There are various alternatives to natural timber nowadays. This article will tell you a little about a variety of boards, their advantages and disadvantages and also some suggested uses.
Firstly we shall have some general discussion about these man-made boards. Some people refer to them as 'wood' or 'timber' but that is incorrect as they are actually composite materials, just like concrete and glass-reinforced plastic (commonly called "fibreglass") are.
What are their general advantages?
Man-made boards are sold in standard sheets of 2440 x 1220 mm – that is about eight feet by four to our American friends. Natural timber does not come in such wide sheets as it has to be the same maximum size as a piece of sawn tree-trunk. The larger size of man-made boards means that they are useful to make large panels such as doors and the sides of cupboards without joining.
Composite boards have no real grain pattern. That means that they are equally strong in all directions. Natural timber can be weak along the grain – this is what makes bookshelves sag in the middle.
Boards are made in factories using scraps of wood and sawdust that may otherwise be thrown away. Certain types can sometimes cost less than many natural timbers.
What about disadvantages?
They are usually not as attractive as natural timber as they have no grain. This means that they have less character and look altogether less natural.
Certain types of resins that bind some particles together are thought to be carcinogenic if inhaled.
Most boards are relatively heavy.
The stock size of these boards is quite large and you may have to pay a premium to have them cut down for easier transportation.
In part two, we will look at various specific man-made boards available for furniture making.