There is a lot of confusion about furniture materials that are easy to run into. There are many different methods to create furniture and the combinations are many even within a brand, let alone at an artisan level.
Sometimes we try to read datasheets, but ultimately we don’t know what we’re buying. We rely on the reputation of the brand, believing that if the kitchen costs as much as a car, it will give us solid wood back everywhere. Unfortunately this is not the case.
To understand something, let’s take a step back, and let’s study what are the most recurring components for furniture. I will not dwell on the manufacturing methods, types of glues and additives, etc.: one for synthesis reasons (my goal is to give you the series of options available on the market), two because in any case these are very often subject to a thousand changes.
- composition of a panel
- the final panels
- to know in order to understand
composition of a panel
Put simply: the basic element of a piece of furniture is the panel. A panel consists of:
- a central core – which is the resistant part, the structure (A)
- a finish – which protects and embellishes the panel, also on the sides (B and C)
A) the core of the panel
The innermost part of the panel is the generally thickest part, which acts as a structural-resistant part. Always continuing to generalize – I apologize but it is an extremely vast world and we need to simplify a minimum – the most used in the field of furniture are the following:
In the field of timber:
- chipboard: literally composed of shavings, or scraps of wood pressed and glued together. Very common, we all have it in our homes and it immediately catches the eye for the type of plot. It is the cheapest material of all, but it should not be underestimated: if well calibrated in thicknesses and if its composition is not the worst, it actually has a lot of resistance! Problems obviously arise when it has low thicknesses and bad raw materials.
- osb: still in the chipboard family, it is always wooden scraps pressed and glued together, but with the peculiarity of having flakes a few centimeters large, therefore clearly visible, it points all in the same direction. It has its own very particular aesthetic and in fact in some installations it is left “naked”, despite its poor nature [see the Workshop desk ]. It is often seen as a construction board and fence, given its high resistance.
- l’mdf: abbreviation for medium density fibreboard. Wood fibers pressed together with glues and / or resins. It is also easy to recognize because it is very compact to the eye, uniform in color and with a slight dotted effect. Given its compactness it allows, compared to chipboard and osb, to be hollowed / worked / lacquered better, because it is less prone to cracking and presenting irregularities. It deforms deformed and is not loved by insects.
- plywood : similar to mdf. Only the composition changes, instead of being composed of fibers, the compensator is composed of sheets of wood.
- the multilayer : evolution of plywood, and also pleasing to the eye. Easy to recognize due to the striped effect, originating from 5 or more layers of pressed wood sheets.
- the blockboard : as the word itself says, strips of essences (woods) different, juxtaposed together. Usually poplar and fir, the cheapest around. It is recognizable because it is evident the side by side of a number of wooden elements, of different color and grain. It is also very workable and, given that we find real woods – and not a mixture of waste – at the level of the “noble part” it is a step above the previous elements.
- solid wood: the solid wood we all know. Obtained directly from the oldest part of a tree trunk, and composed only of these, without other scraps, elements, glues that contaminate it. From a single plant, a single piece.
- another kind of solid wood: similar to solid wood, but all the trunk is used (nothing is thrown away!) Up to the bark.
Embracing other materials, we find:
- honeycomb / corrugated: in pressed cardboard or aluminum, very easy to recognize because they repeat a geometric texture that leaves room for well-defined voids such as honeycomb or wavy effects.
- new technological materials: someone will have heard of Corian, Fenix, Staron (see the project Tom Vac Sink ) and so on. They are panels made in the laboratory, according to very specific compositions, which could include acrylic materials, resins, minerals, etc. Each brand studies a specific composition, but the result is similar: they are artificial surfaces, very performing (antibacterial, heat resistant and so on), with almost infinite design possibilities (bendable, deformable, translucent, semi-transparent, etc.) and which do not have need to be coated. In fact, we see them increasingly in use for kitchen tops, bathrooms, installations, naval and hospital coatings.
- recomposed stones: stone dust, compacted flakes, mixed with resin or not and treated to have similar performance to the above materials. Starting from the organic material of the stones, they must be worked like the latter, without plastic or wavy effects, etc. They can have dotted or marble-like effects, etc.
- the void: we are talking about elements made of metal or plastic, which – having to guarantee a certain lightness – are not full of material but with an internal void. So the material is extruded/folded/printed/pressed etc. leaving an empty space internally. Think a little about the legs of metal chairs.
