF is also wood but in the form of wood composite which is various pieces of wood that are pressed together using a very strong glue. MDF looks and feels like plywood and has the quality of good plywood which is why it is preferred for constructing homes.
Advantages of Using Manufactured Wood
By using manufactured wood, furniture pieces become more affordable. Also, furniture made from manufactured wood is lighter and thus, easier to carry and ship.
You might think that lighter furniture is cheap and will never last long. According to experts, the wooden composite layer in the middle of manufactured wood is very dense and tough. Desks and tables made of manufactured wood are heavy.
You might compare manufactured wood from particle boards. These two are very different in the way that particle boards don’t contain any wood while manufactured wood is made of real wood. Most furniture pieces like cabinets, tables, and desks made of particle board are very light and won’t last a year.
What are The Types of Manufactured Wood?
Manufactured wood is available in many types. Understanding each type can help you decide which is the best one for your project. If you’re thinking of buying furniture or working on a DIY project at home, your knowledge of the various types of manufactured wood would be a plus.
Remember the particleboard we were talking about earlier? Particleboard is also called chipboard; an inexpensive and low-density flat board that you’ll find in low-cost furniture and décor. Particleboard is manufactured by bonding strong glues or adhesives with sawdust. Resin is also added to make the material stronger.
Usually, particleboard materials are sandwiched in veneer. This cover helps make particleboard look more appealing and also improves its strength. Veneer also helps make particleboard resistant to stains and marks.
Characteristics of particleboard
Compared to traditional wood, particleboard is cheaper. It is the weakest and the lightest kind of fiberboard. Particleboard is available in different grades with each one varying in density. Higher density particleboard is stronger and is more resistant to screws and fasteners.
Particleboard is very susceptible to expansion and changes in color due to moisture. You must paint over particleboard or apply a sealer to preserve its natural color. You cannot use particleboard outdoors and also in areas with high moisture content. Particleboard is also useful as an underlayment placed under moisture-resistant vinyl flooring.
In places where there is low humidity or in dry environments, particleboard with a veneer surface is preferred over plywood with a veneer surface. It is more affordable, stable, and very convenient to use.
History of particleboard
The use of particleboard began in Germany in 1887. Known as “artificial wood,” Hubbard created particleboards from wood flour and glue with an albumin base. The material was pressed using high pressure and temperatures.
Particleboard was commercialized during World War II and was created in Bremen, Germany. Waste wood materials were used to make particleboard including off-cuts, planer shavings, and sawdust. The phenolic resin was used to bind everything together.
Soon, manufacturers found out that you can get stronger particleboard by using uniform-sized wood chips. Manufacturers used waste wood from beech, birch, pine, alder, and spruce. Eventually, layers of wood with different chip sizes were used creating a material called a “three-layer particleboard.”
Uses of particleboard
- Light and low-end home and office furniture
- False ceilings
- Wall panels
- Core wood material to make doors
Compared to other manufactured wood types, fiberboard is denser and is more resistant to chipping and breaking. Fiberboard is made by cutting solid wood into smaller pieces and then applying heat to transform these pieces into woof fibers. The fibers are dried and bonded together using adhesives.
The term fiberboard clearly describes what this wood is about. Some people use fiberboard and particleboard interchangeably but the two are different wood pieces. Fiberboard together with MDF is widely used in constructing furniture and home décor. If fiberboard is used on a visible part of the furniture, veneer sheets are added. Doing so can improve the overall appearance of fiberboard.
The way fiberboards are manufactured is different from other manufactured boards. It starts with wood chipping which is fresh wood or recycled wood. Chipping is cut into smaller pieces and sorted. The chips head to a washer to remove dirt and sand.
A strong magnet moves over the chips to remove nails and other metal scraps. The chips are steamed and paraffin wax is added to create light and fluffy wood fibers. Once the fibers are ready, adhesives like urea-formaldehyde are sprayed. In some manufacturing plants, phenol formaldehyde is also used.
The chips are placed on a conveyor belt and arranged into a mat. This is hot-pressed to activate the glue and binds the chips together. Afterward, the board is cooled, cut, and sanded.
Some fiberboards are considered green building materials. These green fiberboards are bio-based and are made from secondary raw wood materials like sugarcane fibers and wood chips. The materials used to make green boards are usually recovered nearby the manufacturing plants.
And instead of industrial-based glues, the adhesive used to make green fiberboard is all-natural made of vegetable resin with no formaldehyde.
Uses of fiberboards
- Roofing material
- Deadening or soundproofing
- Low-slope roofing construction
- Sheathing material
- Flooring underlayment, sound deadening
- Doors and cabinets manufacture
- Home décor, home interiors
- Low-density furniture
Medium Density Fiberboard or MDF
MDF is the most popular of all manufactured wood types because of its impressive qualities. This wood is dense and stronger than other manufactured wood. This is cheaper compared to solid wood and thus, it’s an economical building material for all kinds of projects.
