Laminate versus wood veneer…
Upon first glance, you’d be forgiven in not recognising a wood veneer surface over a laminate!
Over recent years, laminate surfaces have become more realistic in appearance, a far cry from the plastic looking, often garish colourways that they used to be.
Apart from their visual appearance, there are many differences between laminates and veneers. Ultimately, knowing more about these differences is fundamental as to which one is right for you.
What is each made from?
As you might expect, wood veneer is made using real timber, whereas laminate is completely man-made.
Veneer is created by cutting extremely thin layers of real wood. The patterns of its grain are dictated by the cut. End grain wood veneers are harvested from cross sections of the tree trunk. Frequently supplied as complete discs, an end grain veneer will show the fabulous growth rings of the tree. However, most veneers are designed to cover larger surface areas. The majority are cut from the length of the trunk, creating stunning veneers that feature the natural wood grain.
Being man-made, laminate is constructed by compacting layers of paper with a compound resin, often referred to as melamine. It has a printed surface, which is photographically reproduced to resemble all manner of woodgrain finishes, or even marble and granite. Laminate is usually finished with a clear protective coating, whereas veneer wood can be stained, oiled or waxed as desired.
How are they supplied?
Laminate is frequently applied to a substrate such as chipboard or fibreboard, to be used primarily for kitchen or bathroom worksurfaces, or as flat pack furniture. It can also be supplied in its thin sheet format, but it is extremely brittle and therefore prone to snapping!
Because of its endless uses, wood veneer tends to be supplied as both thin sheets, and backed.
Veneer is delicate, but much like ‘growing’ trees, the veneer has some flexibility, unlike laminate. At The Wood Veneer Hub the majority of our extensive veneer collection is supplied in thin sheets. These veneers are best utilised by an experienced veneerer or marquetry enthusiast.
However, other veneers in our portfolio are either finished with a resin or paper backing, making them ideal for a novice veneerer, thanks to their flexible properties.
CubeFlex is ideal for a novice veneerer, still offering the look and feel of real timber, but ultimately it’s a veneer that’s easy to apply, even contouring around soft curves!
Other veneers in our product range include those used for our wooden wall panelling, where a wafer thin sheet of veneer is applied to a backing.
In the instance of Acupanel, this backing offers acoustic insulation, whilst accentuating the stylish three dimensional appearance of the surface.
Other wall panelling ranges such as TimberStik are backed with a rigid wood, pre-cut into planks and supplied with an adhesive backing strip for ease of installation.
What can they be used for?
Wood veneers can be used to restore antique furniture, re-surface a previously veneered item that may have been damaged, or simply looks dated, or ultimately form an essential part of any marquetry enthusiasts ‘tool kit’!
In fact, they have been used by highly skilled craftspeople for centuries, to create decorative surfaces featuring intricate inlays. Even today, some of the most salubrious furniture manufacturers continue to use this skill, creating bespoke and detailed patterns for dining room tables, statement furniture and even clocks.
Likewise, laminates are purely designed to be used in the format that they are supplied, as cladding or carcasses in a kitchen, or as worktops around the home.
Which is more durable?
Being mass produced and man-made, laminate is designed to be scratch, stain and heat resistant, whereas veneer is very like solid timber, and will succumb to surface marks and stains.
That said, as wood ages, so too does its beauty. Superficial marks on a veneer can be sanded and the surface re-finished, whereas once damaged, a laminate cannot be repaired.
Which is easier to clean?
As the finished surface of a laminate is usually coated, it can be simply wiped over. The surface frequently has some antibacterial properties too, making it an ideal choice for a kitchen or bathroom worktop!
Veneer is as equally easy to look after, and whilst it may not be suitable for use in areas that may come into direct contact with water, the lustre of the woodgrain is re-ignited every time the surface is wiped over!
Is either environmentally friendly?
Sadly, laminate is far from being kind to the environment! Along with its many manufacturing processes, laminate is designed to be a budget produced commodity. Frequently used for flat pack items, it is only expected to have a short life span!
In complete contrast, veneers from responsible suppliers such as The Wood Veneer Hub are only sourced from sustainable forests. With very few processes involved, the carbon emissions in creating them are minimal. Being a quality product, veneers are designed to last! And, as they are frequently used to restore furniture items that might otherwise be discarded, veneers certainly have a positive effect on the environment.It’s true that there are advantages and disadvantages to both laminate and veneer, but ultimately, nothing quite beats the look and feel of real wood or timber veneer!