Manufactured wood is becoming increasingly popular in today’s marketplace. Whether shopping for wood panels or finished wood products, the probability of stumbling upon manufactured wood options is higher than solid wood.
Surprisingly, despite its ubiquity, not many people know exactly what this type of wood is.
So, what is manufactured wood? Manufactured wood is wood made from one or a combination of base materials like wood particles, chips, fibrous strands, or thin boards, pressed together into a composite panel with heat and adhesive. It tends to be a cheaper alternative to solid wood.
Owing to this process, manufactured wood is also known as composite wood, manmade wood, or engineered wood.
If you have been considering manufactured wood but know little about it, this is the best place to start. In this resourceful article, we go into the nitty-gritty of manufactured wood, how it is made, the different types, and its best uses. So stick around!
Manufactured Wood Vs Solid Wood
The difference between manufactured wood and solid wood is the source. The latter is natural wood sourced from trees that has only been cut, treated, or sanded. Manufactured wood is fabricated through a synthetic binding process that makes use of real wood particles, thin boards, or chips to create a new product.
Solid wood is wood in its most natural state, logged from mature trees and cut into lumber and panels. Examples of solid wood are mahogany, oak, teak, cedar, and birch, among others.
Manufactured wood, on the other hand, is industrially synthesized wood. It combines actual wooden components and synthetic resin ingredients, packed together to form a hard composite material similar to a wood panel.
Solid wood has and will always have this timeless beauty that is unmatched thanks to its unique grains that elevate its aesthetic value. And the fact that it is natural and therefore eco-centric and recyclable might leave you wondering, why manufactured wood?
Because this wood is engineered, it can be made to varying hardness, just like solid wood with soft and hardwoods. It is also strong and durable. Not as durable as solid wood, but it is reasonably long-lasting when cared for properly.
Unlike solid wood that swells and warps and gets damaged when it sucks in water, manufactured wood is made to be water-resistant. Therefore, it is not affected by water, and this is what makes it durable. However, it can also get damaged by chipping or cracking and even water if not sealed.
The best thing about manufactured wood is that it can be made into really strong yet thin slabs, something that is impossible to do with solid wood.
While solid wood is technically a renewable resource, the land is becoming more scarce, and forests are getting depleted while the demand – and consequently the price – of wood keeps rising. Since forests cannot grow fast enough to meet the ever-growing demand for solid wood, it’s only fitting that people are turning to a more sustainable substitute.
Manufactured wood is this sustainable substitute. It is very affordable, as it is engineered from cheap raw materials and the previously discarded byproducts of the lumber industry. The process is a hundred times faster than the time it takes a tree to grow fully.
Despite being the sustainable option, some manufactured woods, like MDF, are made using toxic substances as part of their composition and are not recyclable. However, it’s a little-known fact that you really shouldn’t be recycling any wood that has been stained, lacquered, painted, or treated anyway.
Once damaged, this type of wood cannot be sanded and repaired. It almost always ends up in landfills. And being partly unnatural, it breaks down into its chemical contents that pollute the environment.
Furthermore, its production also has some negative impacts on the environment and human health. Some manufacturers incorporate Formaldehyde in their output. Others have high volumes of VOCs that end up off-gassing for months after leaving the factory.
Clearly, each has its pros and cons, and none is all good. So it’s important to consider all perspectives when choosing manufactured wood.
Solid Vs Manufactured Wood
|Features||Solid wood||Manufactured wood|
|Source||Natural wood from trees||Wood made by man from composite materials like wood chips, flakes, veneer, or boards bound by adhesive and heat compressed|
|Stability||Unstable; changes with fluctuations in temperature and humidity||Very stable|
|Workability||Requires a lot of work, measuring, cutting, planing, sanding, and joining||Easier to work with as it comes precut with tongues to fit but can’t be used to make everything solid wood can|
|Recyclability||Untreated wood can be recycled by repairing or reworking it by sanding, shaping, and carving||Not all versions are recyclable – can be sanded 2 or 3 times and then disposed of|
|Application||Suitable for all wood projects||Versatile for almost every wood project|
|Sustainability||Non-renewable but natural and eco friendly||Sustainable and utilizes recycled wood waste, but the chemical resins and binders are ecologically toxic|
How Is Manufactured Wood Made?
