What’s the Difference between Wood, Veneer and Laminate?

by | Jan 27, 2023

When shopping for a centre piece in your home or office, it’s important to know what you’re buying and whether your expectations of your chosen piece will be realised.

In this article, we answer the most common questions from our customers about the difference between wood, veneer and laminate.

  1. What are the pros and cons of real wood?

You can never really match the look, feel or quality of real wood. The natural beauty of the grain shines through and the lustre you get from real wood can never be matched with either veneer or laminate products.

Having said that, there are some cons that you need to be aware of when deciding to buy real wooden furniture.

Pros 

Real wood, such as oak, maple and cherry are very durable and make for completely unique furniture pieces because the grain in every board is different.

Real wood exudes its own natural beauty that you’ll never emulate with either veneer or laminate.

Scratches can usually be repaired easily too.

Cons 

Real wood is much more expensive than veneer or laminate. It’s not surprising really, because the hardwood used takes a longer processing and manufacturing time. The costs of hardwood are high because they take so long to grow (around 100 years per tree), and it’s important to replace them in a sustainable fashion.

Real wood isn’t a friend of moisture or direct sunlight. This means that it will need to be looked after more often than veneer and laminate.

  1. How is veneer made? 

Wood veneer is made from substrates, usually plywood, particle board or MDF (medium density fibreboard. These substrates provide the ‘body’ of the furniture piece, and it is then covered with a very thin layer of real wood using a specialist wood adhesive.

  1. What are the pros and cons of veneer?

Although veneer can look like real wood, there are some give aways that it’s not as it seems!

However, it is more authentic than laminate and it’s not as susceptible to moisture than real wood.

As with real wood, scratches and marks can be easily fixed but their durability depends very much on the quality of the substrate used.

Particle board is at the lower end of the substrate scale. It’s not as fine as MDF and can warp if the board is thin.

Plywood is lightweight and doesn’t tend to sag, but the veneer can often peel off the surfaces and will require sanding to get the veneer to stick again. In fact, when it peels off, it’s quite difficult to get it to stick back again.

MDF is the most favoured choice in substrates. It’s a stable substrate and is very flat, which makes adhesion of the veneer a lot better.

If you’re looking for a real wood feel without the price tag and maintenance, then veneer furniture may be the best choice.

  1. What is laminate furniture?

Laminate furniture is completely different to real wood or veneer. Laminate furniture uses substrates like veneer, but instead of using real wood as a covering, laminate is made from layers of paper that are hardened with resin.

Laminates are much more affordable than real wood and veneer. They are durable but if scratched they cannot be repaired in the same way as real wood and veneer.

There’s no getting away from the fact that laminate furniture looks artificial and cannot reflect the beauty and lustre of real wood. That said, laminate is highly customisable – you don’t have to have a ‘wood effect’ finish. You could opt for metal, tile, bold, vivid, unique designs. Modern, minimalist furniture pieces very often use laminate materials.

Laminate can get water damaged, if moisture creeps into the paper layers. This could lift the upper layer and expose the layers underneath. If this happens, there’s not really much you can do about it.

You’ll see laminate in most furniture outlets these days. It is used in wardrobes, sideboards, chests of drawers, bookcases, shelving units, tv cabinets, kitchen cabinets and doors.

Summary 

Type Manufacturing process Pros Cons
Real Wood Hardwood, long drying process Natural beauty, long lasting, scratches repair easily Good maintenance needed, susceptible to sunlight and moisture, expensive
Veneer Substrate with real wood covering Cheaper, looks like wood, not susceptible to moisture, scratches can be fixed If poor substrate used, the veneer may peel off.
Laminate Substrate used but covering is paper layers hardened with resin. Affordable, highly resistant to scratched, heat and stains, customisable and durable Artificial looking, not fixable when scratched

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