If you’re in the market for wood furniture, you are already familiar with the terms “solid wood” and “wood veneer.” For many years, wood veneers have been considered “wood alternatives,” meaning they were a product of lesser quality. However, today, wooden veneers have a distinctive purpose in high quality furniture items. Though many would have trouble believing it, some veneers will run you considerably more money than a solid wood piece itself and are considered the work of an artisan. What is the difference between wood veneer and solid wood?
The Origins of Veneers
To truly understand the difference between solid wood and wood veneers, it helps to know precisely what wood veneer is. Veneering is achieved by taking very thin slivers of wood and gluing them onto solid pieces of plywood or particle board to make decorative designs. Dating back to ancient Egyptian times, veneering was a common process used to create unique looking pieces of furniture and was even prominently featured on the caskets, known as sarcophagi, for the dead. In our modern world, veneering is a still a very popular practice, finding its way into all kinds of design elements from flooring to cabinetry and more.
The process of veneering is somewhat complicated. The pieces must be peeled directly from a tree trunk or large chunks of wood. To gain the appearance of grain, it is necessary to slice through tree growth rings. Different looks can be achieved by slicing through the blocks at different angles. This task is quite time consuming and requires an expert hand.
To create truly distinctive pieces, many manufacturers use a variety of different wood types and stains to create things that more closely resemble art. An intricate process which can be quite expensive, it is not difficult to understand how wood veneer furniture could run towards the very costly.
By comparison, furniture that is made from solid wood is just that…solid wood…most of the time.
What does this mean?
All pieces of the furniture that are visible on the outside of the piece are comprised of some sort of natural wood. Those particular pieces are guaranteed to be made from solid, natural wood though the remainder of the piece may be comprised of particle board or plywood to make the furniture more affordable. In essence, this means that not all solid wood furniture is actually made completely out of wood.
Advantages and Disadvantages
As with all types of furniture, there are advantages and disadvantages to both solid wood and to wood veneers. Solid wood’s main advantage is that it is highly functional. It will take a beating and is known for its ease of repairs. Though solid wood will scratch, dent, stain, and water stain, all of these issues can be fixed and repair work will cost far less than what it would take to restore wood veneer furniture to its former glory.
But solid wood does have its disadvantages as well. Wood is susceptible to barometric and humidity changes which can cause it to expand and contract, leading to possible cracks. Today’s furniture is often designed to include a system which allows for these environmental shifts without damaging the furniture. It is always recommended to keep wooden furniture out of direct sunlight or close to any source of heat.
Wooden veneer furniture is comprised of extremely thin layers of wood that are glued together over a base. This gluing of small pieces creates a criss cross design of sorts, making the piece extremely strong. As such, wood veneer furniture is far less likely to crack or split. The veneer glue is waterproof and actually results in a product that is more resilient than solid wood itself.
Veneer furniture is actually incredibly beautiful. Manufacturers of this type of furniture typically reserve logs with the most interesting wood grains and patterns to create their furniture from. Some types of woods which contain designs like burls are not usable for anything else other than veneers, making veneers not only attractive for furniture makers but also practical.
Many people love to add wood veneer furniture to their homes as it is environmentally friendly, making use of trees that might otherwise become waste materials. But in addition to this, veneers open up the doors to a wide variety of interesting design choices.
Unlike its counterpart, solid wood, wooden veneer furniture will not split, warp, or otherwise be affected by seasonal changes, making it long lasting. Repair work is minimal and with regular care the furniture will remain beautiful for many years.
Best of all, wooden veneer products make use of what is known as substrates. Substrates such as plywood and fiberboard become the base for the veneer work. Since these types of materials are formed from trees of lower quality, it is an efficient system to fortify mature tree growth as the lesser quality trees are regularly removed to create products such as particle board.
Of course, it’s not all roses with veneers. Wood veneer is quite thin. Though this is not as much of an issue for the furniture buyer, it poses a considerable problem for the manufacturer. If the furniture maker is careless in his work, he can easily ruin an entire piece simply by sanding through a single piece of veneer.
Veneer can also blister or begin to peel over time. This is typically only seen in very low quality pieces. Today’s furniture manufacturers and retailers focus on pieces created with stronger techniques and materials to produce pieces of exceptional quality and durability.
Wood veneer or solid wood—what’s the best choice?
If you’re looking to add a piece of furniture to your home that’s made of wood, you really can’t go wrong with either choice. When you go shopping, be prepared to discover that that gorgeous wooden veneer coffee table you are admiring might set you back a whole lot more than one constructed from solid wood. Let your tastes and your budget be your guide!