What is Artificial Wood
Artificial or man-made wood comes in many forms and has many commercial names. One of the first and more expensive is plywood. Plywood is sheets of wood veneer glued together with wood grains crossed to increase strength and durability. It is commonly available in 4 foot by 8 foot sheets, and is provided in a variety of thicknesses. Plywood is frequently used in cabinet making. Especially for expensive natural wood type finishes like maple, mahogany, etc. This type of plywood can use softwood or less expensive wood for the middle layers and expensive wood veneers as the top layer on one or both sides.
Particle board, or low density fibreboard (LDF) or chipboard is another popular type of artificial wood. It is manufactured using wood chips, sawdust and wood particles by compressing it together with glues and resins to form sheets the same shape and size as plywood. These types of artificial wood became popular as resources to utilize sawmill waste. Before these types were invented, refuse from mills was just disposed of.
Medium density fibreboard (MDF) is a generic term used for any dry process fibre board. MDF is available in ultralight, moisture resistant or fire retardant formats.
Due to the higher costs of natural wood and limitations in size and format, there have been many artificial wood products produced. These have been produced for over 130 years and most have a European origin. These types of wood are commonly used in construction of homes, buildings, furniture and other wood products.
Working With This Type of Wood
Although popular in the construction and hobby industries due to its lower cost and availability, there are many drawbacks to working with man-made woods. First off, due to health concerns, a respirator should be used when cutting or sanding these woods. Working with natural woods only requires a dust mask. Man-made woods have a one use application. It does not come apart easily and usually flakes and breaks if you attempt to use it more than once. This also applies to moving heavier products built using it. If not assembled strongly, the joints tend to break easily when the product is not moved carefully.
Storing artificial woods in dry conditions is also very important. If exposed to moisture or fluctuating temperatures, it usually breaks down the chemicals bonding the makeup of it. This means it should never be used for external applications, or in places with high levels of humidity.
A popular chemical used in the production of artificial wood is formaldehyde resin. Formaldehyde will emit from it over the life of the product. Although it is not considered hazardous in small proportions, the World Health Organization (WHO) still considers formaldehyde a carcinogenic (cancer-causing substance). Working with any product containing formaldehyde should include wearing a respirator to prevent direct inhalation of it. Artificial wood may also contain other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that you should avoid breathing in. To reduce exposure from a finished product, it is a good idea to paint all surfaces to seal in any emissions. Waxing or oiling will not work to do so, nor will plastic coatings popularly used on furniture built from man-made wood.
There are few methods to recycle artificial wood. Although there is a lot of research and work being performed to increase the recycle capabilities of it, it may be a long way off before we see it in regular use. Without recycle methods, most man-made wood is disposed of in landfills, or burned.
Either solution causes environmental concerns. Disposing of it in landfills means the chemicals (especially formaldehyde and VOCs) will leach into the ground. Burning it is no better. Instead of leaching, these chemicals will lift into the air, which is also bad for our environment. We often see families burning these types of wood in their backyard fire pits with children nearby. This is definitely a health concern. And burning these inside in fireplaces or woodstoves is also not recommended.