The temptation of cheap furniture
We’ve all been there. We need a piece of furniture, don’t want to spend a lot of money, and find ourselves at Ikea or browsing Amazon, pondering a low cost piece of furniture and thinking “I know it’s cheap, but how bad can it be?”
After many years of helping customers design, build and repair furniture of all different grades and types, we are here to answer that question: How bad can it be? … well, honestly… pretty bad! The reality is that low-cost furniture is low in cost because it is made with materials that simply won’t last no matter how careful you are with them. And the primary culprit? Particle board.
Particle board, also known as particleboard, chipboard or low-density fiberboard, is an engineered wood product manufactured from sawmill shavings, wood pieces, Urea-Formaldehyde, synthetic binders and resins used as bonding agents. This mix is exposed to high heat, then pressed and extruded into dimensional shapes.
Veneer is a thin layer of wood or synthetic material that is glued to particle board to give a finished surface. Some veneer can be real wood, while most is made from melamine which is a type of plastic. Plastic veneer can be very realistic with wood texture stamped into the materials and color variations that look very real at first glance. Laminated particle board and melamine particle board are types of veneered particleboard.
The Honest Carpenter gives a very good explanation of the disadvantages of particle board on his YouTube channel.
What are the risks of particle board?
Particle board swells when exposed to moisture
The primary disadvantage of particle board is that exposure to even small amounts of moisture will cause board to swell. Because it is made from wood chips and sawmill shavings, once swelling occurs there is no way to make it return to its original shape. Minor swelling can be unsightly while more significant swelling can cause the veneer layer to warp and crack, cabinet doors to stop closing and shelves to not fit properly.
This photo shows a particle board with melamine veneer cabinet shelf that was damaged by everyday use.
Veneered particle board chips and peels easily
Another issue is that the surface can be easily damaged during normal use. This is because particle boards typically have very thin melamine (plastic) veneer layers that simply break or crack when exposed to everyday use. Furniture corners are especially susceptible to this issue as well as any surface that receives regular use.
Particle board contains 12.4% Formaldehyde
If you are concerned about Volatile Organic Compounds – VOCs – in building materials for your home, it is best to avoid particle board furniture, cabinetry and shelving.
According to the Website My Chemical Free House, most particle board is made with 12.4% Urea-formaldehyde (UF). For this reason manufacturers highly recommend that all exposed surfaces be sealed either by the covering with thin layers of glued veneer or the application of a sealing agent such as a specialized sealing product.
A disadvantage of particle board is that unsealed material will release or “outgas” formaldehyde primarily in the first 2 months of life, and will continue to outgas for up to 5-10 years depending on the thickness of the material and exposed unsealed surface area. It is a good idea to have new particle board products rest in an open space such as a garage or even outside for 2 or more months before bringing it inside the house.
How can you tell if wood is real or particle board?
Look at the end grain of the wood. If you see real wood grain you have real wood. If you see layers of compressed materials you have particle board or plywood. One of the disadvantages of particle board is that this compressed material can separate over time or when exposed to moisture.
Feel the grain of the wood. Real wood has a natural grain pattern that never repeats or has seams. Veneered particle board can be “too perfect” to be real, or lack any texture or grain.
Look for seams or cracks at the edges. Veneer is glued to a particle board base and therefore a seam will always be able to be observed under close inspection. Small cracking is also very common, even on brand new pieces of furniture.
Look at parts that are not covered with wood veneer first. If you have a cabinet or bookshelf, one trick is to look at the small holes where the shelf supports insert into the material. With a paper clip or small knife, scrape the inside of the hole and observe what material comes out. If it looks like sawdust you have particle board material, if you have wood chips or shavings you likely have solid wood or plywood.
Check the price. Particle board furniture is generally lower in cost vs real wood. If the price of a piece of furniture seems to good to be true, it may be.
Particle board vs. solid wood furniture – why we don’t use particle board!
5 reasons we use solid wood instead of veneered particleboard.
Solid wood is durable. Particle board is not. Most particle board furniture ends up in the trash.
Solid wood is water resistant. Spill a glass of water, cup of coffee or other liquid and properly finished wood furniture will not be ruined.
Solid wood can be repaired if damaged. Particle board is almost impossible to repair once it begins to swell or bubble. Real solid wood can be repaired in a variety of ways from a simple re-application of finish to a more in-depth process of sanding, filling and refinishing the damaged area.
Solid wood looks better than veneered particleboard. There is nothing that compares to the color, luster and grain patterns of real solid wood.
Solid wood products will last for generations. Purchasing furniture that is made from quality materials is an investment that will stand the test of time.
Solid wood furniture made in the USA
At Solid Custom Heirlooms we think that handmade wood furniture should be accessible to anyone. Whether you want a simple platform bed for your queen size mattress or a elaborate canopy bed, we are here to help. Our goal is to offer a wide variety of furniture hand made from high quality American hardwood. If you don’t see what you are looking for, or want to talk more about achieving a specific look or type of bed, please contact us and we would love to help!