Furniture is a big investment. That’s why it’s so important to educate yourself before you buy so you know exactly what you are getting. If longevity is your goal, it’s best to avoid pieces made with manufactured woods like medium density fiberboard (MDF) or particle board. Not only do they increase your risk of exposure to toxins, but they often fall apart after a few years. Furniture made from MDF is often topped with a veneer— a thin layer of real hardwood—which can trick customers into thinking they are buying something made of 100% real wood.
Here are a few tips on how to easily spot furniture made from manufactured wood.
Furniture made from real wood will never flake or peel. If layers of the furniture are started to pull away, it’s for sure made with manufactured wood. If you see a dent in the furniture, look closely to see if you can notice different layers veneers on top and particle board underneath.
Checking the underside of a table or chair is a great way to determine if it is solid wood. If a veneer layer has been added on top, you may be able to see where the sheet attaches. Real wood furniture also tends to have unfinished areas on the undersides of tables or the insides of drawers, while manufactured wood furniture will have a finished look everywhere.
Every piece of natural wood is different and will feature its own distinct grain pattern. These grain patterns tend to be naturally asymmetrical, so if a piece has a repeating pattern, one that is perfectly symmetrical, or has no grain pattern at all, it’s probably not made of real wood. The grain should also go in one direction and not crisscross with other grain patterns. If you see various grains going all different directions it is most likely a veneer. Tables made with veneer also tend to have horizontal grain patterns on the edges, while solid wood will have no grain on the edges.
Natural wood tends to have minor imperfections that add to the beauty of the wood, such as knots, color variations, and small nicks or holes from insects. If you see a piece where the wood is completely consistent throughout, it is likely fake. Another way to tell is if the corners and edges are perfect 90 degree angles, or very sharp. When edges are sanded by hand you can sometimes notice slight peaks and valleys when you look down the length of a piece.
A piece of furniture made of real wood should be substantial and heavy. Furniture made from manufactured wood tends to be lighter and easier to move around.
If you can get an entire bedroom set for what you’d normally pay for just a bed, take a closer look. Furniture made from manufactured wood often comes with a much lower price tag than solid wood furniture. While that lower price can be tempting, keep in mind that you are much more likely to have to replace manufactured furniture in a few years, spending even more money. Buying the more expensive solid wood piece from the start will likely save you money on lifetime furniture purchases.