The perceptions associated with the quality of Solid Wood and Veneers are ones of much debate and the answers are far more complex than those thought of at first glance. This short article will attempt to shed some light upon the subject and attempt to answer some of the questions raised.
First we have to define what we mean by Veneer. Veneer is a very thin panel of wood that can range from paper thin to around 5-6mm thick. A Veneer panel can be applied to anything from chip board, MDF (Medium Density Fiber Board) or even Solid Wood.
Most people perceive Solid Wood furniture as a higher quality product than a product using Veneered panels. However, some of the most expensive and high quality furniture that you can purchase can sometimes be made from MDF with a Veneer placed over the top of it, and some of the cheapest furniture you can purchase can be constructed using Solid Wood.
Solid Wood furniture ranges in quality due to the way the wood is selected and assembled, and this is all down to cost. For example, we have specified the Solid oak used in our Utah Range of Oak Furniture as Number 1 Common, using the grade criteria from the US National Hardwood Lumber Association. This is the most expensive grade, and the timber in this grade is selected without black knots, for example. In our Bretagne range of oak furniture we use Number 2 Common which allows for more knots. This is because the Bretagne is designed to be more rustic, and more variation in the grain suits this style. We do not use lower grades than this, although using a lower grade of solid oak would significantly reduce the cost - and it is in fact possible to manufacture furniture made entirely of Solid oak very cheaply, if a very low grade of wood is used. Cheap Solid Wood furniture is usually made from cheap cuts of timber that have not been dried properly and may contain knots, or even off cuts that have been ‘finger jointed’ together. There is a risk that this cheap Solid Wood Furniture may crack and/or warp in a centrally heated house.
If you are after solid oak furniture made entirely of solid oak, then why not have a look at the Hamilton Solid Oak Furniture, which uses number 1 common wood grade - the highest grade throughout.
As for veneer, people often associate Veneer with cheap Flat Pack furniture of low quality. Low quality Veneer is extremely wafer thin and usually sits on top of a cheap MDF or chip board base. Because the Veneer is so thin, it is easily damaged and usually leaves the unfinished chip board or MDF exposed underneath. In addition, if the technology used to apply the veneer to the base is inappropriate, the veneer may come off. This can be a result of poor or inappropriate glue quality, too little or too much glue, as well as the quality of the base component.
However, a high quality veneer on a good MDF should often be favoured over a solid panel. And usually, a really good quality veneered panel will not be cheaper than a solid panel - it may even be more costly. Examples where a veneered panel should be used in favour of a solid panel is where the panel is large relative to its thickness - for example a dining table top. A solid top 'plank table' is very likely to warp or crack, especially if it's made of oak. Using a Good Quality veneer on top is much to be preferred for durability and stability.
In any case, the best solution is usually to combine the best attributes of both types of production methods and create furniture that has both solid wood and Veneer components. Furniture which has been designed with the correct timber selection and highest quality choice of material used for each component will create a strong, durable and high quality product.
Wood is a natural product and adheres to the forces of nature. Solid wood will always contract and expand based on temperature and humidity and the only two ways to reduce this effect is to A) ensure that the moisture content is suitable for the UK climate (10%), and that the wood is properly sealed in the finishing process. Using Veneer inserts on top of a solid wood frame reduces this effect as the wood has room to expand and contract and will be less likely to crack or split.
For this reason OAKEA specifies wood tables with a veneered inlay in the tops. Also, insert side panels and flat door insert panels are specified as being veneered. This decision was part of our ongoing programme for continual improvement, contributing to higher customer satisfaction and more durable products which is always on top of our agenda.
In closing, Veneered components versus Solid wood is not as simple as cheap-and-tacky versus expensive-and- quality. In the vast majority of cases, in the name of durability and minimising the risk of problems the right combination of the two, as well as material selection is the best way to ensure a high quality standard.