As mentioned earlier, manufactured wood is made by heating, bonding, and compactly packing wood components and other chemical fixatives. They are subjected to extremely high pressure to form them into a wood board replica. The whole process is, however, far more complex than this and varies by type.
The two primary components of manufactured wood are wood and glue or other chemical adhesives. The wood can be waste wood chips, fibers, strands, sawdust, wood shavings, or actual wood in the form of boards or veneer.
For the adhesive binder, various brands use different types of glue, but nearly all of them are compounds of formaldehyde. The cheapest manufactured board is made with Urea Formaldehyde. It is a low-cost glue but not water-resistant and also the most toxic when it comes to releasing formaldehyde.
There’s also Phenol Formaldehyde and Melamine Formaldehyde, which are better but costly chemical binders that are used to bond medium to high-quality manufactured wood.
Polyurethane (PU) resin is another bonding agent used in high-end manufactured wood. It is waterproof when dry and impenetrable. But the best thing about it is that it is not a compound of formaldehyde and, therefore, non-toxic.
Manufactured wood made with PU resin is extremely tough to cut, and it is this type that blunts tools. It is so effective that it can get stuck in the pressing machinery itself. Releasing it is a herculean task.
Once pressed into panels, the resulting wood leaves a lot to be desired aesthetically. To improve its appearance, the top is usually covered with a thin layer of real timber known as veneer. Sometimes laminate is used instead. Others that are smooth are only painted.
Manufactured wood must meet international standards. Therefore, it is processed to achieve uniformity in structure and strength. The resulting wood is usually more stable and predictable than traditional timber.
Types Of Manufactured Wood
Manufactured wood is an umbrella term for all the types of artificial wood usually made through the heat-glue-press process. But there are several manufactured kinds of wood with various features.
They all have a different composition, internal structure, and even hardness. Let’s look at each one of them in detail.
Plywood was the first type of manufactured wood to be fabricated and is sometimes known as the original engineered wood. It is a wood structural panel made from thin sheets of cross-laminate veneer. These are bonded with tough, water-resistant resin or glue, heated and compressed.
The layers are placed in odd numbers, usually 3, 5, and 7. If you look at the edges of a cross-section of plywood, the layers are quite visible.
The arrangement of the plies of veneer is such that each layer has grains at 90 degree angles to the adjacent layer. However, the 5 and 7 layered plywood can have its plies oriented in five axes. This formation gives plywood better structural rigidity than other manufactured woods. It is dimensionally strong with even strength distribution.
The crisscrossing grains also protect the wood from shrinking and warping caused by fluctuations in environmental temperatures or humidity. In addition, it doesn’t crack and splinter when screwed.
Plywood is usually graded from A to D. A is the highest quality plywood with few knots, if any, and exceptional smoothness. D grade is the lowest quality. If your plywood is indicated with an X, it means that it is okay for outdoor use.
Plywood can be sanded, cut, and painted like real wood.
Medium-density fiberboard is a manufactured type of wood made from particles of softwoods and hardwoods. Normally, residual wood is broken down into superfine fibers that are blended with wax and resin or other binders then heat-pressed into panels.
MDF is homogeneous from the surface to the core. Therefore, it can be cut, shaped, molded, and grooved. It also accepts paint and stains well due to its smoothness.
It is fairly strong manufactured wood but not stronger than plywood. MDF will disintegrate under pressure. It does not take screws well and will split when bored at the edges. It is best used with glue for decorative purposes.
Also, unless tightly sealed all around, MDF sucks up water rapidly, swelling and getting damaged easily. But if finished and maintained well, it is a durable wood. MDF is more of an eco-friendly and cheaper alternative to plywood since it is made from recycled wood. It is available in different grades.
High-density fiberboard (HDF), as the name suggests, is similar to MDF. It is forged through the exact process as MDF, only that the wood used is of higher quality. Consequently, HDF is stronger, more stable, denser, and costlier. As a result, it is preferred for structural applications over decorative ones.
Particleboard is a low-end kind of engineered wood. It is ideal for anyone looking to start woodworking without spending too much.
What is particleboard made of? Particleboard is made of wood waste. This includes wood shavings, sawdust, and wood chips. These are bound with a synthetic resin or binder, then pressed and passed through an extruder into panels.
