02 | What is Man Made Wood?

March 10, 2019
MOKKOMOKKO wood furniture
Solid teak, oak and walnut are natural materials offered at MOKKOMOKKO

When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back.

Steve Jobs

Are all types of wood the same? What are the common types of wood used to make wood furniture?

Solid wood, veneer, plywood, laminate, mdf, chipboard – What do these mean?
These names make us scratch our heads whenever we go furniture shopping.

Here at MOKKOMOKKO we will like to have an open discussion on the differences between the various types of wood.

MOKKOMOKKO wood furniture
Freshly sawn timber logs all ready to be made into beautiful lasting wood furniture

The Real Wood – Solid Wood

Natural and real, solid wood are obtained from trees and sawn into logs or slabs. These pieces of wood are processed and cut in mills. They are also dried to remove their moisture to enhance their durability and strength. Solid wood come with varying grains, textures and colors depending on the type of tree and the way they were cut. To read more on the properties of solid wood, please refer to our previous journal entry here.

MOKKOMOKKO wood furniture
AUYAN dining table is made from solid wood, expressing the beauty of natural wood grains

MOKKOMOKKO wood furniture
MERU is a fine coffee table made from solid wood with honest wood textures
MOKKOMOKKO wood furniture
Peeling wood veneers

The Wrapper – Veneer

Perhaps the closest variant to solid wood, veneers are thin slices of real wood, commonly thinner than 3mm. They are usually wrapped and glued on a cheaper and inferior grade wood like MDF or chipboard to reduce cost while masking them to look like a full piece of luxurious real wood.

As veneers are very thin, they can be easily peeled, or their surfaces may become uneven, like bubbles forming beneath, due to water damage. Veneers are often laid over other lower grade woods which have a different expansion and contraction rate than the thin layer of veneer on top. As a result, the varying movements of these 2 materials can cause cracking over time. In these situations, the entire veneer needs to be removed and replaced, which can become costly – contrary to cost savings.

MOKKOMOKKO wood furniture
DECCAN 2 sofa is made from solid teak, walnut or oak, it is not susceptible to risks of peeling

MOKKOMOKKO wood furniture
FUJI chair is a solid wood furniture, designed to present the best of wood grains and textures

The Wrapper – Laminate

Another surface wrapping material, laminates are made by fusing many layers of impregnated paper under high pressure and temperature to create a thin layer of surfacing material. Laminates come in different designs and seek to mimic various textures, varying from wood grains, metals, marbles, fabrics, solid colours to glossy surfaces. They are commonly used to dress up cabinetry, feature walls, doors, and many more.

The man-made faux laminates will never be able to replace the authenticity of real genuine natural materials. The look, touch and feel of laminates will deviate from the natural beauty of materials they try to imitate like solid marble and solid wood.

Because they are made to be thin, they are also brittle, like veneers, and suffer similar problems from cracking, peeling, warping and unevenness. Likewise, they also face problems of expansion and contraction, and can be costly to replace whole pieces in the event of chipping. Technically, laminate is not the core material used to make wood furniture. It is merely a wrapping on the surface of the core material within.

The Substitute – Plywood

Plywood are wooden panels made from gluing multiple layers of different veneer together. They are commonly used for cabinetry works, hoarding or formwork material in building construction, woodwork for boats and ships and wall partitions. Plywood are usually made from various wood species.

Plywood are usually covered over by more refined veneers or laminates. Covering of plywood enhances its beauty and increases its life span, protecting it from water damage. However, plywood can become warped over time and suffer the same problems as veneer due to the contraction and expansion of different layers of materials. The wrapping up of plywood makes it difficult for buyers to validate the quality of the product they are buying as well. When used for wood furniture making, there can be long term issues found within the core of the plywood which cannot be seen from the outside due to its surface wrapping.

MOKKOMOKKO wood furniture
The carpenter is working on solid wood while using plywood, which is a cheaper and inferior grade wood, as a working base

The Substitute – Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF)

MDFs are artificial products made from residual wood. Made by gluing small wood fibers under extreme heat and pressure, the MDF is a composite wood material. Because these small wood fibers make up its composition, the MDF has no wood grain. Due to the extreme pressure it is subjected to, there are also no voids in the mdf board.

Similar to the chipboard which we are going to discuss next, the MDF is weak and does not have much strength. It splits and cracks easily under stress and does not hold nails or screws well. As MDF boards do not have an attractive surface, they also need covering up by veneers and laminates. Hence these MDF boards will face similar problems of expansion and contraction variations. When used in wood furniture making, they are prone to warping.

MOKKOMOKKO wood furniture
POTWAR coffee table uses the strength and durability of solid wood to create a unique character

MOKKOMOKKO wood furniture
TEIDE 1 sofa is made with solid wood to create a lasting wood frame

The Substitute – Chipboard / Particleboard

Chipboards are also made by gluing wood particles together under extreme heat and pressure. However, unlike MDF, chipboards use varied sizes of wood scraps creating an interesting wood texture on its surface. Chipboards are commonly used for logistics due to its lightness.

Chipboards have more voids than MDF and soaks up water like a sponge. As it is easily waterlogged and damaged, it is not recommended to use this material for table tops. Chipboards are also mostly wrapped by laminates and veneers to mask their appearance and hence also suffers from problems of differing expansion and contraction. Given its piecemeal construction, the chipboard easily cracks and splinters. This happens even more extensively when you are driving nails or screws into its surface, much like the MDF. When used to make wood furniture, this material is prone to disintegration over time.

MOKKOMOKKO wood furniture
Wood particles used to make chipboard

Upon evaluating the differing types of wood above, it seems that there are some common threads:

  • Natural materials do not need faux linings to wrap them up, and this reduces the problems of cracking and peeling.
  • Natural materials have minimized risk of emiting toxic smells that can costs one’s health
  • Natural materials are still the strongest and most durable option

We hope the above has been an informative post for you. We have also gained much writing this post. We will be discussing more about the types of woods in the next journal post, so stay tuned!