Types of Engineered Wood


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Engineered wood is an artificially produced material. It has many other names like mass timber, composite wood, artificial wood, and manufactured board. We use a variety of derivatives like wood fibers, particles, strands, resins, and derivatives.

Engineered wood serves as an excellent environmental-friendly alternative to natural wood. The advantage of engineered wood is that we use wood waste to produce it, and we also add artificial substances that do not result in trees getting cut to manufacture it. There are several types of engineered wood that meet a variety of purposes.

You can get engineered wood in different sizes, but typically the dimensions are 64 ft by eight ft. The thickness, particularly for cross-laminated timber, can be anything from an inch to 16 in thick.

Engineered wood is produced according to specific designs and manufactured according to national or international standards. We use it in various applications such as home constructions, industrial products, furniture, and structures.

Typically, we make engineered wood from hardwood and softwoods. The advantage is that we don’t have to use expensive, rare, and endangered types of wood. Instead, we can produce engineered wood from sawmill scraps and a variety of wood waste.

Only for veneers used in plywood production would entire logs be used. Generally, we consider engineered wood a sustainable alternative to natural, solid wood. It is also a cost-effective and sometimes even more durable option.

Types of Engineered Wood

There are several types of engineered wood, but here we discuss the seven most popular varieties that you are likely to come across in the market.

Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL)

Laminated veneer lumber detail
Image Credit: KLski via Creative Commons

We make LVL from layers of wood veneer compressed together to form a single layer, bonded by resins and glues. We use this type of engineered wood in framing. The layers are arranged so that the wood grain runs in one direction, so you need to load laminated veneer lumber accordingly.

Laminated Strand Lumber (LSL)

We make laminated strand lumber (LSL) by combining wood strands in a dense, angled pattern to form wooden boards. LSL is one of the more high-quality engineered wood products and is considerably stronger than LVL.

The composition of LSL is wood fiber 95%, and resin 5%. It exhibits a reasonable resistance weight and torsion by the orientation of the wood strips. However, LSL is an expensive option and costs up to three times more than dimensional lumber.

Oriented Strand Board (OSB)

Stack of oriented strand board isolated on a white background. 3d illustration

As the name suggests, we produce oriented strand boards (OSB) by combining wood strands with adhesives and wood flakes and then compressing them into boards. OSB comes in wide mats and serves well for load-bearing applications.

There are different varieties of OSB. For example, you can get sanded or unsanded OSB, and the level of durability may differ between different varieties and brands. Also, some may be more resistant to water than others.

Premium grade OSB is typically more durable. When you buy OSB, ensure that it can withstand extreme weather.

Another important consideration while using OSB is that you need to leave gaps at the ends for length-wise expansion and contraction. Failure to maintain gaps can cause the sheets to buckle. Some pre-manufactured boards provide a built-in gap.

Read more about OSB and other engineered woods in another interesting article of ours.

Plywood

The three light plywood boards stacked, macro

Plywood is made by sticking together multiple layers of wood veneer to create boards of various thicknesses. Then, we stick the layers together with adhesive or resin. Plywood plays a prominent role in the construction and making of furniture.

We classify plywood into different types based on various parameters. Therefore, it is important to understand the system by which the different types of plywood exist to identify the best category for a particular job.

We classify the different types of plywood based on various parameters like the number of layers, the material, and the different grades according to the quality and end-use.

A popular way of classifying plywood is by designating letters A to D, where A is the best quality and B the lowest quality.

Plywood typically has two letters printed on it, indicating the quality of either face of the plywood sheet. So, for example, you can get AB plywood, which indicates that one face (front-facing) is A-grade while the other (the back) is B-grade.

If you see a different alphabet “X” next to the first two letters, it means that you can use the plywood for exterior purposes. So, ABX would denote that one face consists of A-grade plywood, the other B-grade plywood, and it is exterior grade.

Plywood can be quite expensive, but it is generally a cheaper option than solid, natural wood. In addition, we consider plywood as a sustainable option to many natural woods that are on the list of endangered wood species.

You can get more plywood information from another article of ours which elaborates on the different types of plywood.

Medium-density Fiberboard

medium density fibreboards at woodworking plant

We manufacture medium-density fiberboard (MDF) by combining the fibers of hardwoods and softwood with a resin under high temperature and pressure. As a result, the material is denser than plywood and OSB.

MDF can consist of only hardwood, only softwood, or a combination of both. It has a homogenous structure without knots, grain patterns, or cavities. MDF is easy to cut and work with, but those who prefer the natural look of wood may shun this material.

Medium-density Fiberboard is much cheaper than plywood. Apart from its use in making furniture, MDF has a prominent role in making speaker boxes. It also exhibits excellent thermal insulation properties, making it useful for making false ceilings.

We discuss MDF and other engineered woods in another of our posts.

Particle Board

a piece of particle board on a white background

We also call this form of engineered wood chipboard. You could consider particle board as the predecessor to MDF. Manufacturers make particle boards out of sawmill waste material. They also add fireproof and waterproof substances to add to their resilience. Insect-proof chemicals further add to the durability of the material.

Wood and sawdust are compressed to create a board of uniform thickness, which is then cut into various sizes, depending on the requirements of the end-users. Particleboard plays a prominent role in flooring, particularly parquet flooring.

We also use it as a filler material for false ceilings. It exhibits excellent sound and thermal insulation properties, making it useful for making recording studio walls. Particleboard is cheaper than MDF, but it is not as strong or durable.

Wood-Plastic Composite

wood plastic composite, a type of engineered wood.
Image Credit: VarunRajendran at English Wikipedia via Creative Commons

Wood-plastic composite (WPC) is a wood substitute that has become a popular option for making doors and windows today. These composite materials consist of wood fiber, wood flour, and a variety of thermoplastics.

The material may also contain lignocellulosic or inorganic filler materials. The boards can also contain cellulose-based waste materials like coffee husk, peanut hulls, bamboo, straw, and pulp fibers.

WPC is a robust, durable material, practically unaffected by insect attack or damage through moisture. It is easy to work with by hand or machine tools. However, you cannot recycle WPC.

Engineered Wood: Advantages and Disadvantages

Hardwood floor samples at flooring store.

It’s a universally accepted fact that engineered wood is a cost-effective and environmental-friendly substitute for natural wood. But there are two sides to a coin, so here are the pros and cons of engineered wood:

Advantages of Engineered Wood

Environmental-friendly

Engineered wood is a sustainable option. It can achieve or even exceed equivalent densities and strengths of natural wood.

Reduces Waste

By manufacturing engineered wood, we can minimize wastage because even the defective sections get recycled and processed.

Stronger Material

The multiple directions of the wood grains in engineered wood make the material stronger than natural wood.

More Sizes

You get a wider range of sizes. The size of the trees limits the size of natural wood sections. With engineered wood, there is no such restriction.

Dimensionally More Stable

A major drawback of natural wood is that some types tend to expand and contract with changes in atmospheric temperature and humidity levels. There is no such difficulty with engineered wood.

Disadvantages of Engineered Wood

Less Attractive

Engineered wood tends to be less attractive than natural wood. An exception is an architectural-grade glulam.

Can Be More Expensive

Some varieties of engineered wood, such as LSL, can cost more than natural wood.

Conclusion

Engineered wood ushers in some exciting possibilities for use in woodworking projects and construction. We have mentioned some of the wide varieties of engineered wood here.

However, with continual technological advancements, many more new materials are evolving. Therefore, while being aware of these popular types of engineered wood, keep track of the latest materials coming out in the market and try those as well.