While the use of wood waste is a green initiative, the resin binders used are usually the cheap ones that are not eco-friendly.
Particleboard is uniform cross-sectionally but less dense and not as smooth as MDF. It is rather lacking in strength and is the least in strength among manufactured wood types. It is not water-resistant and can be damaged by wetness pretty fast. It is susceptible to chipping as well.
However, when finished with a laminate, it looks beautiful, lasts longer, and is reasonably strong for many applications. Just don’t expect too much from it.
4. Oriented Strand Board
Oriented strand board (OSB) is engineered similarly to particleboard. The only difference is that OSB is not made from particles but rather wood flakes or rectangular strands that are packed in layers and bound by heat-pressed adhesives.
The layers of OSB usually form long continuous mats and make wide panels. They may be aligned in one direction and indicated by an arrow or cross-laid to boost strength. This type of wood is dense and has a larger load-bearing capacity than particleboard.
5. Cross-Laminated Boards
Unlike other manufactured woods discussed earlier in this article, cross-laminated wood is the only one made from actual wood. Therefore, the strongest wood of the manufactured pack, similar to members of the structural composite lumber family.
The wood is made from solid layers of lumber. These layers are placed perpendicularly to each other, which makes its structural rigidity superior to that of plywood.
Comparing Manufactured Woods
Of course, there are plenty of other types of engineered woods. This list is not exhaustive, but these are the five most popular types you will most likely come across. Let’s look at the side-by-side comparison summary.
|Manufactured Wood Type||Base Material||Strength||Pros||Cons|
|Particleboard||Wood waste; chips, shavings, sawdust||Low strength||Cheapest engineered wood, lightweight and portable, easy to cut||Lacks screw and nail holding capacity, rough and must be laminated, lacking in strength, high in toxic chemicals, wicks moisture rapidly, swells and discolors and rots|
|MDF||Fibers of residual wood||Medium to high strength depending on grade||More affordable than plywood, smooth surface that needs no laminate and is paintable, easy to cut||Easily damaged by water if not covered, unable to hold screws and nails, crushes under extreme weight|
|OSB||Rectangular wood flakes||Medium to high strength depending on grade||Has the widest and longest panels, easy to cut, cheaper than plywood, similar performance and strength to plywood||Jagged texture, absorbs moisture quickly and swells, chemically bound and off-gases|
|Plywood||Veneer sheets||Medium to very high strength depending on grade||Versatile applications, various sizes, thick and thin panels, very strong||Long plies bend and flex with heavy weight, the quality of middle sheets cannot be determined, edges are raw and must be laminated or veneered, difficult to cut|
|CLT||Sawn boards||Extremely strong||Incredibly strong yet light, heavy load capacity, fire-resistant, stable and unaffected by thermal conductivity, low maintenance||Expensive, not as ubiquitous as plywood or MDF|
Uses Of Manufactured Wood
Manufactured wood can be put to as many uses as solid wood. It is hard to think of any application that would not benefit from this wood.
The use is determined by the type of manufactured wood and its strength, water resistance, and finishes. Here are the most popular uses for manufactured wood.
Flooring is perhaps the most widespread use found for manufactured wood, as more people are looking for budget-friendly options for refurbishing their homes.
Cost factor aside, manufactured wood can be engineered to exhibit better flooring qualities than solid wood. It can be treated to have better moisture repellent properties, heat and flame resistance, stability, scratch resistance, etc.
Manufactured wood is ideal for all types of indoor furniture that is beautiful and medium to light in weight. You can make shelves, cabinets, countertops, beds, tables, closets, etc. And the best thing about furniture made from this wood is the super-tight joints with no gaps to harbor dust or bugs.
Outdoor furniture made from manufactured wood might not hold up very well. If at all, it needs full coverage treating, painting, and sealing.
When it comes to building and construction, there’s a place for nearly every type of manufactured wood. The applications are so extensive it’s hard to put them all down.
High-strength laminate boards are a go-to for beams and columns, as they are stronger than solid wood. Plywood is particularly used for internal paneling and structural frames.
Depending on the grade of the manufactured wood of choice, it can be used to construct a ceiling, roofing and shingles, decking, interior doors, and partitioning for rooms or cubicles.
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