- classic materials such as glass, marble, stone, ceramics: I would say they need no introduction. They are usually never coated and are always clearly visible, easy to recognize.
B) the finishings
Especially in the field of finishes, the possibilities undergo a crazy surge towards the incalculable. It’s really easy to find everything, and without going too far. Let’s go to the classics:
- sheets in plastic laminate (formerly formica ), melamine sheets etc .: essentially a plastic finish, originating from different compositions / treatments in order to allow excellent resistance to stains, abrasion, easy to clean and so on.
- laminates born of new nanotechnologies : Fenix, Polaris by Abet … these are increasingly present on the market new discoveries, similar to those mentioned above but born from sophisticated research that guarantee performances far above the classic coatings: anti-fingerprint, anti-scratch, antibacterial, self-healing, warm and soft-smooth to the touch and so on. In fact, even if plastic, they actually cost quite a lot.
- lacquering : a painting carried out by spray in special laboratories, giving a very homogeneous final effect (unlike the more rustic brush). The final result can be smooth, matt embossed, glossy, semi-glossy. The panel generally subject to painting is MDF, given its homogeneity which leaves no discontinuity or imperfections.
- veneers: a sheet of real wood essence with visible and continuous grain. The operation of covering a panel (usually mdf) with wood veneers is called veneer . The application of this sheet ennobles the panel, giving the impression that it is made of an entire solid wood.
- pickling : only possible on solid wood, it allows to remove the surface finishes to the natural layer of the wood is alive.
Some new mixes are added to these more classic methods, in order to give new and interesting aesthetic aspects, as well as different tactile textures:
- stones and marbles, or compacted with stones and marbles
- back-painted glass
- leather and imitation leather, eco-leather etc.
- innovative fabrics, elastic, rubber, etc.
- metal foils or plastic panels covered with a very thin metal layer
and so on … Whatever comes to mind, surely it is was thought of by someone as a final finish on a panel.
C) the edges
Almost there, having learned almost all the most important information. The last feature to take into account are the edges. In fact, when a panel is made with an interior that is not very pleasing to the eye (chipboard core, mdf, honeycomb, etc.) or delicate, it is necessary to protect every side, not just the two main faces. This process is called: edging . Take all of the above coatings, and consider them applied to the edges. The only two additional pieces of information you may need are:
- in the case of panels coated with plastic laminates: the edge in plastic laminate has a certain thickness. So the conjunction between two sheets is very visible, creating an aesthetic interruption. A dark, light or rounded edge.
- in the case of lacquered panels : the lacquering is able to completely cover the entire panel, even the edges, without any signs of discontinuity.
- in the case of panels covered with veneer : the veneer sheet is so thin that the meeting of the two along one edge is almost invisible
Solid wood and new technological panels generally do not require a coating, unless it is foreseen for design / aesthetic reasons.
the final panels
- honeycomb or sandwich panels : they have a core with a honeycomb structure (1-5) and are finished with in turn from plastic laminates or wood veneers. Where do we find them? Especially in the doors.
- ennobled : they have a chipboard core and are covered with plastic sheets. We find them everywhere, see Ikea under .
- laminates : hyper-generic term, also used for the most diverse cases. Generally, however, it identifies panels in mdf or chipboard, coated with plastic materials. In fact, it is also used to indicate faux wood parquet.
- bilaminates : another term that easily leads to error, because even here different things are indicated under the same name. In the meantime, we generally mean a better product than the laminate. Often it consists of a panel with a multilayer core and plastic sheet covering. Sometimes an MDF is indicated with a plastic coating of greater thickness / quality.
- paniforti : they have a blockboard core, with an MDF coating. They are less and less used in the field of furniture, as they are less competitive.
Some panel names arise from the combination of a certain type of core (A) with a certain type of coating (B + C). Since, as you will have understood, the types of combinations are infinite, in my opinion it is much more useful to remember the information above, because with these there is a lot, a lot of confusion.
to know in order to understand
This article was originally created to support another very important theme: understanding what types of furniture we are buying . Becoming aware , without the data sheets being Arabic and we don’t really know what we have in hand. To continue the discussion in this sense, I therefore suggest its natural continuation: how are the furnishings made?