The Basics of Decorative Hardwood Plywood for Cabinetry and Custom Furniture

The Basics of Decorative Hardwood Plywood For Cabinetry and Custom Furniture.jpg

If you're working on home renovations for the first time, you may be surprised at the number of options for some aspects of the process. One common choice some home-owners find overwhelming is the type of material to use on cabinets, custom furniture, engineered wood flooring, solid hardwood, etc. A popular choice for these projects is decorative plywood hardwood, which consists of a solid core laminated with decorative veneer. The various types of core and veneer material can make selection a bit confusing. If you're considering using decorative hardwood plywood in your renovations, these tips should help ease the process. 

Choose a Core

There are a number of options available for the material used within the core of decorative hardwood plywood. There are even specific woods used for particular types of structures. But for basic indoor architecture needs, the options are Veneer Core, Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF), Particleboard and Combi Core. 

Veneer core is composed of thin strips of wood laminated together to form a solid core. Materials used for this type of core can vary depending on where the panels are made. In the United States, veneer core is often composed of White Fir, Douglass Fir, Ponderosa Pine or Poplar. Veneer is stronger than many other options, holds screws well and looks the closest to real wood. However, it is around 15% more expensive and often has variations in thickness. 

One of the most popular options for core material is particleboard. Particleboard is the cheapest core type, features a smooth, uniform surface and thickness and can hold screws reasonably well. It is a bit heavier than veneer, and a typical panel can weigh around 90 - 100 pounds. 

Medium Density Fiberboard, also known as MDF, is very similar to particleboard. Both materials are composites, meaning they are composed of fibers glued together to form the solid core. The main difference between MDF and particleboard is fiber size. Where particleboard uses larger wood fibers, MDF is composed of smaller, finer fibers. Like particleboard, it features a smooth uniform surface and reasonable screw hold, but it is heavy as well and a bit more expensive. 

Finally, there is the option of Combi Core. This material is a sort of hybrid core, and it can be a little expensive, but it is lighter than the composite cores, which can make a significant difference in some situations. 

Choose a Veneer

Once you've chosen a core for your decorative hardwood plywood, the next step is choosing a veneer to cover it. The most popular options for veneer species are Birch, Maple and Red Oak. These three woods are the most widely available and generally the least expensive. 

However, there are other options, like Cherry and Walnut, which are pricier woods but offer a different quality and appearance. You can even choose some more exotic woods, opt for softwood options or even go with bamboo (which isn't actually wood at all!). 

Choose a Cut

Aside from your choice of veneer wood, the cutting style you choose will make a difference in appearance as well. There are four ways to cut the veneer for decorative hardwood plywood. For some woods, like Red Oak and White Oak, you can most likely find what you need in any of the cut styles, but for other options, certain styles tend to look more pleasing than others. 

One style of cutting is rotary style. Simply put, panels cut rotary style are cut in the same way you would peel paper towels from a roll. This style is the most environmentally friendly way to cut and can be used for most of the popular woods in decorative hardwood plywood.

The other types of cutting panels involve cutting from only a portion of the log, rather than the entire circumference. For instance, plain slicing consists of paring down the log, then taking slices from the top lengthwise. This method is more expensive and less environmentally friendly than rotary style, but many people prefer this due to aesthetics.

A step up from plain slicing, quarter slicing comes from taking the lengthwise slices from the edge of one quarter of the log. This produces a pattern like plain slicing, but it is worth nothing that there can be what's called flaking, which some find unappealing. If this is the case for you, opt for rift cutting, which is close to quarter slicing but with minimal flaking. 

Choose a Shade

Finally, when deciding the composition of your veneer, note that there are two different shades of wood, based on the location within the tree. Wood in the center of the tree, called heartwood, has a darker appearance, like you'd see if you cut down a tree. Likewise, the outer layers of wood, called sapwood, are lighter. There is an extra charge to have either of these shades exclusively, and most panels include both colors of wood.

There are a number of other options for decorative hardwood plywood, and whatever your renovation, your contractor and designer should be able to provide guidance regarding the best choice for your space, but it will help to have some idea what they're talking about! Did you have similar questions during a recent renovation? We'd love to hear feedback from the other side of the table!

by Anjie Cho


Amanda Gates Talks Non-Toxic Furniture

Last year, Tennessee interior designer and feng shui expert, Amanda Gates, featured me on her podcast, Design 101. We talked how to improve your feng shui, Twitter stalking, crazy feng shui stories and more. This time, I'm excited to welcome Amanda to the Holistic Spaces blog to share with us her insight on choosing non-toxic furniture. We've got lots to learn!

