Are you on the lookout for new wooden furniture but feel overwhelmed by the many types of timbers and materials available? From solid woods like rimu or pine to engineered materials like MDF and plywood, the choices can be daunting and leave you wondering, what really is the best choice?

The answer: Well, it’s not quite that simple, there is no ‘one size fits all,’ Both solid and engineered woods have their own unique characteristics, and understanding these can help you make an informed decision the fits your personal needs and preferences.

What is Solid Wood?
Traditional dining room with wooden Nordic dining furniture

Solid wood refers to timber sourced directly from trees, maintaining its natural composition without any processed or engineered alterations. As a sturdy, natural resource, solid wood retains its integrity and character, embodying the unique qualities of the tree it came from. It’s durability and aesthetic appeal make it popular for manufacturing furniture of all types, whether it’s in people’s homes, outdoors, or commercial spaces. The versatility of solid timber allows craftsmen to shape and mold it into various designs while preserving its inherent strength and longevity, making solid wood a timeless and sustainable option. Solid woods can be categorised into two types, softwoods and hardwoods, which include several timber types, all with their own unique qualities.


Softwoods, which constitute around 80% of all timber, come from conifer trees known for their evergreen foliage and relatively fast growth rates. This type of wood is very versatile, therefore commonly used in building materials and furniture. It is more flexible and lightweight than hardwood and due to its faster growth rate, less expensive. Types of softwoods include pine, rubberwood, poplar, acacia, and rimu.


Hardwoods are derived from broad-leafed trees that typically shed their leaves annually, resulting in a denser wood. These trees have much smaller growth rings than softwood trees, creating a closer grain. Hardwoods take longer to grow and are heavier and harder, often used in high-quality furniture, decking, and flooring. Examples of hardwoods include ash, oak, maple, walnut, birch, and cherry.

    Pros and Cons of Solid Wood


    • Flexibility: Solid wood can be sanded down to change shape and texture, and many types of timber stains, paints, and finish options are available.
    • Versatility: With the ability to customise, solid wood furniture can be created to suit many different styles.
    • Ease of care: Solid wood furniture lasts with little maintenance; dusting and wiping will keep it in its original condition as long as direct sunlight and contact with water is avoided.
    • Character: All solid wood pieces are unique with varying grain patterns and natural imperfections, they can grow in value and become antiques if well-preserved.
    • Repairability: If damaged with dents or scratches, the ability to sand and re-surface solid wood means it can be repaired or restored for a fresh look.
    • Durability: The sturdiness of solid wood means furniture can have a lengthy guarantee, along with the ability to repair, making it a cost-effective choice over time.



    • Cost: With solid wood you do pay for what you get, so a quality piece of furniture can come with a higher up-front cost.
    • Natural Imperfections: While some people appreciate these, the appearance of dark-coloured knots and unusual grain variations are out of the manufacturer’s control and can be off-putting for those who prefer a more smooth, clean look.
    • Yellowing/colour change: Like human skin, wood will also change colour if exposed to direct sunlight. You can expect solid wood furniture to darken or lighten overtime, due to certain light and atmospheric conditions.
    • Sensitivity to temperature changes: Rapid changes in temperature can cause the wood to contract or expand, leading to issues such as warping and stuck drawers.
    • Sensitivity to moisture: Direct contact with water for an extended period of time or a large amount has a similar effect to changing temperatures; the wood can swell or become discoloured.


      What is Engineered Wood?
      Birch plywood desk from Plyhome

      Engineered wood is a manmade material that uses derivative wood products instead of solid timber. It contains other content such as plastic, wax, and resins/glues, or is treated with chemical or heat processes to bind the wood together, creating planks that can be used for furniture manufacturing. The most common types of engineered wood used in furniture production are plywood, MDF and particleboard.


      Plywood is a material manufactured by gluing together thin layers of wood veneers. These layers, called plies, are stacked and bonded under heat and pressure to create a strong and versatile material used in construction, furniture making, and various other applications.


      MDF (Medium-density fibreboard) is made by breaking down wood residuals into wood fibres, combining it with wax and resin and forming it into panels by applying high temperature and pressure. MDF is generally denser than plywood and is known for its smooth surface, uniform density, and affordability. Over the years, there has been a lot of controversy around the formaldehyde used in MDF, but studies have not proved any definitive links between these resins and cancer, and any irritations are more likely to be from machining and dust which is not an issue with finished furniture.


      Particleboard or chipboard is wood chips, scraps, or sawmill shavings, bonded together with a synthetic resin or other suitable binder and pressed into a flat sheet. This is lightweight and easy to work with making it excellent for DIY and low-budget projects.


        Pros and Cons of Engineered Wood


        • Cost: Engineered wood is generally more affordable than solid wood as material costs are lower.
        • Strength: Certain processes used in engineered wood production, for example the criss-crossing of grain in plywood, make it stronger and less susceptible to damages, warping or cracking.
        • Temperature resistance: MDF and plywood can be appropriate in furniture manufacture as they don’t tend to warp and crack with changes in temperature and humidity.
        • High-end options: There are more expensive, higher quality engineered wood and veneers available, that can offer durability comparable to that of solid wood.
        • Consistency: Engineered wood provides a uniform surface without varying grain patterns and natural imperfections, making it smooth (without the need to sand) for finishing/painting/spraying.
        • Realistic-looking veneers: To recreate the solid wood look at a lower cost, thin layers, known as veneers, can be glued on top of engineered wood.
        • Flat-packable: Engineered wood is often much easier to flat pack and transport, all around the world.


        • Durability: Some types of engineered wood can be less durable than solid timber, due to gaps in the wood from joining pieces together, as it’s not one solid piece.
        • Short quality guarantees: The warranty on manufactured wood is often shorter than those for solid timber products, so if pieces need to be replaced, it can become expensive in the long run.
        • Moisture susceptibility: Particleboard and MDF are prone to swelling or discolouration when exposed to moisture so are not suitable for wet areas, however plywood is a more moisture-resistant option.
        • VOC’s: Resins and glues used in engineered wood production may emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), potentially affecting indoor air quality. This can have potential health implications if the VOC levels are too high, however it is normally controlled by the manufacturer to ensure products are safe to use.
        • Damages: Engineered wood can be easy to damage and difficult to repair as it cannot be sanded and resurfaced, so once impaired, it is usually ruined permanently.
        • Texture and grain: Engineered wood doesn’t have the aesthetic appeal of natural, unique texture and grain patterns.
        • Deceptive veneers: With solid wood veneers that give the “real wood look,” consumers need to be aware of what is under the surface. Some veneers on low quality engineered wood furniture can be deceiving in terms of quality.


          Is Engineered Wood or Solid Wood Furniture Better?

          Ultimately, there are a lot of factors to consider when deciding between solid and engineered wood and you will need to ask yourself, is this a life-time choice or a short-term decision? How much am I willing to spend? Will it suit the surrounding environment? What space will it be fitting into? How much use is it going to get? What style I am going for?

          The answers will be different for everyone- some will prefer the timeless appeal and quality of solid wood furniture, while others will appreciate the lower cost and versatility of engineered wood furniture, or a combination of both types may offer the best solution. By understanding the distinctive characteristics and pros and cons of each material, you should now be equipped with the knowledge to make an informed choice that suits you and your space best.