Are you spending taxpayer dollars on furniture?
Some things you need to know about what you're buying.
At Moen Woodworks our passion is building fantastic, stylish, fun furniture that is up to the task. So - no shortcuts, and no disguising of inferior materials. Our wooden furniture is made with Premium grade MDF and General Purpose grade plastic laminate. That is all.
If you are buying furniture for schools and libraries that is made of particle board and vertical grade or post forming laminates, you are not getting your taxpayer's money worth. Read your supplier's web site- do they tell you what substrates and grade of laminate they use? Do their sales people even know what vertical grade laminate is? Do they use fancy but meaningless euphemisms to refer to their materials -so you won't ask awkward questions? Hey, look at this "mar-no-more" worktop...
First, some definitions, we'll be brief .
Particle board - Particle board (we never use it!), is a substrate made up of little wooden chips combined with a bonding agent. It is much cheaper than solid wood and plywood and is substituted for them when cost is more important than strength and appearance. It provides a nice smooth surface for applying laminate, but that's about all. Particle board is really inexpensive and it is suitable for environments like your child's bedroom furniture- it isn't very strong but doesn't need to last a long time, and it won't get heavy, repeated use.
MDF- Medium density fibreboard- this is what we use, is an engineered wood substrate made by breaking down hardwood or softwood residuals into wood fibres, combining them with wax and a resin binder, applying high temperature and tremendous pressure. It is stronger and much, much more dense than particle board. In the picture at top right note how very dense it is, in comparison to the particleboard.
Ok, so if the substrate ( that is-the particle board or MDF), is going to be covered with laminate, then why does it matter? After all we're never going to look at it, right? Well, the people who make furniture out of particle board are counting on you never seeing or questioning whether that is what they are using!
However, that substrate is what holds everything together. It has to be able to hold the legs on a table, it has to be able to retain fasteners without ripping out, must grip the edging tightly and it has to be strong enough to not break when it encounters an impact. If someone kicks a table leg- the table top should NOT break, and the fasteners should not rip out! Schools are the very toughest environment- (short of prisons!), for furniture.
Plastic laminate is the thin sheet material that is bonded to the surface of your furniture. It adds strength to the substrate, and mostly- provides a durable, cleanable, impact and abrasion resistant wear surface. Obviously (at least to us!) this material should be as strong as possible, because this is the surface that comes in contact with users all day, every day.
General purpose laminate - This is the grade that we use. The tough stuff. High performance material for general use in horizontal, interior applications for use requiring particularly considerable wear and impact resistance. About 30% thicker than the other grades of laminate.
Vertical grade - A thinner material for general use in vertical, interior applications and where little wear and impact resistance is required. Not sufficient for wear surfaces in schools.
Post forming laminate- another thin laminate designed for applications where the material needs to be bent - or formed over a curved edge. You will usually see this used for kitchen counters with a rolled edge. Not sufficient for wear surfaces in schools.
Melamine- Particleboard with a very thin layer of coloured or patterned material prebonded to the surface- very little wear resistance. Never suitable for school conditions.
So- we're always hearing about how tight budgets are for schools, it just makes sense to buy what's cheap (ahem - cost effective) – no? Well, way back in the good old days they made school furniture out of solid wood. Immensely strong, but ultimately not sustainable. So some bright guys invented plywoods, particle boards and fibre boards. Inexpensive, stable (with regards to expansion and contraction) and easy to work. But they're not interchangeable.
MDF and General Purpose grade laminates certainly are more expensive, but not a lot more and the additional strength they provide are an excellent trade off, relative to the price. You have heard of using the right tools for the job, right?
So why would anyone use particle board, and thinner, less abrasion resistant laminates for school furniture? Well, I guess they figure you'll never see what's inside, or question how thick that laminate really is. The furniture they make with particleboard and thinner laminates looks the same on the outside, so I guess they figure the money they save looks better in their pockets. The thing is, people DO see what's inside eventually. When I go to schools with samples of the materials that we use to build furniture with, along with a broken piece of laminated particle board - every school Principal looks at the broken particle board and says, oh we've got a bunch of broken tables like that. The strange thing is they assume that particle board and thin laminates are the only choice they have. Or that the alternative is prohibitively expensive... Hmmm – NOT true!
Ok well you're feeling pretty good because XYZ company says they offer a lifetime warranty, so you're covered- right? Bear in mind that a warranty covers defects in manufacture but it does not cover wear and tear. If the furniture you buy is made of lesser materials then it should be clear to you that the lifetime of that product will be shorter, wear and tear will take it's toll much sooner- and no, that is not covered by any warranty.
You also need to pay very close attention to the quality of the warranty and how or if it actually protects you. I know you're bored with reading about technical stuff, but you really ought to read the warranty page too...
You wouldn't send a child out into the world having only a Grade 4-12 education. You know that grades K-3 provide the foundation for everything they'll ever need to know. Well, we won't make furniture without that basic foundation either.