People have been using wood as a building material for thousands of years.
Now, thanks to advances in technology, lighter and cheaper wood substitutes are available.
Compressed wood is one of them. It was invented in Germany in 1887.
Pressed wood, as it’s also called, became very widely known after World War II.
Its use spread worldwide because it’s affordable and can be mass-produced fairly easily.
It’s also durable and resistant to insects, and other pests like termites. This is partly due to the resin used in its manufacturing process.
You can buy compressed wood board in hardware stores around the world.
The different types come in many different sizes, so there’s one suitable for every possible woodworking application.
How Is Compressed Wood Made?
It’s a manufactured product made of wood chips, fibers, wood shavings, and sawdust collected from sawmills. Combined with resin, the ingredients are heated and compressed.
The hot-pressing process can transform the components of compressed wood into a stronger material than steel.
The result is a versatile product used to construct walls and lay floors. It can be used to make panels, beams, roof sheathing, countertops, dressers, desks, shelving, and compressed wood furniture.
Compressed wood bricks and blocks are also used as fuel for burning.
Compressed Wood Types
Particle board (or sometimes called chip board) is one of the most common and cost-effective kinds of compressed wood.
To make it, small pieces of waste wood are infused with resin.
They’re then shaped into a sheet which is compressed using heat and cold.
Finally, they are cooled, trimmed, sanded, and sometimes laminated.
Particle board is light and easy to cut while it’s being made. It’s suitable for furniture, partitions, and general woodworking because it can hold screws properly.
Particle board insulates very well against temperature and sound. That’s why it’s used in recording studios, movie theaters and auditoriums. It’s also used for making doors.
I have used particle board panels to partition a room. It was easy to work with and the result was excellent.
Medium-Density Fiberboard (MDF)
MDF, or Medium-Density Fiberboard is manufactured out of small pieces of waste wood.
It has multiple uses, including building, flooring and for making furniture. It’s similar to particle board but denser and more durable.
To make MDF, wood particles are put into a defibrillating machine. They’re broken down into smaller fibers than those of particle board.
The fibers are pressed into a sheet with wax and bonding resin. Applying heat to the sheet activates the resin, creating manufactured wood.
MDF is often used in flooring substrate, molding, and trim work. It swells if it gets wet, so it can’t really be used outdoors.
It’s an excellent insulator for sound, so it’s used to build speaker boxes for stereos.
It contains formaldehyde, but the small amount of gas released while working it is non-toxic.
I have used it to build shelving in my home and it was the perfect choice because it is very durable and easy to paint.
High-Density Fiberboard (HDF)
High-Density-Fiberboard (HDF) is similar to MDF, but the end product is denser and thinner.
This makes it heavier than MDF inch for inch.
It’s ideal for flooring. But, like MDF, if it gets wet, the fibers will swell up. So, using it outdoors is not recommended unless it’s waterproofed.
You can use HDF for almost any purpose for which you would use MDF. But as is denser, more durable, and stronger, it weighs and costs more.
I used HDF boards for the doors on the bathroom cabinet under the basin. They look beautiful painted and were easy to install.
Other Engineered Woods
There are many kinds of engineered woods, of which compressed wood is just one. Plywood, laminated veneer, and finger joints are among the best-known.
Another somewhat common type is Oriented Strand Board (OSB), which is also made from wood shavings or strands, then pressed together with adhesives to form thick, but lightweight panels.
The manufacturing processes vary. The resulting products have many properties and uses.
Many compressed woods have finishing touches to them such as a smooth veneer fixed to the surfaces.
Even small businesses are involved in making compressed wood.
For example, check out this recycling machine that makes compressed wood pallets out of wood scraps:
How Does Plywood Differ from Compressed Wood?
One of the best-known engineered woods is plywood. It’s made by applying pressure to thin layers of wood combined with adhesives.
The resulting product is very different from compressed wood.
It’s more durable and stronger, but is heavier and more expensive.
Plywood is used in construction, boat building, packaging, and furniture, and many other things.
I used plywood to panel a bedroom wall. It was light and easy to work with and the color and grain look spectacular. And it cost much less than wood.
Is Compressed Wood Compression Wood?
No, they’re entirely different. Compressed wood is a manufactured product; compression wood is a natural product found on trees.
Compression wood is a dark hardwood. It’s found on the underside of leaning stems and branches of different trees, including conifers. It contains more lignin than regular wood.
Tension wood is also natural. You can find it on the upper sides of hardwood trees. It contains more cellulose than regular wood.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Compressed Wood
- Compressed wood is cheaper than natural wood.
- It’s lighter and easier to handle than ordinary wood.
- It’s durable and requires little maintenance.
- Unless waterproofed, moisture will damage compressed wood.
- One type of compressed wood, MDF, can release formaldehyde gas.
- Compressed wood furniture might not last as long as that made of natural wood.
How do you waterproof compressed wood?
It’s essential to waterproof pressed wood boards, including pressed wood sidings or anything made of compressed wood.
Otherwise, the fibers will swell if it has any contact with moisture, and ruin it.
Apply a coat of clear acrylic sealant to any area that moisture might reach.
Shake the can containing the sealant, open the lid with a screwdriver, and apply sealant to the wood with a paintbrush.
Can you paint compressed wood?
Yes. Use a cheap white or gray primer. Pressed wood is porous and will absorb the first coat. At least two coats will seal it.
Apply a solid color paint after the primer has dried.
Are there different types of compressed wood?
Yes. Particleboard, MDF, and HDF are all compressed woods as outlined above.
The manufacturing processes are similar, but the different types have individual properties.
Before starting a project, find out which one best suits your purposes.
Compressed wood boards come in various strengths, weights, and prices. People use them all over the world in building, furniture making, flooring, and many other applications.
You can cut and waterproof them and paint them to suit any woodworking needs.
They’re also cheaper than natural wood. So perhaps you should consider them next time you have a DIY project in mind.