On any given day, saw mills and other wood processing factories generate a significant amount of scrap material. Most of these wood shavings and piles of sawdust are sent to landfills or incinerated, but some of this material ends up as an engineered product called particle board. This product is an inexpensive alternative to solid wood paneling or boards. It is primarily intended for interior projects in which appearance and durability are not a priority.
A section of particle board does not have a grain like other wood. The product is made by combining sawdust and other waste wood with a special resin. This slurry of wood chips and glue is then pressed through an extrusion machine into long sheets. Customized saws cut these sheets into various sizes, according to the needs of the customer. Manufacturers of inexpensive home furnishings, such as shelving, entertainment centers and bookcases, often use this composite wood for their do-it-yourself kits.
Although unfinished particle board bears little resemblance to traditional hardwoods, producers often add a thin veneer of real wood to improve its appearance. The material can also be painted or laminated. One of the things it cannot handle, however, is exposure to moisture, so few if any outdoor projects feature the engineered wood.
Water causes particle board to stain and warp, which can seriously limit its use in home products. The product can be used as subflooring, but only if it fits snugly enough to form a moisture barrier. Once the material becomes wet, it loses much of its tensile strength and even a woman's high-heeled shoe could cause damage.
Particle board also has some positive aspects. Waste wood materials can be recycled to form a useful product, and consumers can purchase inexpensive alternatives to high-end cabinets and shelves. Depending on the manufacturer and the quality of the resin, composite wood can be surprisingly durable. It may not be able to withstand stress as well as hardwood products, but it performs well enough for light duty projects such as closet shelving or portable cabinetry.