What is wood veneer?
Wood veneer is a thin slice of natural wood that is attached, through gluing or pressing, onto a panel of fiberboard or particleboard. In furniture, wood veneers give the appearance of an all-wood piece, when in reality only the surface is taken from natural wood.
Advantages: Wood veneer furniture pieces use a minimal amount of natural wood, making them more affordable and environmentally friendly. Wood veneers are also less prone to the splintering and warping that can come from an all-wood design.
Disadvantages: Wood veneers are attached to fiberboard, which are not as heavy as natural wood boards; if wood veneers are not coated with a surface polish, this makes it easy for liquids to be absorbed through the wood. And unlike solid wood, once damaged, wood veneers can be difficult or costly to repair.
Best for: Those looking for lighter pieces that are easier to move, as well as budget- and environmentally-conscious shoppers.
Benefits of Wood Veneers
- They're still very durable.
Just because veneer furniture isn't completely made up of solid wood, doesn't mean it's not durable. Because veneer furniture is not prone to the same aging effects as solid wood, such as splitting or warping, wood veneer furniture will often outlast solid wood furniture by years.
- They're easy to clean.
When it comes to furniture upkeep, wood veneer furniture is one of the easiest to clean. For general maintenance, all it takes is a quick wipe-down with a dry or damp cloth to keep dust and dirt away.
- They have an even appearance in grain pattern.
In wood veneer furniture, slices of real wood are applied or glued to a fiber or particleboard. This process makes it easy to locate particularly beautiful patterns in the wood's grain and incorporate them into the aesthetic of the furniture design.
- They're sustainable.
Finally, wood veneer furniture is environmentally friendly. Because only the outermost layer of veneer furniture is made from wood, choosing veneer furniture over solid wood furniture helps to conserve natural resources – while still maintaining the beautiful natural aesthetic found in 100% solid wood.
Solid Wood Furniture
What is solid wood furniture?
Solid wood furniture is furniture made completely from natural wood (excepting any areas of upholstery, metallic fixtures, etc.).
Advantages: Solid wood is easier to repair, as most forms of damage can be fixed with sanding. While solid hardwoods will often outperform veneers in terms of durability, softer woods such as cedar are rising in popularity for their susceptibility to distress, patina and other 'rustic-chic' signs of aging.
Disadvantages: Atmospheric pressure can cause natural wood to expand, leading to cracks or splits in the furniture design. While many designs now come with systems to prevent such from happening, it is still recommended that solid wood pieces be kept out of direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time.
Best for: Those looking for durability, minimal maintenance and an all-natural aesthetic.
Benefits of Solid Wood
- It’s natural.
Solid wood is just that – wood. It’s not made of MDF or particleboard or ‘mysterious’ materials. When you purchase a solid wood piece, you know exactly what you’re getting.
- It’s durable.
Solid wood comes in two main varieties: hardwood and softwood. While hardwood is denser and less prone to damage than softwood, both varieties are more durable than veneers. Depending on the craftsmanship of the piece (the types and quality of finish, cut, hardware and other factors that went into the construction), solid wood furniture can last for generations.
- It’s unique.
One solid wood piece will look different from another, thanks to the fact that in nature, no two grain patterns are alike. Swirls, circles, lines and spots appear in all shapes and sizes; as a result, choosing a coffee table or desk made of solid wood will be sure to add one-of-a-kind flavoring to your home decor.
How to Tell the Difference Between Solid Wood and Veneer
- Weigh it, or lift it up from one end. If it is solid wood, the piece will feel heavy and difficult to move. If it’s veneer, it will feel lighter.
- Feel for the grain. If you just feel a smooth surface and not the ridges and raisings of a natural grain, it is most likely veneer.
- Look for discrepancies in the grain. If you notice that the surface of the piece is has the same grain pattern across all sides, chances are it’s veneer. If, however, you don’t see any remarkable patterns or symmetrical sides, chances are it’s solid wood.
Laminate vs. Veneer
Laminate is not wood, veneer is wood. The difference between the two is that laminate is a material other than wood with a coating made to look like wood, while veneer is actual, thin slice of wood that is pressed onto the surface of a furniture piece.
Types of Wood Veneer
Technically, the types of wood veneer are the same as the types of wood – since veneer is simply a thinly-sliced piece of wood. There are, however, types that are commonly seen in furniture and which you will probably encounter more often than others. These include:
- Ash veneer
- Oak veneer
- Birch veneer
- Acacia veneer
- Beech veneer
Can You Stain Wood Veneer?
Yes, if the veneer is unvarnished and untreated, you can stain it with a paint for wood. You’ll need to sand down the surface of the wood first, getting it smooth and rid of dust and wood flakes; once it’s sanded down, wipe down the surface with a very slightly dampened cloth to pick up remaining specks before applying the stain. Varnished veneers can be stained, as well, but will require a little more work in removing the treatment when it comes to sanding down – you may not be able to completely remove the coloring through sanding, but if you’re planning on staining over the veneer with a new, darker color altogether, then this shouldn’t be an issue, as the new treatment will cover and hide the old.
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Editorial Disclaimer: Articles featuring tips and advice are intended for educational purposes and only as general recommendations. Always practice personal discretion when using and caring for furniture, decor and related items.