Timber Substitutes

Since the turn of the century a number of manmade materials have been devised to take the place of natural timbers. They have many advantages: the size of pieces is not dictated by the thickness of a tree trunk; they are cheap; they are more easily cut and one of them (the thinner variety of hardboard) can be bent to a small radius; they do not readily warp, split or twist and are mostly resistant to rot and furniture beetle. In short, they are an excellent mass-produced and standardized substitute for wood.

Blockboard. Consists of strips of wood glued together and sandwiched between two thin boards, the grain of which runs at right angles to the strips. Used in furniture construction.

Battenboard. A cheaper variety of blockboard, with wider core strips.

Laminboard. Superior to blockboard, with narrower core strips.

Chipboard. Small particles of wood bonded together with resin under pressure. Obtainable with rough or smooth surfaces, with or without veneered faces. Used as a cheap substitute for floorboards and is more easily laid; also for furniture, working tops, shelves and partitions.


Fibreboard. Obtainable in large sheets in varying thicknesses and in several varieties, each having a specific use:

Standard hardboard for sheathing a framework of timber battens, flush sheathing of doors and covering the backs of furniture — calendared smooth on one side and having a relief web pattern on the other.

Duo-faced hardboard. Smooth both sides.

Tempered hardboard for outdoor use and floor covering. Insulating board for sound and heat proofing.

Decorated hardboard for bath surrounds, washbasin splashbacks and suchlike.

All fibreboards except the very thick need the support of a timber batten framework. They should be ‘conditioned’, which means wetting on the back and stacking flat for a couple of days before use.

Plywood. The oldest manmade board, consisting of three or more timber veneers glued together so that their grains alternate at right angles. Outdoor grades of plywood are bonded with a weather-resistant adhesive. Birch plywood is prone to attacks of woodworm (furniture beetle), as you will no doubt have noticed in cheaper grades of bought furniture which have this material as a backing. Of all the manmade substitutes for natural timber, plywood is the most prone to warping.