There are five basic types of wood furniture construction materials. All of these materials are used to produce a wide variety of furniture quality and price points.
Solid wood—Solid wood means that it is composed of wood with no plywood veneer or other engineered wood. It's the resulting board milled from the tree. Solid wood may be hard (as from Oak) or soft (like Pine). Typically, solid wood has a long lifespan and can be refinished over the years, unlike other engineered wood products. Solid Wood comes as planked panels or butcher blocked panels (smaller pieces, usually off-fall and scrap). The construction and finishing are the same for plank and butcher block but the look and price are very different.Wood veneer over solid wood—This type of material is commonly found in antiques. It is still popular today with manufacturers who want products with an all wood story. Veneers often consist of a thin layer of decorative wood that is attached to a less expensive underlying solid piece of wood. Veneering is not an indication of lower quality, but instead should be assessed for its craftsmanship.
Wood veneer over plywood—This type of furniture material is an excellent choice for adding material strength without adding bulk and weight. Similar in cost to other engineered wood materials, plywood veneers require additional steps in the finishing process that can add cost to the finished product. Typically, manufacturers that use this material do not use other engineered materials since the machinery and finishing requirements are very different.
Wood veneer over engineered wood—This type of material is composed of an attractive outer veneer that covers an MDF or particle board substrate. There are many advantages to this type of material since it is dimensionally stable and not subject to warping or cracking. It performs well in extreme climate conditions (like the dry desert heat) and it finishes extremely well. Wood veneer provides the look of better quality wood without the often prohibitive cost.
Laminate—Laminates can look like real wood or come in a variety of different colors. It's a durable surface material that is commonly applied over a stable substrate like particle board or MDF. Wood grain laminates are photographs of different grains of wood that have been applied to the base material and sealed. Laminates are typically inexpensive, affordable options especially for furniture that may need more than normal cleaning.