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Real wood, wood veneer, and laminate are common materials used in everything from kitchen cabinets to living room furniture to office furniture. Even though these are 3 of the most widely used materials in furniture, many of us are still left scratching our heads wondering, “What’s the difference?”

Conventional wisdom says that solid wood, or real wood, is king. But is that always the best choice when shopping for furniture? We’ll define each of these materials and run through they benefits to help you determine which material is right for you. The answers might surprise you.

What is Wood Veneer?

Wood veneer is a thin layer of real hardwood applied to a less expensive material like plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF).

What is Laminate?

Laminate is an engineered material usually constructed of plastic and bonded to a composite base. There are 2 types of laminate that office furniture shoppers should know about. High-pressure laminate (HPL) is constructed of multiple layers that have been bonded together under high pressure and heat, making the product incredibly durable. High-pressure laminate is favored by some of the biggest companies in the world because it’s been designed to resist stains, scratches, and heat. Often constructed of plastic and bonded to a composite base, laminate 

Low-pressure laminate is more widely known as melamine. Melamine is constructed of a single layer that has been bonded to the base material. Because melamine is less durable than high-pressure laminate, it performs better in lower use areas. 

Because of the way laminate is constructed, it can be designed to create different styles and mimic other surfaces like wood or marble. 

What is “Real Wood”?

Solid wood, often referred to as “real wood,” refers to natural wood or plywood rather than plywood. You may find furniture that has been constructed of solid wood or as a combination of materials. For example, it’s common to pair a solid wood desktop with metal desk legs. You might also find solid wood as an element within a mixed-material construction

Understanding the Differences Between Laminate, Wood Veneer, and Solid Wood

Debating which option to go with for your new office furniture? Here are some distinguishing features of each material to make it easier for you to choose which is best for your needs. 

The Benefits of Laminate

Laminate is engineered to stand up to high-traffic and heavy use, making it a popular choice for commercial offices, home offices, doctor’s offices, schools, and anywhere else you expect your furniture to see a lot of “wear and tear.” It’s often easier to care for than real wood or wood veneer. 

  • Durable, man-made surface

  • Scratch, stain, and heat-resistant

  • Easy to clean and maintain

  • Modern, on-trend finishes

  • Budget-friendly and easier to manufacture

The Drawback of Laminate

One downfall of laminate is that, since it's a manufactured surface, you will not get the natural variations and true wood grains that you see with real wood veneer; however, the color possibilities are endless.

The Benefits of Wood Veneer

Wood veneer gives you a solid wood look without the matching price point of solid wood furniture. Because the veneer is composed of natural wood, it has a richer and more varied look. Since more effort goes into crafting a veneer top, they are usually priced higher than laminate alternatives. Wood veneer is softer and more susceptible to scratches and dents when compared to laminate, so we recommend using desk pads and coasters to protect your surfaces.

  • Real wood finish with natural variations

  • Richer, stained finish options

  • Requires coasters and desk pads

  • Higher price point versus laminate

The Drawbacks of Wood Veneer

Wood veneer can be more delicate because it’s topped with such a thin layer of natural wood, making it susceptible to chipping and scratching. 

The Benefits of Solid Wood

Solid wood gives you a natural wood finish that is beautiful and luxurious. In furniture production, solid wood has become a stand-in for “luxury.” There’s nothing that sounds more opulent than a solid mahogany desk (however heavy it may be in real life). Solid wood gives you the beauty of the natural grain, and because it’s a natural material it will break down faster than laminate wood or wood veneer, making it a sustainability favorite. 

  • Beautiful natural grain

  • Luxurious

  • Sustainable

The Drawbacks of Solid Wood

While not as fragile as wood veneer, solid wood can be prone to chipping, staining, and rings. Because of this, many shoppers will choose solid wood for their homes and laminate for their offices. 

Maintenance is Key to Making Your Wood Veneer Furniture Last

If you have any type of wood veneer furniture, whether it be a desk or a bookcase, it's important to know how to best clean and maintain the furniture item. As wood veneer consists of natural wood, the cleaning process is a detailed one in order to ensure that the wood is not damaged in any way. Be sure to always consult the manufacturer of the product to ensure that you are using the proper cleaning method for your furniture. Below are some general cleaning guidelines when it comes to wood veneer goods, but please note that your product could have other guidelines, depending upon the manufacturer.

Laminate vs. Wood Veneer vs. Solid Wood: Which to Choose?

Choosing between laminate, veneer, and solid wood really comes down to durability and consistency versus natural beauty and variation. Consider which of these benefits is more important to you when making your decision. 

Maintaining Laminate, Wood Veneer, and Solid Wood

If you plan on using your veneer desk or table for years, you'll want to know how to keep that beautiful finish looking its best even after daily use. Make a habit out of performing these regular maintenance tasks, and you'll thank yourself for it in the long run.

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