It’s highly likely that you either currently have compressed wood furniture in your home, or you have had some in the past. Compressed wood is a very common material for constructing furniture. But the question is, is compressed wood furniture good furniture?
Compressed wood furniture is extremely common, especially when you are first starting out in your own home. You will find shelves, bed frames, desks, and many other things made from compressed wood. Is compressed wood furniture good furniture? Compressed wood can be good furniture, but it’s better for some pieces than others, and it generally doesn’t last beyond the 5 year mark.
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What is Compressed Wood?
First off, let’s talk about what compressed wood actually is. The process of making compressed wood begins with the collection of wood chips, shavings, flakes, and sawdust from sawmills. They then sift the materials and each part is stored by its size.
The sawdust is then mixed with the other materials in a cylindrical machine and combined with even proportions so that each board has an even composition of wood materials. The mixing machine also dehydrates the wood particles.
The sawdust and mixed particles are then sprayed with a formaldehyde-based resin, which binds them together. They also add wax to help waterproof the final product. Other binding products, such as fireproofing agents and pesticides could potentially be added.
The resin mixture is then laid out evenly, about three times the thickness of the actual board. Pressure and hot steam is applied to the wood which helps melt the resins and compress the wood particles.
Finally they buff, cut and laminate the boards. Rollers or finishing plates are used to buff and sand the wood before it is cut in the standard 8-10 feet wide by 24 feet long. The boards can then be finished with a laminate or veneer.
As you can see, it’s not a fun process, and there is a lot of time and materials that go into making this type of wood.
Types of Compressed Wood
So there isn’t just one type of compressed wood that can be used to make furniture. There are actually 3 distinct types and each have their own advantages and disadvantages. The following are the different types of compressed wood:
- Particle Board
- Medium-Density Fiberboard
- High-Density Fiberboard
Lets dig into the details on each one of these types and see what they all bring to the table.
1. Particle Board
Particle Board is a low-density fiberboard and chipboard. It is an engineered wood product that is manufactured from wood chips and a synthetic resin or other binder. It is essentially a waste-wood product made by heat pressing wood chips, sawmill shavings, or sawdust with resin together, then cutting into various sizes to sell.
Advantages of particle board include:
- It is the least expensive of the compressed wood that can be made into furniture.
- It is relatively lightweight, so it’s easy to transport and handle.
- It has a better screw holding capacity than other compressed woods, so it is a great option for furniture held together with screws.
- It also has thermo-acoustic insulation properties, which isn’t as important for furniture, but useful in building speakers or in theaters.
- Laminated particle boards have wood veneers or decorative plastic laminates. These are actually stronger, and nicer looking than the plain, unfinished particle boards. They are also easier to clean and maintain.
Disadvantages to particle board include:
- It is not very strong, which leads to it being easily damaged and cannot support heavy loads.
- It has a tendency to warp and expand in the presence of moisture. It is also easily discolored.
- Some particle boards may be toxic due to the fact it is manufactured using urea formaldehyde resin, which can release formaldehyde gas.
You can expect your particle board furniture to last only 2-3 years, up to 5 without heavy use. It is easily damaged and not up to heavy, everyday use. Notorious for drooping, even from their own weight without additional support. Not a great idea for furniture that you expect to hold a lot or last a long time.
2. Medium-Density Fiberboard
Medium-density fiberboard or MDF is also made with wood waste products that are mixed with resins. It is then compressed into large flat boards that, for furniture, are covered with a layer of real-wood veneer or not-real-wood laminate.
Advantages of MDF include:
- It is relatively inexpensive, though pricier than particle board.
- It is not affected by climate conditions.
- Easy to work into interesting shapes.
- Very smooth, no splinters.
- Easy to paint.
Disadvantages of MDF include:
- Involves a lot of chemicals to produce.
- It is the highest formaldehyde emitting wood product.
- Will warp and expand if exposed to moisture.
- The veneers used on MDF tend to damage easily.
- Difficult to repair since the MDF under the veneer will not stain and is not the same grain as the veneer.
