To evaluate the quality of a non-Solid Wood Furniture, aside from the actual design itself, the materials used to build the furniture is often a good indicator. (How it was built is, of course, also a good indicator, but furniture buyers don’t easily get to know that.)
Generally, non-solid wood furniture are made up of (1) an engineered wood (aka "manufactured wood") to form the general shape or structure and to act as the substrate for (2) the surface material, which is bonded or applied to the surface of the engineered wood. (3) Solid wood is also often used to support the structure or is a part of the furniture itself (like its legs).
The engineered wood commonly used in making furniture are particleboard, MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard), and plywood.
For the surface material, there are several ways to finish the surface of these engineered wood. Using paint or varnish is a common method. But to mimic the look of a real solid wood surface, the materials commonly used are laminates or veneers, although some do use paint or varnish to also mimic the look of wood grains using painting techniques or tools. Some leave the surface unfinished (usually for plywood furniture).
The materials used is one of the reasons why there is a difference in the price-point, durability and quality between a non-solid wood furniture from one company, say IKEA, versus one from another, say West-Elm or Herman Miller.
When buying a non-solid wood furniture, it is always good to ask - what is the actual engineered wood used? What surface material did they use? Paint ? Laminate? What kind of laminate? If veneer, what is the actual wood veneer used?
Some stores just say “engineered wood” or "manufactured wood" without actually mentioning what it is exactly. Some also just say “laminates” or “veneers” without specifying what kind exactly. If they are not forthcoming & transparent with this information, it might be a red-flag worth noting. It might be safe to assume that the materials used are more on the cost-effective side of the scale.
Not all engineered wood is the same, and not all surface materials are the same, knowing the exact materials used to build the furniture is one way to know its durability and to differentiate one from another. We hope to help in that regard with this series.
Next: Part III: What are Veneers & Laminates ?
Previous: Part I: Solid Wood or "non-Solid Wood" Furniture ?