AC: Tell us about non-toxic furniture and why someone would want to purchase it over regular furniture. 

AG: What most consumers do not know is that much of the furniture made today is made overseas. In an effort to keep it cheap, they use cheap materials like plywood and particle board to assemble them. Cheap furniture is not only poorly made, but contains insecticides, herbicides, formaldehyde, and many other harmful chemicals. These chemicals can off gas for years. 

Non-toxic furniture is better made and is made with solid wood. It appears to be more expensive, however the consumer is not comparing apples to apples. It’s more like comparing apples to a car engine. Non-toxic furniture is safer for our environment and creates better air quality in your home. If you have an infant with developing lungs and immune system, those toxins often found in cheap furniture can cause serious, long lasting health effects.

What is the first step to purchasing non-toxic furniture? 

Education. EPA approval does not guarantee HUMAN safety. In fact the language gets real fuzzy and will say something unclear like “registered.” And most of what the EPA registers, is NOT approved for human health. So do your homework. 

  • What type of wood is it?
  • Is there ANY plywood or particleboard anywhere? (This is important because many manufacturers back their products with particleboard)
  • What is the fabric made of? Is it made with PVC, formaldehyde or other harsh chemicals?
  • What type of foam is used? Where did it come from?
  • What type of hardware is used? How was it made? Where was it made?
  • Springs - What are they made of? Where were they made?
  • Have veneers been used?
  • Does it have fire retardant on it?
  • Are the materials all-natural? (Like wool, jute, cottons, linens, etc.)
  • Where was it assembled? Was ALL of it assembled in the same factory? (Another very important question. Many manufacturers will start the build process in China and then assemble stateside and then claim "Made in America.")
  • What environmental partners are they associated with? SFI, FSC, Sustainable Furnishings Council?
  • What is the company's philosophy on environment impact? Is it their hook, or do they truly believe in their mission?

DO your homework, because it's become a buzzword, and many are abusing it.

How can non-toxic furniture help create a holistic space?

We are inundated with chemicals EVERYWHERE. In our food system, all of our building materials, water, cleaning products, even mattresses are said to have more chemicals than an entire barrel of crude oil.

Cheap products that harbor a lot of chemicals cause cancer, damage our nervous system, suppress our immune systems, depress our T cells, cause endometriosis, reproductive issues, respiratory damage and much, much more.

Sounds scary, because it is. 

That is not peaceful. Not to mention it’s not holistic in any way. Being surrounded by so many chemicals affects your health and well-being. And this can ultimately effect your happiness without you even realizing it.

A clean environment allows you to operate at a more optimal level. If your indoor air quality is substandard, so is your well-being, because they work hand in hand. If you’re suffering from headaches, insomnia, asthma, allergies, respiratory issues, and other ailments, are you going to feel good? Are you going to be happy? And what if you’re trying to get pregnant and can’t because the chemicals are throwing your body out of whack?

You are your best when your environment is at its best.

Thank you so much, Amanda, for offering your wealth of knowledge to our readers! Hopefully if you're looking to purchase furniture soon, you'll opt to go the non-toxic route if at all possible. It's an important way to help ensure your space is holistic and nurturing! 

Amanda has a brand new book coming out next spring, and we're happy to say she'll be featuring some of this material there as well. Keep an eye out for her book, with even more information on sourcing your home goods sustainably!

by Anjie Cho


Amanda is a professionally trained Interior Designer, and Feng Shui Practitioner and an amateur Environmentalist. She has been in the field of interior design and Feng Shui for over seventeen years. In the summer of 2015, Amanda became certified in Bau Biology, the study of our modern day environment and it’s effects on our health and home.

She works with homeowners who want to create harmonious, healing environments through intentional design practices. Sure, you can say all design is intentional is some respect, but Amanda's approach encompasses more than just a pretty space. It’s about environments that are truly healing.

Her goal with everyone she works with is to not only create spaces that have a killer cool vibe, and gives you the wow factor you could never achieve on your own, but design that honors Mama Earth along the way. As a leader in the world of intentional design, she design spaces that feel as good as they look. 

Website: gatesinteriordesign.com