When ordering furniture in China, you can use plenty of different materials. Each of the materials have different attributes and varies in pricing, so that it is helpful to keep in mind what the characteristics are and where you should use which kind of board. In this article, we focus exclusively on all board kinds that are usually used for furniture without looking at solid wood (- we will publish a separate article on solid wood soon). Also, we won’t discuss blockboard, since it is rather used for doors, panelling and partitions. Let’s dive in and see how we can categorize engineered boards, that are commonly used for furniture.
Fibreboard is a wide category of engineered wood boards made of wood fibres as the name is telling. LDF (low density fibreboard), also called particle board, as well as MDF (medium-density fibreboard), and HDF (high-density fibreboard) are all boards that are categorized as fibreboards. Plywood on the other hand is not a fibreboard, but a wooden board made of thin sheets (thin plies) of wood. Generally plywood is a very strong option that lasts long and has many similar attributes as solid wood.
Particleboard, or LDF – sometimes also called chipboard, is a fibreboard product manufactured from wood particles or chips and a binder, which is pressed to a board. It is the lightest, weakest and also the cheapest board in the category of fibreboards. It is often used for parts that are not much visible and aren’t crucial to the stability of the furniture. LDF is not as dense as MDF and HDF and therefore more vulnerable to deform and expand when absorbing moisture.
Medium-density fibreboard is made of wooden fibres and a resin-wax binder that are being compressed to a board under pressure and heat. It has a higher density than LDF and is nowadays the most common material for furniture due to its good attributes, and strength, while being affordable. As all fibreboards, MDF can be finished with a wood veneer, melamine finishes or other coatings that help to protect it from moisture and create an aesthetic look. In humid environments MDF boards should be well sealed, otherwise also MDF board can expend over time due to absorption of moist in the air. But with the right laminate or coating, MDF is resistant to moisture and the perfect fit for most furniture.
High-density fibreboard is the strongest fibreboard with the highest dense. It is often also referred to as hardboard, and it can also be used as flooring (such as laminate flooring) or for other purposes in construction – not just for furniture. Tempered HDF is being treated and baked with linseed oil, which protects the board from humidity and moist. Nevertheless, this is not needed, when HDF has a laminate finish, that equally protects it from moist. HDF and MDF are most certainly very good choices for most furniture, and both can have the same attributes towards external influences with the right laminate.
Veneer is referring to a very thin layer of real wood that is applied on the surface of a board. This way the board looks like solid wood and has a beautifully looking surface. Veneer is often used when the board are supposed to look like natural wood, while being cost conscious and not able to use solid wood. Melamine and laminate finishes on the other side are artificial finishes that are most commonly used due to its stretch, water and fire resistance. Modern melamine and laminate finish can imitate wood, stone and other natural materials.
Laminates in general are basically just paper layers that are merged onto the board with a synthetic resin under heat and pressure. HPL stands for high pressure laminate, and uses a higher pressure during this process than LPL (low pressure laminate). With thermal fusion the laminate paper and resin is being compressed onto the plywood or fibreboard to a solid plastic surface, that is resistant to external influences and doesn’t scratch easily.
Melamine is just a subcategory of a laminate, to be precise. It refers to low pressure laminate (LPL), and uses a melamine resin as binding agent. It was for a long time considered to be lower in quality compared to HPL. This has changed during the past years, with many technical improvements in the melamine production and manufacturing process. While being more cost-efficient, it has now same attributes as HPL, such as being waterproof, and scratch and shutter resistant.
Melamine and laminate finishes come both with smooth surfaces and embossed surfaces, that have a wooden texture or similar. Finishes can have a solid colour, or imitate natural materials, such as wood, stone, or marble. There are glossy finishes, as well as matt finishes
In the first step we also need to choose the raw material. While a plywood core can be used for high-end furniture with wood veneer, we always recommend MDF or HDF as the better choice for melamine or laminate finishes. Wood fibreboard are reliable and cost-efficient, while have a board strength that can even be used for kitchen cabinets, office furniture and build-in closets. For outdoor projects also MDF and HDF can be used, but in such a scenario it is important to use top quality materials and have an extra coating layer that especially protects edges and corners from water.