While buying furniture, one crucial aspect that people always consider is the type of wood used. Veneer and laminate are very popular today, so there’s a big chance your furniture is made with either of them. However, not many people can differentiate between furniture made with either of them. It makes sense to know the features that will help you choose the best option for your needs.
Here’s a list of features that you can look at to differentiate between furniture made of laminate or veneer:
- Confirm its solidity level
- Check the wood’s appearance
- Consider the furniture’s cost
- Consider its application
- Consider ease of maintenance
- Do a bit of research on its history
- Ask a trained professional
Most of these features are apparent, but it’ll take some research to know what they mean. The rest of this article will focus on reviewing them one after the other and telling you what to expect in each case.
Confirm Its Solidity Level
When it comes to identifying woods, the first step is to confirm the wood’s solidity. Laminate furniture is made of a piece of plastic that imitates wood. However it’s easy to distinguish its end grain from that of real wood. While both are thin, a veneer is generally not as solid and durable and is prone to damage.
An excellent way to see what the wood is made of is by looking at the growth rings, which are usually a dead giveaway of the wood’s solidity.
If there’s a large panel with a repeating grain pattern, it is probably veneer. If this is the case, you’ll notice the thin layer of real wood attached to the substrate. On the other hand, since laminate is made of plastic, it is usually more durable and better protects against scratching, chipping, and other blemishes.
Check the Wood’s Appearance
Yes, I know – this is pretty obvious, and many people would prefer to discuss it first. The appearance of both finishes is perhaps the first thing you’ll notice about them, but do they tell the whole story?
Veneer wood usually has a doubled appearance. While laminate is glued, nailed, or screwed into the material, veneer wood is hooked in a tongue-in-groove way. If there’s a section that overlaps real wood over particle board or a similar low-quality material, it’s almost always veneer wood rather than laminate.
Ask a wood technician about the difference in appearance, and the first thing they’ll tell you is that laminate looks relatively artificial while veneer looks natural.
Yes, veneer furniture looks like wood. It may not exactly be the most solid option out there, but its high-end look gives your furniture an authentic look. It also has a more uniform look and can be more easily matched with other furniture in the home.
On the other hand, there’s usually a synthetic feel attached to laminate. It may be available in different shades and colors, but anybody can tell that it’s an artificial design with one glance.
Another method is to look at the top and bottom of the piece. Veneer typically has a different grain texture or direction from the connected piece. Many manufacturers try to mirror the top and bottom with laminate, but not with veneer pieces.
Consider the Furniture’s Cost
The cost of your furniture may not tell the complete story as several other factors may influence the price. However, it’s an excellent place to start your observation if you don’t know the technicalities of both types of furniture.
Relatively low-priced furniture most likely features laminate. However, you must also note that veneer’s price may vary depending on what timber is used. The cost of maintaining veneer furniture is also relatively high, so even if you are buying fairly used furniture, the high price would still signify that the furniture is made with veneer.
Consider Its Application
People once held the belief that laminate lacks realism, but that’s becoming outdated. These days, furniture manufacturers are getting more creative with their designs and laminate furniture is becoming more similar to real wood.
Manufacturers leverage advanced imaging techniques to design hyper-realistic laminates that look just like timber.
However, despite this seeming resemblance, their application is still quite different from real woods like veneer. For instance, laminate’s waterproof nature and heat resistance properties make it an excellent choice for laundry units, kitchen cabinets, and other furniture prone to getting wet.
Additionally, laminate is usually scratch-resistant, so furniture makers frequently use it in tabletops, wardrobes, etc. Therefore, if you suspect that a piece of furniture is laminate and it falls into any of these categories, you’re probably right.
On the other hand, furniture designed to serve as statement pieces or focal points is probably veneer. The rich, natural, and high-end looks of veneer make it a top choice for these applications.
Consider Ease of Maintenance
Although unconventional, another way to determine whether a piece of furniture is veneer or laminate is by looking at how easy it is to clean and maintain.
As explained above, laminates are typically more scratch and stain-resistant. So, it’s not surprising that they’re easier to clean and maintain. On the other hand, veneer isn’t as sturdy. That’s why, you’ll need to sand or re-polish the surface of veneer furniture from time to time to remove stains and scratches.
If you doubt the finish used for your furniture, simply clean the surface with a soft, damp cloth. This process will be enough to wipe off the dirt from the surface if it’s laminate. In contrast, if more effort goes into maintenance, it’s probably veneer.
Do a Bit of Research on Its History
We often put common sense and logic aside when identifying what a furniture piece is made of. If you’ve got furniture imported from India, Italy, or Germany, chances are that it features veneer. Yes, you might call it “wood profiling,” but sometimes, these little prejudices about furniture can help you correctly identify what they are made of.
Gathering information you can about the origin of the furniture – even the tiniest details – can be helpful. The countries listed above easily pass as the world’s capitals for veneer furniture, so it won’t be a coincidence that most furniture originating there is made of veneer.
