What does ‘engineered timber’ really mean and is it a bad thing?

Wednesday, 7 August 2019  |  Admin

‘Engineered’ is a term increasingly used in the timber and furniture industry, but what does it really mean and is it a bad thing?

The term engineered is used to describe any product that is a composite, man-made, material. Once upon a time a door would be made from several pieces of solid timber jointed and glued together to construct a door. This sounds great doesn’t it? However, as with all timber products they can move and distort when exposed to changes in humidity. This was often a problem, particularly with external doors which can get wet in the winter and dry out in the summer. Eventually a move was made to manufacture door components from several pieces glued together with the grain in opposing directions to minimise the effects of the distortion and increase stability, and a veneer was placed over the surface to give the appearance of a single piece.

Fast forward 20 years and we live in a world with increasing issues on the environmental impact of logging and timber use, which has resulted in a shift towards greater use of engineered products which utilise smaller pieces of wood that would otherwise be wasted.

The process used in doors has gone even further and now instead of small blocks of wood, wood chips are often pressed into door components and veneered with Oak and other expensive timber species, meaning even the smallest pieces of wood aren’t wasted.

It’s not just doors that have benefited from the use of engineered components, they can be found in a wide variety of timber products offering both increased product stability and environmental benefits.

Wood flooring is an area that has been hugely affected by the introduction of engineered components. The introduction of a plywood or blockboard substrate to wood flooring halves the amount of wood needed to produce the flooring, this can have a massive impact on the environment. There are some functional benefits too, like the ability to produce wider planks without the fear of cupping as the plywood substrate is far less likely to cup and distort than if it was a solid wood plank. Plywood’s stability also means click systems can be machined into it without the risk of it swelling and preventing the click system from working. Plywood is much more resistant to changes in temperature than solid wood so this enables the use of underfloor heating systems that would not be possible with a solid wood floor.

One of the main benefits of engineered materials is the cost saving. This comes from the use of much cheaper materials such as wood chip in the core of a veneered door and the plywood substrate under your hardwood floor. The use of these more cost-effective products means the whole of the tree which makes the entire manufacturing process more efficient. It’s safe to say that in many respects engineered products can offer benefits to an array of timber products. There are some drawbacks but most of these are far outweighed by the benefits. It can be difficult to get over the fact that your beautiful Oak door or floor isn’t Oak all the way through at first but in lots of ways, most notably cost, it is often the best solution in a modern, environmentally conscious world.