Wood composite panels are a type of construction material used extensively as a raw material in furniture, shelving, cabinetmaking and other non-load-bearing construction applications. Two types of composite panels, particleboard and fiberboard, though often classified together, are typically made using different techniques and materials and are utilized in different situations. In general, medium-density fiberboard is considered to be of higher quality than particleboard.
Both particleboard and fiberboard are made from cellulose fibers, typically from wood, that are bonded together with a synthetic binder or resin. Particleboard consists of small, irregular wood pieces, shavings and dust. Fiberboard, which is typically medium-density fiberboard, is composed of softwoods that have been broken down into individual fibers. The density of each can vary. Both particleboard and fiberboard may contain additives introduced during their manufacture to provide certain characteristics.
Most differences between particleboard and fiberboard are introduced through the manufacturing process. To create particleboard, the raw material is cleaned, sized and dried before resin is applied. The fibers are formed into a mat and pressed while being subjected to heat until the resin cures. Once the resin cures, the panel is moved through a cooler and stacked until it is cut to size and sanded. To generate fiberboard, the raw materials are softened by being cooked in pressurized steam. The material is then processed through refiner plates that rub the material apart to create uniformly sized fiber. Resin is generally applied as the fiber exits the refiner. This mixture is then dried to have a uniform moisture content, formed into a mat and hot-pressed.
Particleboard and fiberboard are often used in similar applications, though medium-density fiberboard offers advantages over particleboard in some circumstances. Both types of composite materials are used for paneling, furniture, flooring and similar uses, but fiberboard is also found in pianos or other instruments, toys, speaker components and similar applications. Fiberboard has a flat, smooth, dense and uniform surface that makes finishing easier, and this type of wood composite panel can be overlaid with more diverse items than particleboard. Medium-density fiberboard has a uniform density that allows for precise, intricate machining, and also has acoustical dampening properties.
Other Types of Wood Panels
In addition to particleboard and medium-density fiberboard, a number of other types of engineered wood products can be employed in a range of applications. Plywood is versatile, strong and available in a variety of thicknesses, finishes and wood species. Like particleboard, oriented strand board, or OSB, is glued and pressed, but it is made with larger pieces of wood that alternate orientation between layers, making it stronger. Hardwood plywood has a hardwood veneer on the surface, making it suitable for fine furniture and other interior applications. Melamine is a kind of particleboard that has a plastic coating on each face.
- The Encyclopedia of Wood; United States Department of Agriculture
- Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service: Use of Wood Composite Panels as Substrate for Cabinet Manufacturing
- Architectural Record: Composite Panels: Particleboard and Medium-Density Fiberboard
- Green Seal: Particleboard and Medium-Density Fiberboard
Angela Ryczkowski is a professional writer who has served as a greenhouse manager and certified wildland firefighter. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in urban and regional studies.