Laminate vs. Veneer - What's the Difference?

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High Pressure Laminate Surfaces - Laminate is composed of multiple layers of paper, saturated with resin, and finished with a printed surface. (In recent years, the quality of printing has become so good that it is occasionally hard to distinguish laminate from real wood veneer.) These layers are pressed together under high heat and pressure, creating a durable plastic-type material that is very resistant to scratches, water stains, and heat. 

Laminate has a more consistent color and grain than veneer, and is ideal for withstanding everyday office use and wear and tear. It's the most durable worksurface material available, and will provide many years of excellent service. While small objects such as paper clips and staples may eventually leave minor scratches over the years, heavy "sharp" objects such as a lamp base or computer monitor base could leave larger, visible scratches if carelessly placed or moved over the surface. 

To clean a laminate surface, simply wipe with a clean, water dampened soft cloth as needed. Do not use commercial products that contain high amounts of wax or silicon, as they will leave a residue and may alter the appearance of the furniture over time. 

Low Pressure Laminate Surfaces - Sometimes referred to as melamine, low pressure laminate is a thin single melamine paper bonded to a substrate board. Although it has the same visual surface characteristics as a high pressure laminate, low pressure laminate surfaces are less than 3 millimeters thick and over time, the surface may not be as durable as high pressure laminates, depending on the utility of the furniture. They are more susceptible to scratches, water stains, and heat marking.

Veneer Surfaces - Veneer communicates the ultimate in richness and status. Virtually everyone appreciates the deep luster and changing play of light that is inherent in real wood furniture. If you are shopping for "real wood" office furniture, you're probably looking at veneer in almost every situation. 

Veneer is normally laid over a particleboard substrate. Because of this durable substrate, veneer furniture resists warping and the possibility of moisture damage better than solid hardwood.

However, veneer surfaces are less durable than laminate. Objects, large and small, can leave visible scratches if carelessly placed or moved over the surface, and severe scratches may not be repairable. As a result, objects should always be lifted - never slid - when they are moved across the finish surface. Use of desk pads and coasters is recommended to avoid having imprints transferred to the veneer. Also, accessories placed on the wood surface should have felt, leather, or cork pads on the bottom contact points to avoid scratching the finish. Rubber or plastic pads should be avoided, as they may have a chemical reaction with the wood finish material, which could soften or damage the surface. 

Color change is a natural phenomenon of all wood materials. Woods change color with prolonged exposure to the ultra-violet light coming from windows and fluorescent lighting. Cherry wood changes are the most rapid. Cherry will take on a darker "golden" tone with age. Maple will also turn darker and more "yellow" with age and exposure to light. Walnut will lighten with "golden" hues, while Oak will darken and yellow slightly. As a rule, lighter-colored finishes (i.e. honey and red cherry) are more apt to show these color changes compared to darker finishes (i.e. mahogany and walnut). Darker colors act as a "sun block" and reduce the aging effect. As a result of these changes, it's a good idea to periodically rearrange desk accessories and other desk objects to ensure even aging. This will help prevent light or dark spots from occurring. 

Natural veneer surfaces can be protected and preserved with a polish containing natural ingredients. Polishes that contain waxes or silicons should be avoided. Lightly apply polish at least six times a year for furniture under normal use. Use a soft, lint-free absorbent cloth and always work back and forth with the grain of the wood. Wiping against the grain can cause small scratches in the finish. To touch up an area or to remove a scratch, use a scratch repair solution like Old English. If a scratch is too deep to be repaired with this type of solution, you should have it repaired by a professional wood refinisher.

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