Hazz Design Upholstery Materials Intensive Course: Part 3 – Wood Materials: Laminate, MDF, Particle Board

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Tracey and Tom Hazzard

Imagine a typical furniture buying experience: a saleswoman approaches a customer and asks her what she is looking for. The customer gives a specific answer, such as “Cherry” or “Leather”. The saleswoman immediately takes her to the solid wood where the leather shows her the best-selling collections. Soon after, she walks straight for the door, wondering in frustration, “Did he even hear me?” The sales clerk shakes her head, saying, “Typically she doesn’t really know what she wants. “

You’ve probably spent hours training your sales force on the products, techniques, and skills to avoid this situation. So what is working? In this series, we redefine industry jargon regarding materials, furniture design and construction. In each part, we’ll dig deeper into terms commonly used by savvy and expert salespeople, but we often end up confusing customers.

Even if you’ve been selling wood furniture for years, it’s time to take a refresher course in layman’s (or woman’s) perception of industry terms. It often helps to dig a little deeper to find out what the customer really wants, even when they think they are specific.

Is wood really wood? One hundred percent solid wood is typically reserved for bespoke and very high-end pieces. Manufacturers typically mix solid wood and veneers with one of the many wood core composite materials. The selection and use of composites is primarily for manufacturing cost needs, but composites can also be used for structural or durability reasons.


Advice: Consumers perceive most composite materials as “cardboard,” so there’s a fine line between disclosure and confusion if that’s what you have to sell.


Laminate is not a wooden surface; it is an image of wood. Laminates are made from paper printed to resemble wood grain and then glued to plywood, MDF or chipboard. Many are embossed with patterns and textures that resemble real wood and then covered with melamine (plastic), or combined with other plastics under heat and pressure. Laminates are more durable and can take a lot of abuse from scratching, temperature and humidity. Note – calling it wood laminate is misleading; the paper laminate is more precise.

Main defense forces, medium density fiberboard, is a heavyweight composite material made from finely ground sawdust particles that are glued and pressed together into a flat panel. MDF surfaces are very smooth even after being cut and shaped. Many furniture manufacturers use painted MDF or with wood veneer and shape the edge of the MDF board with a nice shape. The edge of the board receives a thicker coat of stain and sometimes a decorative painted treatment to resemble wood. MDF is softer, so it shows, especially in the edges, faster wear than other materials.

Particle boards is made from larger and coarser wood particles. The particles are glued and pressed into a board. While the large side is smooth, the edges are very open and should be covered with veneer or other material. Particleboard is the cheapest composite wood material used for furniture manufacturing, hence its main advantage.

Wood is the most confusing aspect of modern retail furniture. Worse, it is full of misconceptions as most consumers think they understand. So choose carefully the industry terms you use with clients. Ultimately, you want to sell furniture today. The fastest way is to build a relationship by understanding and communicating what is relevant and important to a client’s needs without lecturing or scaring them into doing more research. As always, listen twice as much as speak. Asking him questions will increase your chances of a sale.



About Hazz Design: Graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design, product designers Tracy and Tom Hazzard have worked together for most of their two decades of marriage and professional life. Their shared vision that a good design should never cost more, that there is always a solution and that one plus one can have an exponential result has earned them career development projects, multiple design awards, more a dozen patents, two children and a keen sense of what consumers want and need from well-designed products. Visit them at www.hazzdesign.com. They can be contacted by email at [email protected] or call 714-673-6541 for more information.


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