Solid Wood, Wood Veneer and Laminate: What’s the Difference?
When considering furniture options, you want stylish, durable and affordable furnishings. Wood furniture offers a glossy, sleek appearance and can be solid wood, wood veneer or laminate. These are all distinct options that come with their own advantages and disadvantages. Understanding the differences between these materials is the key to deciding which one you want. We’ll review the pros and cons of each material so you can choose the best one for you.
Real wood, or solid wood, has long been a popular material choice for furniture thanks to its classic look and durability. Solid hardwood furniture can be made from different species of wood. The different species come with their own beautiful colors, qualities and grain patterns. The main difference between solid wood and other types is that solid wood is composed of lumber pieces instead of wood fibers or strands. For example, a solid wood table would have a solid wood top and legs or base.
As with the other options we’ll look at, solid wood furniture comes with both pros and cons.
Pros of Solid Wood
Here are some of the top advantages of solid wood furniture:
- High-quality feel: Solid wood has an unmistakable feeling of quality. When you want your business’s interior to feel luxurious or traditional, solid wood furniture is an excellent choice.
- Unique appearance: With real wood, each piece of furniture is distinct, with its own wood grain, knots and natural beauty. A live edge table or countertop can provide an especially unique appearance. It features a raw edge that captures the elegance of real wood. Every live edge table is different because every tree is different.
- Easy repairs: Solid wood is durable, so if the surface gets scratched or stained, you can always repair it. You can completely refinish a tabletop by sanding, staining and sealing it.
- Easy maintenance: Wood furniture is easy to clean, as it only requires occasional dusting. If you want to make it shine, you can polish it.
Cons of Solid Wood
Of course, solid wood also has a few disadvantages, including:
- Susceptibility to atmospheric conditions: Solid wood naturally expands and contracts with changes in temperature and humidity. This can lead to problems like splitting. Fortunately, splitting isn’t typically an issue in indoor settings with controlled conditions.
- Higher cost: A downside to the luxurious, high-quality look and feel of solid wood tables is that they tend to come at a considerably higher price tag than wood laminate or veneer options.
- Potential for scratches: Sharp objects can scratch wood furniture. Use fabric coverings for furniture like wood tables, or opt for a durable scratch-resistant top coat.
- Risk of sunlight exposure: The sun’s ultraviolet rays can change the color of the furniture over time. A top coat can protect wood furniture and make discoloration less likely.
Some of the best furniture in American history was veneer. Veneer features a thin layer of solid wood on the surface, typically somewhere from 1/32 to 1/16 inch thick. Furniture makers use a strong adhesive to bond the surface layer of the wood to the substrate, usually a thicker material like plywood. This gives the veneer a strong core so you can use it in place of thicker hardwood.
Unlike hardwood, veneer furniture pieces are not susceptible to wood movement or humidity. Additionally, more wood species are available to create veneers with, so manufacturers can make numerous unique designs.
Furniture with a wood veneer has some benefits and some potential downsides.
Pros of Veneer
These are some of the many benefits of veneer:
- Similar look to solid wood: Furniture wood veneer looks like solid wood because it is, albeit a very thin layer. Still, this means the surface of your furniture will mimic the natural beauty of solid wood furniture better than laminate.
- Less susceptible to the environment: Because the majority of a veneer table or other piece of furniture is made of a stable substrate, veneer furniture is not as susceptible to environmental effects compared to solid wood.
- More options: A great reason to consider veneer furniture is that there are more wood species available. Some woods are hard to find or don’t grow large or fast, but with veneer, there are hundreds of more options than solid wood and many different configurations.
- Eco-friendly choice: Wood veneer is a recyclable, eco-friendly material. Once it has reached the end of its life span, it can be crushed to make wood waste that becomes particle board or other materials.
- Ease of cleaning: Caring for wood veneer furniture is similar to cleaning solid wood pieces. Dust the veneer surface weekly, and avoid using harsh chemicals.
Cons of Veneer
Here are some of the drawbacks of veneer:
- Not as fixable: You may think you can sand and refinish solid wood veneer, but because the veneer is so thin, it can be difficult to repair. You can’t sand down the surface and refinish often because you would quickly sand through the veneer to the substrate underneath.
- Susceptible to water damage: Prolonged exposure to water can cause damage to veneer, but a sealant can protect it.
- More maintenance: You need to polish veneer regularly to increase its durability.
- Potential cracking: When the surface layer of veneer expands and contracts with the changing climate, the substrate might not expand and contract at the same rate. This can lead to cracks.
The two classifications for laminate materials are:
- High-pressure: High-pressure laminate (HPL) furniture is where the laminate is adhered to the substrate using high pressure and heat. This creates a strong bond between the laminate and core material. HPL can also feature a plastic backing, which makes the product more durable and scratch- and water-resistant.
- Low-pressure: Low-pressure laminate (LPL) is adhered using lower pressure and temperatures than high pressure. The final product is durable and typically costs less because it is cheaper to manufacture.
Here are some of the pros and cons to laminate.
Pros of Laminate
These are a few of the main advantages of laminate:
- Exceptionally affordable: When comparing real wood vs. veneer wood vs. laminate, laminate tends to be the most affordable option. This is a great advantage for companies that want to furnish their facility on a budget.
- Durable surface: Laminate furniture is impervious to environmental factors and is resistant to scratches and stains because of its durable, sealed surface. Laminate furniture is also easy to maintain.
- Highly customizable: Another reason to consider choosing laminate is that it opens up endless possibilities for the design. Because the surface is covered in a decorative design, you can choose a woodgrain pattern, solid color, a metal or another design.
- Easy to clean: Since laminate isn’t wood, you don’t have to worry about using specialized wood cleaning products. Instead, you can wipe down the furniture as needed.
Cons of Laminate
Laminate also has a few potential disadvantages, including:
- Artificial copy: Laminate may resemble real wood, but some people feel that a replicated wood grain design can never match the beauty and authenticity of solid wood or a wood veneer.
- Not fixable when scratched: Fortunately, laminate surfaces are scratch-resistant, but if they do get scratched or otherwise damaged, you can’t sand down the scratch and refinish the surface.
- Shorter life span: Solid wood furniture lasts longer than laminate.
- Lack of natural variations: Even though laminate comes in many colors and patterns, you don’t get the same natural variation options that you would with solid wood.
Contact Us to Request Pricing
At Greg Pilotti Furniture Makers, we offer beautiful furniture pieces in solid wood, veneer wood and laminate. If you’re not sure which material or style is right for you, we can offer you guidance or create custom furniture for your business. After a consultation, we can provide you with a quote and drawings of your furniture and then ship the finished product straight to you. Contact us today to get started.