IKEA, and other stores similar to it, make designer-like furniture available at bargain prices. In fact, most bachelors, college students, and newlyweds would not have furniture in their homes if not for IKEA and its sister stores. However, when you start shopping for grown-up furniture that you may be able to pas along to your own children some day, nothing compares to solid oak.
Particle Board vs. Solid Wood
Most furniture you get from IKEA is made from MDF, or medium density fiberboard. This material is chips of wood, sawdust, and other leavings from the processing of wood. It is dumped into a slurry of glue and pressed and heated until it forms a board. Then, the MDF board is coated with a veneer, such as melamine. In some cases, the boards are covered with something like wall paper that is printed with a wood grain in certain colors. You may even find some MDF that is covered with genuine wood veneer. Particle board is used in a great deal of consumer products, from doors to furniture to bookshelves.
The main problem with MDF is that it is not as strong as solid wood. Since it is made of bits and pieces, even the strongest glues cannot make it solid. Any exposure to moisture will cause it to delaminate. In addition, the veneers used are so thin that they often will not be able to stand up to everyday use.
When you set a drink down on solid oak furniture, for example, it will leave a white ring in the finish. You buff out the ring with toothpaste, and the surface is as good as new. However, with particle board, if that veneer is compromised, the MDF beneath will bubble up. You have probably seen this on your own furniture, and wondered what to do about it. The only thing you can do is sand that area down and try to paint it to match the rest of the surface. However, the structure of the board is compromised.
Veneers and MDF cannot usually be refinished. That is another reason for selecting solid oak rather than IKEA. If the surface of your coffee table is marred, you can usually buff it out with solid oak. But, with MDF, your only choice is to paint over it. Then, you may run into trouble because the paper used to cover the MDF will absorb water from the paint and buckle.
With MDF, you will see shelves eventually start to sag. It is almost inevitable. Even the weight of the shelf itself will be too much for the board. However, with solid oak, the wood is able to withstand its own weight, and any weight you may place on it. Keep in mind that most furniture makers who are using solid oak to build an item will use proper techniques to ensure the longevity of the piece. So, you gain a piece of furniture that is not only beautiful, but will last through several families.