Solid Wood furniture may be the natural first choice for quality furniture, however it is not always the most practical choice.
Solid wood moves; it widens when it is exposed to moisture, and shrinks when it is dried. Today’s modern insulated, double-glazed and centrally heated home can have a detrimental effect on solid timber furniture if the timbers are not completely dried.
The industry standard for furniture timber is under 12% moisture content. This if fine if the furniture has been in an equally dry atmosphere through its production and finishing, storage, shipping, warehousing and delivery.
Be aware that wide solid wood panels and thick leg-post and bed-posts may shrink, crack and split, and always insist that the retailer guarantees refund or replacement in the case of timber flaws and allow for several weeks for the solid timbers to settle into your home environment.
General rule of thumb is that the softer the timber, the more it is likely to swell, (so for example, pine will move more than ash, etc).
These sound cheap and nasty, but in reality you are enjoying the beauty of timber grain without exploiting timber resources.
You can own a mahogany headboard which only has mahogany on the top 3mm of the surface, (after all, unless you are going to start chopping into it you will never really appreciate the other 22mm beneath the surface anyway).
Veneers offer much more than a simple saving in natural timber resources by the fact that you only require such a small amount of solid timber to enjoy the natural timber grain, you also have a wonderful choice of fine and very beautiful timber veneers, many of which would not be stable enough to use in a solid format (for example the amazing burr walnut grain is very unstable unless supported as a veneer on a stable panel).
Always check what the core material below the veneer is. It may be a cheaper timber such as a pine, or a plywood, or MDF, or a chipboard.
Laminates and Wood-Based Panels
These are the core of your furniture, and dictate how stable and durable your furniture is regardless of how beautiful it may appear from a distance.
There are a few basic types: Plywoods; block-boards, and; wood-based fibre-boards.
Plywood can be excellent material. Cabinet gables, doors, drawer boxes, shelves; its stability and rigidity are generally superior to wood-fibre based board materials (which have a tendency to sag when used as shelves).
Block-Board is a construction of cheap timber lengths bonded into a panel and faced front and back with a veneer. Despite how this sounds, it creates a stable panel suitable for many furniture applications, and is superior in stability to wood-fibre based board materials.
ChipBoard is what it says it is, a board make from wood-chips. It is one of the most common board materials used in furniture construction, and generally speaking it is perfectly okay for light use.
It must be veneered and edged to make it acceptable for furniture use, and often [in kitchen and children’s furniture applications] is faced with hard-wearing melamine.
MDF, Medium Density Fibreboard is a material made from bonded wood-dust. It has become very common in children’s furniture. It offers excellent stability, durability and strength, and can be finished with a veneer or painted with excellent results.
The primary concern with MDF is the make-up of the material, which is wood-dust bonded with a urea-formaldehyde resin.
However, very dangerous as this resin is, the risk is only present during manufacture when the material is machined and the dust is created. Once the MDF is encapsulated with paint or lacquers the risk of dust is no longer present.
Plastics is whole other world. There are thousands of different plastic compositions so to be brief, in a nutshell, here is my personal synopsis, and please research this further for yourself.
Plastic is a wonderful material that lets the designer explore new shapes that would be difficult or impossible with timber. It is light-weight, waterproof, knock-resistant and [depending on the particular plastic composition] can be very strong.
PVC, polyvinyl chloride contains numerous toxic chemicals which are used to soften the naturally brittle PVC into a more flexible material. Traces of these materials can leach out of PVC.
The World Health Organisation has recognised the chemical used to make PVC as a known carcinogen, (the European Union has banned the use of the most widely used plasticiser [DEHP] in all children’s toys.
Polycarbonate plastics use the primary chemical building block Bisphenol A [BPA] which is a hormone disruptor that releases into food and moisture and acts like oestrogen.
Research has identified this chemical with an increase in body weight of laboratory animals’ offspring, as well as impacting hormone levels, and more recent research indicates that low-level exposure to BPA can result in insulin resistance which can lead to inflammation and heart disease.
In a nutshell: plastic furniture looks fantastic, is cheap and easy-clean, but unless you have all the facts would you really want to fill your child’s room with the stuff?
On the other hand if you already buy your food in plastic wrappers, bring it home in plastic bags, keep it in a plastic-lined fridge and cook it in a plastic lined microwave oven, hey, why worry?