Compressed Wood Vs. Solid Wood: What’s The Difference?

Using the right materials is the best way to get your projects off on the right foot.

When it comes to wood, you have a lot of options, and not all of them involve lumber straight from trees.

Compressed wood is a man-made material while solid wood is natural lumber. Compressed wood comes in several different varieties, and it’s a cheaper, more lightweight option than solid wood. However, products made from solid wood are typically of better quality and will last a lot longer.

Each material has its advantages and disadvantages. It all depends on what your project is and how much of a budget you have.

What Is Compressed Wood?

Solid wood is easy enough to understand and is a material most people are familiar with. It’s simply wood cut straight from raw lumber with no additional fillers or laminates on top.

Compressed wood, on the other hand, might be less familiar to those with little construction experience. Compressed wood is a man-made product that consists of wood chips, shavings, sawdust, and other wood remnants.

This material is mixed with an adhesive-like resin. Then the mixture is both heated and compressed together at the same time. The heat and pressure form the material into lightweight but sturdy slabs.

Compressed wood, also known as pressed wood, comes in three main types: particleboard, MDF, and HDF.


Particleboard is made with the waste chips left behind in the processing of solid wood. The chips are then combined with resin, pressed tightly together, and heated.

It has a textured-looking surface, but it’s still smooth. This makes veneer easy to adhere to, which gives it a stylish appearance for furniture.


MDF is short for medium-density fiberboard. Like all pressed wood, it’s made from the leftover waste of solid wood. MDF uses very fine wood fibers instead of the mixture of larger chips and shavings that particleboard uses.

MDF has a much smoother grain than particle board, and it’s still easy to adhere veneer to it. It’s also stronger than particleboard, although it doesn’t handle screws and nails quite as well.


HDF, or high-density fiberboard, is very similar to MDF. The main difference is in the name: HDF is compacted tighter than its MDF counterpart, meaning it’s much thinner. The higher density also means it’s stronger and slightly more resistant to water.

Neither MDF nor HDF should be put in direct contact with water, as they will expand and warp in the end.

Difference Between Plywood and Compressed Wood

Although they look similar and people may interchange the terms, plywood is actually not the same as compressed wood.

Plywood is also a man-made form of wood sheeting, but it’s not made from a mix of wood waste like compressed wood is. Instead, it’s thin sheets of wood veneer that are layered cross-grain on top of each other.

Adhesive is applied between the layers and then it’s all pressed together to form one sheet, similar to compressed wood.

The process creates a very durable but still relatively lightweight product ideal for construction.

Pros and Cons Of Compressed Wood

The main benefit of using compressed wood is the price. Because it’s made from wood waste, the material to make it is already available at no extra cost. The cost of the material is already folded into the price of the original wood material.

This also means it’s a little more eco-friendly than solid wood since the product utilizes waste material which would otherwise get disposed of.

 However, the life cycle of compressed wood ends there. Because of the adhesives and processing methods used in compressed wood means that it’s difficult to recycle.

It’s also not as sturdy as solid wood and is not able to withstand much moisture before warping. It tends to be more lightweight, though, which makes it easier to transport.

Pros and Cons Of Solid Wood

Using solid wood will give you the sturdiest and longest-lasting results. It withstands temperature and moisture changes that compressed wood can’t (although it’s not entirely immune), and it’s easier to modify.

You can sand, varnish, and paint solid wood much more easily than the thin veneer that covers a lot of compressed wood furniture.

You can break down and recycle untreated wood or donate old furniture which someone else can repurpose. But the very nature of solid wood means that it’s not as eco-friendly to manufacture as compressed wood.

Solid wood has to be cut directly from trees; there’s no by-product way to make it. It can be difficult to determine if the wood or furniture you’re buying came from an ethical source.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), does offer certification for ethical harvesting, though, so there are ways to buy your wood guilt-free.

Solid wood is also heavier than most compressed wood. This makes it hard to move solid-wood furniture around your own home. The weight also makes it difficult to transport, which can raise the price.

Speaking of price, solid wood is much more expensive than compressed wood. You will enjoy all the benefits you see here, but they don’t come free.

Best Uses For Compressed Wood

If you’re on a budget, compressed wood is a great option for basic furniture such as a coffee table or entertainment center. You can even use it inside walls, provided they aren’t load-bearing. You want to avoid any projects that require weight-related strength over a long period of time.

You should only use compressed wood for indoor projects. It needs to avoid as much contact with moisture as possible; this also includes areas like your bathroom.

Best Uses For Solid Wood

There are many different types of wood, each with its own particular uses and benefits. In general, though, solid wood is perfect for any furniture that needs to hold a lot of weight and shifting, like a bedframe.

It’s also good for customizing your furniture, since it’s easier to carve than compressed wood. This also increases the value of your projects, particularly furniture.

Not only will solid wood last a long time, but the durability and design of it makes it more valuable down the road.

You can use solid wood outside; it’s particularly good for decks. Finally, solid wood makes a great flooring material for your home, and with proper care, you can use it in high-moisture areas.

In Summary

Both solid wood and compressed wood have a natural element to them. The wood in compressed wood is not synthesized in any way but comes from the remnants of natural tree lumber.

However, compressed wood is a mixture of those remnants and adhesive, which makes it an engineered product. Solid wood is completely natural other than certain treatments added to the outside surface.

Natural solid wood is a great choice in terms of stability, strength, and customization. Compressed wood, on the other hand, is a cheaper alternative that has similar uses, if on a smaller scale.

Which one you choose to use will really come down to the purpose of your final project and your budget. But in the right circumstances, compressed wood is as valid of a choice as solid wood.

Katherine Ann

Katherine is a freelance writer who enjoys DIY home décor and refurbishing tired furniture. In addition to writing for PlumbJoe, she blogs about books and movies and writes creatively in her spare time.

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