Another question you should ask is how old the furniture is. Laminates only became popular recently, so if the furniture’s design is inspired by a story from the 18th or 19th century, it’s probably veneer because of their popularity at that time. Most antiques from that time are designed with veneered tops and other parts, so you won’t be too wrong to assume.
Veneer and laminate surfaces can’t be carved. However, the underside (real wood) portion of some veneer furniture can be shaped. If the wood isn’t laminate but it’s topped with another tongue-in-groove material, you’re dealing with veneer wood.
Veneer also tends to be a little heavier than laminate surfaces because it’s often combined with real wood. Laminate is prized for many reasons, including its lightweight design.
Ask a Trained Professional
If you’re about to buy a piece of furniture but don’t know whether it’s veneer or laminate, you can ask a trained person.
One of the simplest ways to know is by asking a retailer, salesperson, or company. Don’t be shy or afraid to ask. It’s your money, and you have the right to know everything about what you’re spending it on.
A reliable seller shouldn’t have any problem telling you everything you want to know about the furniture. If they hesitate or tell you they don’t know, chances are you aren’t getting good furniture. Or worse, you’re buying from a company that’s not trustworthy at all.
Furniture experts know what to look out for. By simply analyzing colors, patterns, spaces, and shapes, they can learn everything there is to know about furniture.
Beyond knowing what the furniture is finished with, a trained person can also tell you what to expect. They’ll also advise you on the best way to use the furniture.
If you’re part of an online community, you can also take pictures of the furniture and ask online. There could be a few people with the right expertise who can offer you the right advice and recommendations.
Laminate Furniture Overview
Laminate furniture typically consists of synthetic materials used to form thin layers that look like wood. However, it isn’t manufactured with wood, so it often looks artificial.
Laminate’s wood grain appearance comes from a unique printed process. Manufacturers then attach the printed sheets to a durable core material like MDF. You’ll often see laminate pieces with shiny finishes.
During manufacture, laminates are designed to resist scratches and heat. So, users won’t have to be too careful with laminates. The relative ease of maintaining laminates endears it to the heart of many users compared to other types of furniture.
Features of Laminates
Here are some of the features that make laminate unique:
- Laminate furniture typically carries a bright and glaring appearance.
- You can paint laminates to change the appearance of your furniture.
- Laminate furniture is usually more durable than other types of furniture.
- It’s scratch-resistant and doesn’t get damaged from exposure to mild heat.
Laminate: The Pros
- The artificially synthesized nature of laminate enhances its durability compared to other types of furniture.
- Laminate isn’t prone to scratches, and it can resist stains and heat.
- Laminate furniture is typically easy to clean and polish. It also doesn’t cost much to maintain.
- Laminate furniture is relatively low-priced.
Laminate: The Cons
- Laminate is a synthetic material, which means low-quality products low-quality products are prone to wear.
- The use of synthesized materials can limit you to specific designs, therefore, dwarfing your creativity.
- The most apparent disadvantage of laminate furniture is the artificial look it gives off on the first look.
Veneer Furniture Overview
Like laminate, veneer is also a thin layer of furniture finish. However, it’s cut out from real hardwood and put together on other cheap wood materials.
The technique used to manufacture veneer allows for more design options. Since the upper surface of the veneer is made of real wood, customers can paint, polish, or varnish it.
The top layer of veneer is usually up to 2 cm (0.78 in) thick, so users can mold it into different shapes. The popularity of veneer stems from the fact that it gives off realistic impressions and granular patterns.
Features of Veneer
Some of the essential features of veneer include the following:
- Veneer furniture creates the same realistic impression that real wood provides.
- Customers can paint veneer to suit different designs and patterns.
- Although prone to wear over time, you can restyle veneer furniture when it begins to wear out.
Veneer: The Pros
Now that we’ve discussed so much about veneer, here are some of its advantages.
- The most obvious benefit of veneer is the realistic feel it gives to wood furniture.
- Veneer furniture often outlasts most other furniture.
- It’s relatively lightweight compared to laminate and other types of furniture. Therefore, it isn’t difficult to move your furniture from place to place.
- Veneer furniture offers an incredible range of refinishing options, so you can change the color, design, or texture of your veneer furniture at any time.
Veneer: The Cons
- The extra layer of thin wood used to coat the material can get scratched or damaged.
- The layered coating also makes repair quite tricky, considering that the layer may begin to peel off.
- The mixture of wood dust, chemicals, and other materials can reduce uniformity among different veneer furniture.
- Veneer can absorb moisture and peel off when exposed to a wet atmosphere.
That does it for this post. Hopefully, you now know how to distinguish veneer furniture from laminate.
As explained above, there are different factors to consider when differentiating furniture. A combination of these factors can help you know what to expect from your furniture. We’ve also explained the pros and cons of laminate and veneer to help you make the right choice for your needs.