Medium-density fiberboard is a kind of engineered wood produced by breaking down softwood and hardwood scrap materials. These fibers are mixed with resin binders and wax to form panels. These fiber panels are baked, pressed, and cooled.
MDF is a term for the different densities of fiberboard. It was in the 1980s when the first large-scale production of MDF started in Europe and North America.
Properties of MDF
MDF has become a household name for any dry processed fiberboard. It is made from 82% wood fiber and 9% urea-formaldehyde resin adhesive. MDF contains around 8% water and only 1% paraffin wax.
MDF has a density between 500 and 1000 kg/m3. This density applies to light, standard, or high-density fiberboard and most people find this confusing. Nevertheless, thick MDF panels have a density of 700 to 720 kg/m3. This is considered high density compared to softwood fiber panels. Nowadays, there are many types of MDF which were driven by the various needs of different industries.
Different types of MDF wood
There are different types of MDF usually classified by colors. The first type is ultralight MDF, moisture-resistant MDF board which is green, and fire retardant MDF which is blue or red.
These different types of MDF woods have been manufactured in the same manner as fiberboards but the resulting material has varying densities.
Meanwhile, veneered MDF has a lot of advantages. This material is preferred by furniture makers as this looks like natural wood but is available for only a small fraction of the cost. To make veneered MDF, a very thin slice of hardwood wood is cut and subjected to very high pressure and stretching. After processing, the veneer is wrapped around the MDF boards with simple profiles.
The most commonly used wood species to manufacture MDF is radiata pine which is grown in plantations in Australia and New Zealand. However, other materials are now added to pine including fibers and waste papers. To manufacture moisture-resistant MDF, eucalyptus trees s are used.
To make MDF, the trees are cut and the bark removed. The logs are cut into chips and any large chips are cut into smaller pieces. After cutting, the chips are washed and inspected for any defects. MDF chips are used to manufacture other fiberboards like Masonite.
Meanwhile, green MDF is also manufactured using greener products and non-toxic adhesives or binders. A few of the most popular materials used to make green MDF are bamboo and straw.
Uses of MDF
- Building furniture
- Soundproofing rooms and structures
- Constructing cabinets
- Constructing doors and door frames
Safety concerns when using MDF
MDF is a versatile and practical manufactured board however, there are many issues when using MDF. One of these is safety. During cutting, MDF releases high amounts of dust particles in the air. You must use a respirator mask to avoid inhaling these dangerous particles.
The formaldehyde resin used to bind MDF fibers emits free-formaldehyde and other dangerous organic compounds in the air. Inhaling these dangerous substances could lead to health issues. Also, urea-formaldehyde, another binder resin used in some MDF wood manufacturing may continuously release formaldehyde into the air.
Also known as laminated board, plywood is the strongest and the most durable manufactured board. The name plywood came from the thin pile layers of wood veneer pressed together using strong glue. The adjacent veneer layers have their grains rotated 90 degrees with each other to prevent splitting.
There are many types of plywood and are differentiated by the number of veneer layers, glue or adhesive used, and other factors. All plywood combines resin and wood fiber sheets to create a composite material. The grains are cross-grained which improves the quality and strength of wood.
The piles are odd-numbered to create a balanced sheet and avoid warping. There is also lower quality plywood which is thinner and smaller with piles connected at right angles. Some are better plywood sheets with five piles arranged at 45 degrees which makes the wood stronger and less prone to warping.
History of plywood
The first accounts of using plywood were from ancient Egypt and Greece. People used thin pieces of wood and glued these together with the grain perpendicular to each other. The resulting wood was used to create an aesthetically-pleasing material.
It was in 1797 when Samuel Brentham created the first machines to make veneers. He applied for patents for these machines and even described the process of laminating veneers with adhesive to create a thicker, more resilient piece.
50 years after Brentham introduced laminated wood, Immanuel Nobel considered several thinner layers of wood that were bonded together would create a stronger and thicker layer of wood. Nobel invented the rotary lathe as he realized the untapped potential of laminated wood.
Types of Plywood
There are different varieties of plywood each one with specific applications.
Softwood plywood is mostly created from scraps of solid wood like fir, pine, douglas fir, cedar, or spruce. This is why it’s known as SPF or spruce-pine-fir. It can also be made from redwood which is mostly used for industrial and construction projects. This type of plywood has dimensions of 1.2 x 2.4 meters and larger dimensions of 4 x 8 feet.
Hardwood plywood is manufactured from dicot trees such as beech, oak, and mahogany. This type of plywood is very strong and is mostly used in very high-stress or demanding projects. This plywood is very strong, stiff, durable, and resistant to changes in shape and size. Hardwood plywood is commonly used for heavy-duty structures such as floors and walls because of its hardness and high resistance to wear and tear.