- Does not hold screws as well as solid wood or plywood, so the furniture can loosen up.
- Very heavy, so it’s difficult to move.
- Cannot stain.
Medium-Density fiberboard has some advantages and disadvantages. While you can make or purchase furniture made with it, it is rarely the best material. It is easily damaged, difficult to repair, and very heavy. It also is known to droop under its own weight without additional support. I wouldn’t recommend furniture made of MDF if you want it to last a large number of years.
3. High-Density Fiberboard
High-density fiberboard or HDF is made similarly to medium-density fiberboard, by combining wood fibers, sawdust, and glue under pressure and heat. It is easy to assume that the High-density fiberboard would automatically make it a better choice than the Medium-density fiberboard, but the price isn’t the only thing that differentiates HDF from the much cheaper MDF.
Advantages to High-Density Fiberboard include:
- Higher-density than MDF.
- Thinner that MDF.
- Its density makes it stronger.
- More water resistant than MDF.
- Stronger than MDF.
Disadvantages to High-Density Fiberboard include:
- Although more resistant, will still warp or swell when exposed to water.
- Does not have good holding strength .
- Uses formaldehyde in the construction of HDF, although less than in MDF.
- More expensive than MDF.
High-density Fiberboard is better used for flooring, back panels on cabinets, or door skins. It does not have good holding strength, so if you are going to be moving, or reassembling the furniture many times, it is not recommended to use high-density fiberboard for long lasting furniture. It is fine for furniture you need to last 3-5 years and do not need to move a lot.
Other Uses For Compressed Wood
Compressed wood can be used for more than just furniture. It is extremely versatile and comes in handy for many things around the home. Below are a few other things that you can incorporate the use of compressed wood.
New cabinets are extremely expensive if you get all wood cabinets. A great idea is to get compressed wood cabinets with real wood fronts. They will still look incredible and are a way more affordable option.
Since Particle Board/Compressed Wood is so easy to paint and install, this is highly recommended for trim and molding in your home. Accents around windows, doors, floors, ceilings, and other places around the home are great uses for compressed wood.
While you wouldn’t use this as your only flooring, many people will put this over a hardwood floor if they are covering it with carpet or tile to protect the hardwood. This way, you always have the option of going back to the hardwood floors whenever you want.
Since compressed wood comes in many thicknesses, thin sheets are often layered on top of treated lumber on the roof. Then shingles are put on top of the compressed wood.
Speakers are often made from compressed wood because it absorbs sound and does not bounce back. This is why you will often find concert halls, sound rooms, recording studios, etc. with compressed wood in the walls.
Other Woods for Furniture
Compressed wood may not be the best option for the furniture in your home. There are a plethora of wood options that have their own pro’s and con’s. It’s important to do research on what your furniture will be made of so you can pick the best for your home. Some other wood options for furniture include:
Walnut grows in a few places in North America, from Vermont to the Great Plains and south through Louisiana and Texas. It can vary in color from white to dark brown and is known for its large burls (A tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner). Some types of Walnut include Brazilian, Caribbean, Black, and North American Walnut wood.
This is the best wood for furniture with a lot of detail as it carves well and holds its shape for years. This is ideal for furniture you want to last for years to come and pass on to your grandchildren.
Maple is found mostly in the Great Lakes region and its color ranges from cream to reddish-brown and takes dark stains very well to take on the look of more expensive woods, such as mahogany. Hard maple is slightly lighter than soft maple which has a slightly darker look.
Maple is one of the hardest wood types for furniture. It’s used frequently for heavily used furniture such as dressers or dining sets because it can really take a beating.
Mahogany comes from Mexico, South and Central America, and is grown throughout the tropics and Africa. It varies from pale to pink to reddish-brown. Furniture made from Mahogany is elegant and timeless.
Mahogany is a durable hardwood used for intricate pieces of furniture, and many musical instruments. It is made into large boards due to the immense size of the trees. It adds a timeless, warm look to any room and will last for generations.
