When told to choose between engineered MDF and solid wood furniture, most people would probably choose the latter in a heartbeat.
However, the rapid technological advancements have made engineered wood much sturdier, cheaper, and better-looking than before, giving products like flat pack furniture a fair chance against what was considered an undisputed leader in the industry – solid wood.
So, does that make engineered wood the better choice? When it comes to pick and pack furniture – not necessarily the case. In reality, both types of wood can be a fine addition to your kitchen, living room and bedroom furniture, as long as you’re fully aware of both their strengths and weaknesses. Learn all about the pros and cons of both materials and choose the one that best fits your requirements and budget.
What We Mean When We Talk About “Solid Wood”
When we mention solid wood, we are referring to the natural lumber that is harvested from trees. The material’s qualities, such as sturdiness or texture, depend on the plant species it was harvested from.
“Wood gathered from poplars is much softer than that of oaks.” – says Dimma (Ikea flat pack assembly and delivery at Fantastic)
To this day, natural wood is still successfully being used in construction work and furniture design till this very day.
Solid Wood – The Good News
Photo credit: Pixnio – Boen Engineered Wood Flooring
#1 It will stand the test of time
The fact that your grandmother’s heavy oak table is still standing strong after decades of extensive use is no mere coincidence. Natural lumber is incredibly sturdy and resilient and has been used in the past not just in the making of furniture, but in the construction of bridges and dwellings as well. Its characteristics vary depending on the tree species it was harvested from.
#2 It is aesthetically pleasing
You just cannot top natural wood over flatpacks when it comes to appearance, and each species sports a unique look. For example, white oak and mahogany feature eye-riveting grains that are favoured by many aesthetic aficionados throughout the world.
While not as exciting, red oak, pine, and fir are perfect if you are looking for aesthetically pleasing home solutions at an affordable price.
#3 Solid wood furniture boosts the value of your home
A bookshelf, table, or bed made out of solid wood can significantly bump up the price of your home. This makes the purchase of natural wood furniture, especially that of more expensive wood species, a solid investment (excuse the pun) if you are planning to sell your home in the foreseeable future. Engineered MDF wood, on the other hand, will not add any value to your home, for flat pack furniture is mostly in the lower range of pricing.
#4 It is highly customisable
You can tinker with all properties of natural wood to give your home an extra bit of personality. Today, stores offer solid wood furniture in numerous shapes, finishes, and colours. Most wood species are also fairly soft, which makes them suitable for small DIY projects around the house.
Solid Wood – The Bad News
Photo credit: PXhere.com
#1 It is not waterproof
While this goes mainly for unfinished wood, any piece of furniture made of natural wood will become damaged by mold if it exposed to heavy moisture or left in a damp environment. Even with furniture made of red oak or other sturdier materials, a quality water-proof finish is always recommended to prolong the life of the unit and avoid the hazardous risks of further mold infestation.
#2 It is temperature-sensitive
Warping and cracking is an issue that still plagues natural wood, despite the advent of modern crafting methods and technologies. Usually, the damage is caused by frequent fluctuations in temperature or humidity. If these changes happen too fast, the material will expand and contract, making your hardwood cabinets, doors, or paneling significantly less appealing.
#3 It is prone to infestations
Without proper treatment, solid wood furniture can become the hotbed of a wood boring insect infestation. To prevent this, you will need to regularly clean and maintain your furniture, as well as choose the right finish to keep the wood protected from Death Watch beetles or other nasties.
#4 It can get expensive
While species, such as fir and pine stay within the affordable range, more luxurious types of wood can really drive the price tag up. The stark price difference is usually the result of several factors, such as sturdiness, visual appeal, and local availability. If you’re doing renovation work on a tight budget, make sure to avoid furniture made of mahogany, cherry, walnut, or teak.
What We Mean When We Talk About “MDF”
MDF stands for medium density fibreboard – a type of engineered wood that is extensively used in the manufacturing of flat-pack furniture and cabinet doors. Although it is essentially a material made from recycled wood fibres, wax, and resin, it is denser than plywood and almost as sturdy as most types of natural wood out there. MDF comes in many varieties as well that vary in price depending on the material’s size, thickness, type of glue used, and the wood species it contains.
MDF – The Good News
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#1 It does not warp or crack
Because of its unique structure, MDF is virtually immune to warping and cracking. Its ability to withstand extreme humidity stems from the fact that each board expands and contracts as a whole unit. This flexibility allows the engineered wood to fully preserve its original shape.
#2 It is much more accessible
With a few exceptions, MDF materials are much cheaper that their natural counterparts. They are readily available at local stores and their panels come in sizes ranging from 1,5 metres to 3,6 metres, which makes them great for projects that require large pieces of wood with no joints.
#3 It can be easily painted or stained
One of the major differences between MDF and natural wood panels is that the former don’t have a visible grain. This makes the wood painting or staining job much easier since you will not have to worry about any wood grain or knots bleeding through and ruining all your hard work.
#4 It is a go-to choice for cabinet doors
When it comes to MDF’s forte, cabinet doors, you will find a variety of styles available, such as flat-paneled, inset, or raised designs. Some boards even offer improved water resistance, which is why so many kitchen and bathroom cabinets on the market are made from this material.
MDF – The Bad News About Flat Packs
#1 MDF is easily scratched
This alone would not be a problem if MDF could have been sanded. Unfortunately that is not the case, since sanding engineered wood will only expose its fibre material. This means that any scratches or dents your furniture receives will be permanent. In this regard, solid wood is a better alternative since even a casual sanding job will often be enough to erase the damage.
#2 It weighs a lot more
When comparing solid and engineered wood, one would think that the natural equivalent will be heavier, right? Well, it turns out that it’s the opposite. In fact, MDF is so heavy that cabinet installation becomes several times more difficult than mounting regular hardwood cabinets.
#3 It does not react well to heat
If exposed to extreme heat, the core materials of this engineered wood will become damaged beyond repair, rendering the material completely unusable. This is why you should try to avoid placing MDF furniture near fireplaces, kitchen stoves, or in your garden outside at all costs.
#4 It is not weight-friendly
While this type of engineered wood is very commonly used in cabinets, open wall shelves, and bookshelves, placing too many books or heavy porcelain plates on top may cause the material to gradually sag over time. You can avoid this by reinforcing your MDF furniture with solid wood.
Conclusion: Which type of wood wins the fight?
As you may have gathered by this point, the golden medal belongs to neither of these materials. In reality, your choice between MDF and solid wood will usually boil down to your personal aesthetic preferences, budget, and the way in which you intend to use each of the materials.
However, when it comes to choosing cabinet doors, medium density fiberwood clearly takes the lead. We recommend using this material if you want to give your kitchen or bathroom a small facelift, or if you are a person who favours convenience and practicality over visual appeal.
But, if you are a traditionalist who loves classic designs and for whom budget is not really a concern, then solid wood is the material you need to make your dream project come to life and here at Just Wood Furniture we can custom build any item of furniture.