Furniture is usually made of either two types of materials – composite wood or solid wood. Composite wood is known by many names. You may have seen some of these names while you were looking for your new piece of furniture. It’s called engineered wood, man-made wood, manufactured wood, etc. The engineered wood comes in several forms known as plywood, veneer wood, particleboard, and HDF or MDF (high-density fiberboard and medium-density fiberboard).
These are common materials used in furniture now because they are cheaper alternatives to real wood. Solid wood doesn’t need much of an introduction because it’s straight-forward. The wood is all-natural and if your furniture is labeled as “solid wood”, it means your furniture has remained as pure as possible.
Many organic furniture manufacturers, in an effort to use as few chemicals as possible in the manufacturing process, preserve and finish their pieces with non-toxic finishes to keep them safe all the way from the forest to your home. Natural wood seems to be obviously preferable, but let’s look into the types of furniture available and the factors that may affect your decision in your choice of wood.
Even though composite wood can be laminated or overlaid to look pretty or have a certain design on it, solid wood is naturally gorgeous. You cannot recreate the lines and grains of a natural piece of wood.
The grain of the wood gives strength that will preserve your furniture for a long time. It can withstand weight, time, and poor maintenance. The wood will stand up to modifications.
The real wood furniture piece can be held together by dovetailed joints or wood pins and clever construction. However, composite wood furniture absolutely has to have screws and other materials in the mix to hold it together. If you’re after a purely wood piece of furniture, real wood will fulfill those needs.
Solid wood furniture of high quality will always be desirable. The look of natural beauty that a solid piece of wood can bring is unmatched by modern synthetic attempts. You can choose from different wood species depending on the properties and appearance you’re looking for.
You can choose an FSC certified solid wood piece of furniture from a sustainable, clean source that will benefit the earth and yourself. Or, you can recycle or upcycle a piece of furniture to give it new life. Thrift stores are full of “grandma’s old cupboard or bookshelf” that could be updated and reused.
You can also keep a natural wood piece of furniture in the family and hand it down over the years to continue to be cared for and loved. It can be non toxic as well because you can purchase it pure without toxic finishes or glues. There are many non-toxic finishes available for all styles and needs.
The solid wood is usually pricey and depending on the source, it can be difficult to transport. This, plus the farming costs, means the real wood prices often soar above the engineered wood competitors of similar pieces of furniture.
Especially with things like a dining table, the wide solid piece of wood can warp and expand over time being exposed to humidity. The wood is difficult to repair after this damage but it is possible.
You do have to regularly care for your real wood furniture by keeping it dust-free. The finish also needs to be maintained. You may need to polish it every six weeks, but overall, it’s not too demanding. For instance, you will need to put a durable topcoat on furniture that’s in a sunny room because otherwise, your furniture could suffer discoloration due to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
As with most high-quality things, it’s dense and therefore heavier. This makes it more difficult to maneuver a solid wood piece of furniture.
While this may seem a big disadvantage, you must remember that while it’s easier to nick or scratch a finish on solid wood, it’s also easier to repair than a damaged surface on an engineered wood piece of furniture. The finish can also be left in a damaged state to look “shabby chic” or “rustic” so it does depend on how you look at this. It might not be such a con.
It’s easy to make it fit most designs and color schemes because of the variety of choices you have in the realm of engineered wood. It can be covered and laminated with almost any color or style you can think of.
If you buy more expensive or higher quality composite wood furniture you can be sure it will last a long time with the proper care. The wood has been engineered to have a long lifespan.
Solid wood is generally quite expensive while wood composites are much more readily available and easy to attain. The materials are cheaper to manufacture, and therefore cheaper to purchase as the consumer too.
The even design of the engineered wood is a great surface to decorate and customize exactly as you like.
The even surface makes laminate an extra option for adding a decorative flair for your design tastes. This can also add durability by putting a protective layer over the engineered wood furniture surface.
You can be creative to make this into what you want and need for your space. Because it’s much more flexible and softer than solid wood, you can add things to the wood such as holes and cut it down to the sizes you want too. Because the wood is made to be water-resistant usually it doesn’t warp or expand with time and moisture. This is unlike solid wood, where you have to compensate for warping over time.
The general cleaning for furniture made of wood composites is easy. In general, you need to wipe it down with a damp cloth and let it dry thoroughly. No polishing!
The softer the material, the easier it is to damage it. Unlike solid wood surfaces which can be repaired, it’s almost impossible to fix it and repair it if there are any scratches or dents in your composite wood furniture.
If the wood veneer or laminate on top begins to peel, it is very difficult to repair it. The engineered wood furniture would have to be in a room with a low humidity ratio.
Once it comes in contact with water, the composite wood will then swell and be damaged and exposed to mildew. Once it swells, you cannot fix it.
Engineered wood is made with toxic adhesives and glues to stick the wood, veneer, and laminate together. The toxic additions are something you cannot change about composite materials. They will make the furniture off gas for years to come, releasing toxic chemicals into the indoor air. This is a major concern for people who try to fill their home with safe, non-toxic furniture.
Solid wood furniture is a timeless asset to your home. You may have a solid wood furniture piece handed down to you in your family as an heirloom, you might find a piece at a garage sale or thrift store, or you might buy it brand new. Even if you find a piece that’s damaged, a skilled craftsman can restore a century-old wooden piece and make it look good as new again despite a damaged finish. This is not possible with engineered wood furniture.
Once your piece is restored, with routine maintenance, your solid wood furniture could outlive you. You can carve, cut, and drill the natural wood to your desire and the furniture will last through it all. Composite wood could fall apart after too much modification and drilling/sawing. This endurance and flexibility in style are what makes solid wood a fantastic choice for your furniture.
Not to mention, if you’re trying to keep your home clean and toxin-free, you can achieve this with all the non-toxic finishes available for you to choose from. There are so many natural finishes that are beautiful and functional to allow you to keep your home toxin-free while taking care of your furniture and protecting it for years to come.
Not necessarily. It can be engineered to withstand great force and tension, but solid wood is stronger in general because of the natural, long, continuous fibers of the grain of the wood going the same direction. This cannot be recreated or copied by wood held together by resin.
No, while natural wood has no additions, wood composite is composed of wood plus adhesives and glues and often, toxic fire retardants too. If you’re looking for furniture that won’t release a chemical smell, especially kids’ furniture or for those with allergies and chemical sensitivities, steer clear from composites and choose pieces made from natural materials.
Engineered wood can make a good piece of furniture, but it cannot rival the quality of solid wood furniture. Composite wood furniture also exposes you to the toxins used in manufacturing and producing the wood itself.
All rooms! There is no room in the home that would not benefit from the comfort, class, and quality a solid wood furniture piece can bring. It will last generations if cared for properly, so it’s an investment in your future and your health by forgoing all the toxins you could be exposed to in composite wood furniture.
Read More: Best Zero-VOC Bed Frames
In this article, we’ve compared solid wood vs. engineered wood to help you choose the best furniture for your home. While engineered wood like plywood, veneers or MDF is cheaper, it’s full of toxic chemicals and not as durable as real wood. Natural wood on the other hand offers many benefits. It will look beautiful thanks to its unique grain patterns and it will last for many years to come.
If you choose natural wood furniture finished with a zero VOC wood stain, paint or natural oil, you’ll get a non toxic piece of furniture that will add long-lasting charm to your interiors without exposing you and your family to toxic chemical fumes.
My name is Kamila, and I'm passionate about researching non-toxic, organic products for the home. I believe it's so important to create a safe and healthy environment for our families, and I enjoy helping others do the same.