Which is Better: Solid Wood or Engineered Wood?

Which is Better: Solid Wood or Engineered Wood?

Have you looked at the product tag when shopping for furniture and really wondered what they were talking about? There are many "wooden" and "real wood" products, but in fact, not all of them are made equal. In this blog post, let's dive into the terminology and find out what exactly is solid wood and engineered wood.

What Is Solid Wood?

Solid wood refers to actual natural timber that is milled from trees. As a material, you would see it in the form of logs, planks or slabs. The most defining characteristic is that there is no hollow space in the structure of solid wood.

Solid wood can be categorised into hardwood and softwood. Hardwoods would consist of species such as walnut, cherry wood, oak and so on. Softwoods would include species such as pine, fir and so on.

In general, hardwoods are denser than softwoods, and therefore are stronger and more durable, and usually pricier.

Furthermore, solid wood is graded based on the amount of clear, defect-free wood that can be derived from a board when it is cut up to make product. Firsts and Seconds, or more commonly known as FAS, is the highest possible grade. The majority of furniture that nichinichi sells are made from FAS hardwoods.

The above picture is a great illustration of how the material used to make furniture is derived from the natural log milled from trees. Each log is sawed to yield planks and boards for making furniture. As can be seen, each plank/board would has its unique wood grains. (Picture credit: Swedish Wood)


What Is Engineered Wood?

Engineered wood is a man-made wood manufactured by binding wood veneers, particles or residues together with adhesives. Most wooden furnitures we see in Singapore stores are made from engineered wood. Some examples of engineered wood include plywood, composite boards, particle boards, or MDF (medium-density board), to name a few.

Many products made from the abovementioned engineered woods are often labelled as "real wood" furniture. While this is not false, the type of wood that goes into the product is fundamentally different from a solid wood product. The implications in terms of quality, strength and durability are also very different.

Cross-section view of plywood: Plywood is made from binding thin layers of wood veneer together. (Picture credit: Healthy House)

Cross-section view of MDF (board on top) and particle board (board below): MDF is made by breaking down hardwood and softwood residues into fine particles, and fused together using a wax and resin binder. Particle board is made by pressing wood chips or sawdust together, bounded by a resin adhesive. (Picture credit: Healthy House)


Solid Wood VS Engineered Wood -- Which Is Better?

Our vote lies firmly with solid wood for the following reasons:

1. Beauty: There is a natural and authentic beauty to solid wood furniture that cannot be replicated from man-made wood products. Each plank that goes into the furniture has its unique wood grains and hue. When you touch the furniture, you can feel the weight and texture of natural wood, as compared to manufactured wood boards which are smooth and light to the touch. The difference in quality is obvious when you touch and look at it close-up.

2. Durability: Solid wood furniture is made to last for decades, if not a lifetime. At nichinichi, we select furnitures with the guiding principle of 「一生愛し続ける家具」, which translates to 'furniture that you can love for a lifetime'.

In comparison, furnitures made from composite boards are much less durable. They are not water-resistant and can go out of shape or sag over time. Once the surface scratched, there is no way to fix it. On the other hand, solid wood furniture can be sanded down in the event of scratches, and it will be as good as new again.

While solid wood furniture is more expensive than engineered wood products on the onset, considering the duration of usage, we would say that it can be rather value for money as well. At nichinichi, we set out to make solid wood furniture more accessible by working directly with makers so we can offer you lower prices.

3. Better for health: Some engineered woods use adhesives that give off toxic formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These VOCs are what gives off the "new smell" from a new piece of furniture or your newly renovated house. But the toxic VOCs don't stop once the smell has dissipated -- research has shown that it can take a new house any time from 6 months to 5 years for formaldehyde levels to degas! (Source: Refinery29)

Many VOCs have been found to be carcinogens, irritants and toxicants that can contribute to asthma and other respiratory conditions, especially in children and the elderly. They’re also known to cause dizziness, headaches and nausea.

In comparison, solid wood furniture does not face this problem. All the furniture that nichinichi sells use environmentally-friendly wood-wax oil that does not give off toxic gases.

Are There Any Caveats to Solid Wood Furniture?

Some may say that solid wood furniture is high-maintenance, but it is honestly not that bad. Many pointers for its maintenance are common sense, for example, do not soak your wooden furniture in water. Other pointers just require you to be slightly mindful during daily usage, for example, do not place very hot surfaces, or use harsh chemicals on the wood surface as it might damage the protective topcoat.

Cracks may form in solid wood furniture if they undergo extreme changes in temperature and humidity (e.g. from winter to summer). But we would say that such cases would be more rare in Singapore, when the climate all year round is relatively stable.

All in all, we would say that the advantages of solid wood furniture would be more compelling and that's why our vote lies with solid wood!

What about you? Would you prefer solid wood or engineered wood? Let us know in the comments below!


Picture credit (banner): Andrey Haimin

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