Birch grows in the Northeast, Great Lakes, and Appalachia’s. Ranging in color from cream to light reddish-brown, it is a very strong wood, perfect for woodworking. Has an elegant look for modern furniture.
The majority of Oak wood comes from eastern and central United States and many American antiques are made with Oak. Ranging in color from light brown to pinkish-red, oak furniture will last forever if it’s properly cared for. When finished in the right way, it is known for being scratch and stain resistant.
The Oak tree grows slowly, which makes it extremely dense, adding to its quality. Oak also adapts to a variety of finishes which makes it one of our favorite woods for furniture.
You will find Cherry wood in the eastern United States. It’s unique color begins as a pinkish-brown and darkens to a beautiful deep red. The older this wood becomes, the more beautiful.
Cherry is known for its straight, uniform grain. It polishes well and is truly beautiful when finished. On the more expensive side, its known to be a great investment over time.
You can find Pine all over the Northern Hemisphere. Ranging in color from white to light brown with red or yellow tones, it has beautiful knots that add character to furniture that resists shrinking and swelling and will last for years.
Pine is very popular in farmhouse design. It’s a lightweight inexpensive wood and paints well.
The durability of compressed wood varies depending on the type and what you use it for. While particle board is lighter weight and less expensive, any furniture made of this material shouldn’t be expected to last long, generally 3-5 years. The more you move it or use it, the less likely it is to last. It’s difficult to repair when it’s damaged, which happens easily when it’s moved or has to be taken apart and put back together. If you do need to move it, the good news is that it’s lightweight. It cannot handle any type of moisture without swelling or warping. It also cannot handle holding anything heavy. While there are many other things it is good for, we would not recommend particle board furniture.
Medium and high density Fiberboards are more durable than particle board but still do not handle moisture well. Sealing it can help, but it’s still not recommended for areas with any moisture. These boards can be cut easily, which makes them nice for different shapes and designs. They are easy to paint but you shouldn’t use an aerosol spray paint because they are also very absorbent. These woods are better for furniture because they are smoother, hold screws better, and take better detail, but if you have the choice, one of the other woods we listed would be a better option. Compressed wood furniture is great for the first time apartment or home, as long as you don’t need it to last a long period of time.
What is the difference between engineered wood and compressed wood?
Compressed wood is considered to be a form of engineered wood. Compressed wood is made of recycled materials including saw dust, wood shavings, small pieces of wood, all glued together with resins or other bonding agents.
Engineered wood is a man-made wood made from different wood products by binding strands, fibers, or veneers together.
Which board is best for furniture?
Plywood is the best board for furniture as it comes in several different “grades”.
Different grades of plywood are used for different purposes. The grades are affected by many things, such as, the type of wood ply, thickness, adhesive, and compaction or manufacturing process.
The main difference in grades is the number of knot holes or voids in the wood. The amount of defects or work it would take to repair it affects the grade. The type of adhesive also affects the grade. You can find the grade by looking for stamp that says “APA The Engineered Wood Association” It will give you an A,B,C or D grade.
- A – Minor, but not frequent burls, pin knots, and inconspicuous small patches
- B – Burls, slight color streaks, pin knots, and inconspicuous small patches in a limited amount.
- C – Smooth patches, sound knots, and discoloration or varying color
- D – Defects downgrade these good or premium panels to factory seconds
- G1S – Dealer applied designation meaning “Good 1 Side” used primarily for foreign origin plywood of ¼ in thickness; face can be good to premium, back with large defects or of another hardwood species.
Are MDF and particle boards hazardous to your health?
Since they are produced with formaldehyde, both this and the dust they produce are concerns with compressed wood. Formaldehyde is used in the glues and binders and is slowly emitted as gas. While many manufacturers have reduced this in recent years, there are some who could have an allergic reaction even in small amounts.
There are a few things you can do to help with this.
- Purchase low-formaldehyde panels
- Leave the wood in the shed or garage to air out for a few weeks
- Seal the formaldehyde by painting, varnishing or sealing it in
To protect yourself from the dust, always wear a mask with a tight seal around your mouth and nose when sawing the boards.