Are you making the right choice?

Deciding which material is most suitable for a task is not an easy thing to do...

Unless you work with a particular material set on a regular basis, then the choices available may seem bewildering.

We will explore, in brief, the differences between various of the more common materials that are often perceived as interchangeable. This list is not definitive and is based purely on experience in using these materials regularly.

Laminate Vs. Melamine

Different laminate materials

Melamine (urea-formaldehyde) is a very hard, synthetic resin. Its primary use in our industry is to coat the decorative paper applied to various substrates, such as chipboard and MDF. The paper is just that, paper. The melamine is just 20 microns. To this end, melamine faced boards are not really suitable for work surfaces, such as countertops. Being only one paper thickness, it can be easily damaged if you drop something heavy or sharp on it. This material is best used for cabinets and carcasses.

Laminates, on the other hand, could be considered to be like melamine but on steroids. Sheets of laminate are constructed by building up layers of phenolic resin impregnated Kraft paper, with a final decorative face layer, which is soaked in melamine. Heat and high pressure are used to make a robust, hardwearing sheet material for countertops and worktops, or any surface that may require extra resistance to wear and tear.

In short, melamine for vertical surfaces, laminate for horizontal.

ABS Edging vs. Melamine Edging

request sample material

In the world of edging tape, melamine pre-glued iron-on tape is an in-between product, somewhere between melamine paper and sheet laminate in thickness. It is thinner than laminate to make it more flexible to go around smaller radii. It is particularly suitable for edges that are unlikely to be knocked or damaged but can chip fairly easily.

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) edging is a hard-wearing, easily machined and flexible plastic edging which comes in unglued rolls. Applied using a hot melt edge-banding machine, it is tough, durable and will long outlast melamine edging. Being solid colour through, it blends well with the melamine or laminate face of the board.

MDF Vs. Chipboard

selection of material

The debate around which is the better product has been raging since the introduction of MDF into the European market in 1976. The simple truth is, it’s a matter of horses for courses when it comes to these materials.

Modern chipboard manufacture has advanced in leaps and bounds over the last few decades. P2 furniture grade chipboard has a content of extremely fine wood chip, with a good density of resin, making a board that can be sanded to a fine finish for painting, laminating or the application of melamine paper. It is also very strong and has a good degree of resistance to moisture. There are lower grades and some higher, but P2 grade is the core material used in products we use.

MDF on the other hand now has a bewildering variety of options to choose from. The most common are:

  • Standard Grade
  • Moisture Resistant
  • Fire Retardant
  • Exterior Grade
  • Medite Tricoya™

For most of our work, we choose the moisture-resistant form. It does exactly what it says on the tin, resists moisture intake. Standard MDF, if exposed to moisture for a prolonged period has a capillary action and will absorb moisture either directly from the atmosphere or through direct contact. Once saturated, it will swell and blow apart.

The most robust MDF currently available is Medite Tricoya™ which is made by a process called acetylation. This process changes the chemical structure of the raw wood fibres and makes them repel moisture instead of attracting it. The upshot is an extremely durable MDF product that can be used in any exterior or interior application, either finished or unfinished, with the security of knowing that manufacturers have so much faith in the product, that they guarantee it for 50 years for untreated exterior use!

Solid Grade Laminate Vs. Laminated Chipboard

colour and material selection

Again, this is very much a case of what application you intend for the finished furniture. Post-formed laminated worktops are suitable for a whole range of environments. Mostly used in kitchenettes and school wet areas, such as classrooms and art rooms, they give a lengthy and trouble-free service life.

However, should the application require something more durable, then solid grade laminated should be considered. Made by the same method as sheet laminate, only scaled up to achieve the thickness required, giving a solid, impermeable and chemically resistant work surface, second to none. As with laminates, the final layer is decorative, offering a range of colours or patterns.


So, the bottom line is this, selecting the right material for your project is never going to be easy.  Contact us today to discuss materials best suited to your project or check out our portfolio for further inspiration.