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Solid Wood Versus Veneer


We're about to cannonball right into a topic that has been discussed and argued many times over.

Why? Well, there's plenty of preconceived notions and opinions out there that advocate for one method of construction or the other. Interestingly enough, people are still divided on this front with strong advocacy and exclusivity for one side or the other. In our own experience, we've come across plenty of instances where a client has asked us to build using their preferred method.

For us though, there's one method that takes precedence in our products over the other – veneer. We prefer veneer so we can ensure our products are long lasting and can hold up to each customer's setting. Take note, we don't completely throw solid wood out the window, as it's often used for molding, table edging and framing. However, our choice to invest in a veneer construction is essential to our core standards and done for a variety of reasons. Which, you guessed it, we will list below.

What's the difference anyway?

Let's start with the basics.

You've got solid wood, which is pretty self explanatory. It's a piece of lumber cut and sanded to make individual parts that make up a piece of furniture. Solid wood furniture has a consistent grain that runs all the way through each piece and can, for the most part, stand the test of time. This is why solid wood furnishings are often referred to as “heirloom furniture.”

Veneer, on the other hand, is considered an engineered product. Thin slices are cut from a log in the same manner that the deli guy at the grocery store would cut your salami. Veneer gives cabinet makers (and ultimately customers) more variety in their grain pattern because veneer can be cut from logs that were separated from the tree at different angles, producing options such as rift cut, quarter sawn or flat cut. Afterward, these slices are adhered to a substrate and assembled to make the final piece.

Both seem legit – why one over the other?

Well, as with anything, you've got your advantages and disadvantages.
But let's start with a little background.

For some reason, veneer has gotten a bad rap. Many have suggested that's thanks to the mass-market, low budget furniture that's out there. You know, the kind you can get just about anywhere? Well, a lot of these products are made with veneer that is so paper-thin, it might as well not be there. This, combined with a low-quality substrate, produces a time bomb waiting to fall apart at any moment. Thus, the idea that veneer equals bad.

However, what many fail to realize is the lack of quality that is at these products' core. Veneer, when done properly, should hold up just as well as a piece made from solid wood. Quality material and construction is everything. If you want something that doesn't blow over in the wind, you've got to ensure that veneer is A) thicker than cellophane (ours is about the thickness of a business card) and B) applied to medium density fiberboard or plywood. If you've got both, you're good to go.

So, why not just bypass all that headache and construct using 'ol tried and true solid wood? Well, solid wood has got its pitfalls too, many of which are detrimental to the type of products we specifically manufacture.

  1. Warping & Bowing
    Wood is a natural product and as such, is inclined to act according to its environment. Year round, trees continually expand and contract, reacting to moisture and temperature. Since we ship all over the country, it wouldn't be the best idea to build from solid wood because you can bet a cabinet is going to expand if it goes from dry, cool air to somewhere warm and humid. You'd be left with doors that may not close properly anymore, flat sides that bow and areas that could crack. None of which is exactly welcome.

    That's where veneer and substrate come into play. Our products are built using medium density fiberboard (MDF) at its core. MDF is a great choice because it is strong, high quality and best of all, resists expanding and contracting. When you've got numerous pieces that make up the entirety of a lectern, the last think you want is one of those pieces moving out of place and messing the whole thing up. Plus, we've got equipment going in our pieces. If we make a hole for a touch panel, we don't want it to be too big or too small once it arrives on-site for install. That just messes everyone's day up.

  2. Price & Waste
    Let's jump right into an analogy, shall we? If you buy a loaf of bread, you could chomp right into the sucker or cut it in half lengthwise to make a massive PB&J. But common sense would tell you to cut it into slices so you get a longer shelf life out of it. Instead of one, unnecessarily large sandwich, you could have lunch for a week or more.

    That rather hunger-inducing illustration is meant as a precursor to our next point. If you cut a tree down and separate it into a few sections of solid wood pieces to build a table, it's more expensive and wasteful than taking that same log and slicing it numerous times into smaller fitches of veneer that can be used to make several pieces of furniture. As a planetary rule, being eco-friendly is a priority, but especially more so when you're using a natural source as the backbone of your company. By using veneer, we are saving money and resources by squeezing as much material as we can from one source. By using MDF, we're actively recycling, as MDF is essentially sawdust glued together to make a board. The last thing we want is our prices to go up and the environment to suffer simply because we're using up more lumber than we need to.

  3. Variety
    Every customer is different in their view of how their furniture should look, which is why we, as a custom furniture company, prefer to work with veneer to ensure each client need is met. What do we mean? Well, there are a variety of options out there that simply won't work with solid wood. For example, if a client wants to see different cuts of grain arranged to form a pattern for artistic purposes, veneer is really the only way to go. Got someone who wants to see something other than Maple or Cherry? Some exotic wood choices can only be produced in veneer form. If you're trying to eliminate defects to produce a uniform look, using veneer is a more precise and less wasteful way to get away with it. All in all, solid wood construction can be very restricting.

Okay, here's the obligatory conclusion:

We've taken this blogging opportunity to put forth a multitude of reasons why we prefer to use a veneer construction. All that being said, we'd like to take a moment to make a small side note here. Solid wood is not bad. Solid wood is not sub-par. Solid wood has its benefits too: it's sturdy, long lasting and is easier to repair from minimal damage. Solid wood just doesn't work for what we're trying to do. Instead, we prefer to use it side-by-side with veneer, specifically on edges to protect from bumps and scrapes or aesthetically, as is the case with raised paneling. In fact, most furniture is done this way, where a combo of both solid wood and veneer is utilized. The point here is rather than dismissing one option entirely, it's better to understand and utilize their strong points instead to ensure success.

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