Tropical plywood is made from a combination of hardwood species and tropical wood. This type of plywood was originally made in Asia and has spread to South America and Africa. Tropical plywood is far better than softwood plywood because of its strength, density, even layers, and top-quality appearance. There are many uses of tropical plywood but it is most common in the construction industry.
Aircraft plywood is high-strength plywood made from mahogany, birch, and spruce. These wood pieces are bound by strong adhesives which are very resistant to changes in humidity and extreme heat. This type of plywood is used to manufacture air assault gliders in World War II. Aircraft plywood is also used to construct fighter aircraft, wing surfaces, and aircraft flat sections.
Decorative plywood is manufactured using oak, ash, red oak, birch, mahogany, maple, shorea, teak, rosewood, and other types of hardwood. From its name, decorative plywood is not as durable as tropical and hardwood plywood and thus, it is used to create decorative pieces.
Flexible plywood is useful in constructing curved wooden parts. Furniture makers bent large pieces of plywood to make intricately-designed furniture pieces, musical instruments, and other projects.
Marine plywood is from durable face and core veneer wood but with some obvious defects. This wood performs great even in wet and humid conditions. This wood resists delaminating and mold attacks. Marine plywood prevents water attacks thanks to its very stable and durable adhesive bond.
Uses of plywood
- Roofing, interior walls
- Wall sheathing
- Interior walls
- Decorative items
Veneer wood is a thin piece of solid wood that is pressed into core panels. Veneers are sliced from natural wood and combined with MDF, chipboard, or plywood. Veneers are flat and perfect for furniture surfaces, parquet flooring, and cabinet faces.
Plywood has three or more layers of veneer wood with each layer glued at right angles to the adjacent layers to improve the wood’s strength. A veneer is common in decorative edgings such as making jewelry boxes, cabinets, shelves, tables, and desks.
To manufacture veneer, the finest logs are sent to companies that make veneers. These logs are cut and thus, increase the quantity of usable wood or reclaimed wood. Veneers are cut so thin as 1/40 of an inch. Manufacturers make use of various cutting processes to ensure there’s zero wastage. Sometimes, large knives or blades are used to slice very thin veneer.
Types of Veneers
There are many types of veneers, each one having different uses.
Raw veneer does not have any backing and thus can be used on either side. The two sides will look different when you apply finish as the cell structure of the wood is different.
Paper backed veneer
Paper-backed veneer has a paper backing and is available in huge sizes. Smaller paper-backed veneers are joined together before a paper backing is placed. Paper backing is helpful when you are veneering curved areas and columns to avoid cracking.
Phenolic-backed veneer is used for artificial wood or composite veneer projects. This type of veneer is also available in large sheets.
Laid up veneer
Laid-up veneer is made from raw veneer which is joined together to create larger veneer pieces. You can order laid-up veneer in any shape, design, or size.
Wood on wood
This is a 2-ply veneer and is mostly for decorative purposes. The veneer has a wood backer applied in an opposing direction to the veneer face.
Reconstituted veneer is manufactured from tropical tree species with the raw veneer cut long. The veneer is dyed and then laminated together to create a block. This block is sliced to create laminated edges which will be the grain of the veneer.
Uses of Veneer
- Furniture making
Another manufactured board is blockboard. It was created as a cheaper alternative to plywood and also for applications that require thicker plywood pieces. Blockwood was created by combining solid timber with two outer-facing veneers with their grain at right angles to create a strong material.
Hardboard is made from wood fibers that are pressed using hot plates. This will create large and very thin grainless wood sheets used to make furniture, cabinets, and much more.
Insulation boards are used to construct indoor walls as insulation for sound and heat. Insulation boards are created from wood pulp and thus it has a low density and is weaker compared to other manufactured boards.
Care for manufactured board
Just like any piece of wood, you must care for furniture, decorations, and home fixtures made of manufactured wood. Here are some tips.
- Avoid footwear on floors made of manufactured boards.
- Use furniture mats under furniture if you want to rearrange them or move them across the room.
- Use braces to support cabinets, shelves, and tables made from manufactured boards.
- Always use nails and fasteners to install manufactured boards. Use wood glue if you’re gluing these boards together or with solid wood.
- Avoid using too much water to clean or wipe tables, desks, and cabinets made from manufactured boards.
- Use coasters and placemats when eating or dining on tables and desks made of manufactured boards.
- Use furniture care polishes on your furniture made of manufactured wood. This will protect the surface from scratches and marks.
There are many types of manufactured boards. MDF and plywood lead the pack when it comes to strength, durability, and performance while particleboards are the lightest and least durable. Knowing the qualities and the uses of each type can help you make a sound decision when buying furniture made from manufactured boards.