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Furniture Construction What are the options?
by Terry Canup

We have discussed different types of woods and what solid hardwood furniture is. Now let's look at different construction options.

What other options are out there? 
There are many materials used in furniture construction. Many of these are man made composites. The first is called 'pressboard'. Pressboard is a very workable material used in mainly non-load bearing furniture. It is made of a pulp much the way standard paper is, but with a higher density. It can be made into various shapes and is a very economical medium in which to work. Furniture made with pressboard is generally very affordable.

Pressboard gives the manufacturer a smooth surface, so it makes an ideal furniture base medium. Pressboard has its drawbacks. It is susceptible to damage under medium to high moisture levels. The material absorbs the moisture and can become malformed. It may develop a wavy surface, or in extreme cases, begin to dissolve. Therefor, it is important to keep furniture made this way out of the rain, and always use coasters under objects that may 'sweat' condensation. A significant portion of furniture made today uses this material.

Masonite is another man made composite along the same lines. Generally used in drawer bottoms and the backs of chests or bookcases. Denser and sturdier than pressboard, it handles these tasks quite well.

Another popular composite that is prevalent today is chipboard or particle board. This is manufactured from wood chips and the residue of cutting boards at the mill. It is then mixed with glues and formed into 4' by 8' sheets of various thicknesses, that the manufacturers can cut to their desired design. It is heavier than the original wood from which it came. It can range from porous to very dense and from a thickness of 1/8" to 2". The very dense, thick version is exceptionally strong and can be load bearing. It also produces a very smooth surface that the manufactures can attach veneers to easily. It makes a very good interior structural base as well.

Unfinished raw particle board PFBB Furniture Forum
Raw Particle Board (note the coarse particle structure)

particle board with wood veneer PFBB Furniture
Particle Board after wood Veneering

This product has been around since the 1800s. Porous versions are susceptible to water damage almost along the level or pressboard. Higher density particle board is even used in outdoor construction with greater durability than natural wood. It all depends on the manufacturing process.

The fourth of the most popular composites is MDF or Medium Density Fiberboard. This is a relatively new product and generally found in medium to higher priced furniture. It is more expensive to manufacture. Heavy and dense, this is usually used as a base for expensive wood veneers. Highly resistant to moisture and durable, it is the best of the man-made composites. Some manufacturers refer to it as 'man-made wood'.

Raw MDF Boards (note the tight/dense structure)

MDF after Wood Veneering PFBB
              Furniture Forum
MDF board after wood veneering

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