By Abhijit Phadke
Plywood has for long been the material of choice when it comes to making wooden furniture for our homes. It is cheaper than quality solid wood furniture (e.g. teak wood furniture), and is also easily available at local dealers. However in recent times, a few alternatives to plywood have gained in popularity especially in the ready-made furniture market. This article lists the the top 3 alternatives to plywood, that are in vogue today.
MDF or medium density fibre boards, are a relatively new type of engineered wood product. These boards are made from very small fibres of wood firmly glued together to form a hard surface. It is not as strong as plywood, but looks quite attractive because of its smooth laminated surface finish. MDF boards are usually pre-laminated at the time of their manufacture using LPL (Low Pressure Laminates), and standard size MDF furniture is also assembled in factories and shipped to dealers for selling.
On the other hand, most plywood furniture such as tables, cabinets, beds etc. are made by local carpenters using plywood sheets. Laminates (such as Sunmica) or veneers are used as an overlay to decorate plywood.
Much of the office furniture found in today's offices such as desktops and cubicles is actually MDF furniture. I believe the main reason is that MDF is more cost-effective than plywood, though quality-wise I would choose plywood furniture for strength and durability.
Other varieties of fibre boards include LDF (Low-density fibreboards) and HDF (High-density fibreboards). HDF is the best of the lot. When working with wood, the usual rule of thumb is that the higher the density and weight of the wood, the stronger it usually is.
If you have you ever walked into a furniture shop in the past couple of years, there is a high chance you will have come across particle board furniture. It's very weak actually when compared with plywood or even MDF, and is also the cheapest of the lot.
As a matter of fact, I have come across many shopkeepers who say that they themselves inform prospective customers that these pieces won't last for more than 3 to 4 years, and suggest them to opt for plywood furniture instead. Especially in cases where people are likely to shift from one house to another, there is a high probability that the particle board furniture may get damaged during the process.
Solid wood is the best alternative to plywood, though it is a lot costlier. It's not usually available at the local carpenters though. They mostly work with plywood. But in the bigger showrooms, quality solid wood furniture is usually available. Teak wood (called Saagwan or simply as Saag) is the most common variety of solid wood used in India. Other types such as Walnut or Cherry can turn out to be little harder to find.