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Why Some Veneers Are Not Up To Scratch

MORE and more these days, wood flooring is made from laminated components, rather than being solid hardwood or softwood boards, strips or blocks.

Often, they are surfaced with very thin veneers, which ‘simulate’ the effects of timber strips or parquet blocks – and in quite a few instances, the veneer isn’t even wood: it’s either printed paper or a plastic foil.

This very thin top layer can give problems, especially if the floor panels are not laid on an absolutely flat surface. This is either because the joints between the panels themselves cannot lay flat, and thus provide a ridge, which over time can chip the edges; or because any ‘high spots’ in the panel become worn very quickly by foot traffic, and so the thin top layer erodes, thus exposing the (usually darker) substrate.

Any scuffs or scratches to the flooring are also very difficult to deal with, where there is a very thin top layer (and especially so if that layer is not a real wood veneer); because trying to sand out those scratches – as you would with a solid wood floor – will soon ‘eat into’ the veneer and expose the substrate.

And what of the substrate itself? This may be MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard) or – usually in the more expensive types – HDF (High Density Fibreboard): which are both reasonably stable wood-based boards, but they can be very variable in their quality, depending upon where they were manufactured.

(And some of the cheaper ones are prone to releasing excessive amounts of formaldehyde from the adhesive used in their manufacture, something which products made in the EU are not permitted to do.)

Many of the thicker engineered flooring panels that I have come across, especially those with a moderately thick real wood veneer top surface, use plywood as their substrate, or backing material. But again, this can be incredibly variable (take a look back at my earlier articles in this series, on plywood quality!) And plywood may not be as stable as HDF, where there is moisture present, either from new construction works, or from the flooring adhesive itself.

Let me be clear: I am not against these newer engineered flooring products; they can be very attractive and (depending upon their surface material and thickness) quite hard-wearing.

But I have seen enough problems with them to know that great care must be taken in their selection and installation: more so even than with solid wood traditional flooring. And I have never yet seen a ‘reclaimed’ engineered or laminate floor, to compare with a reclaimed old hardwood floor!

Jim Coulson, Director: TFT Woodexperts, based in Ripon, North Yorkshire
T: 01765 601010 email:

This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal website. You can find them at