Solid Wood, Veneer, & Laminate: What’s the Difference?
We get a request for a solid wood conference room table almost every day, and we’ve come to understand that what people are really asking for is furniture that’s built for the long run. They want superior craftsmanship and materials and don’t want corners cut in any way. As experienced woodworkers, we have a different understanding of the meaning of “solid wood.” To us, it’s a technical term that describes a particular way of using a tree. And it’s just one of several material choices that we regularly make.
Yes, we make solid wood tables. And we also use veneers and laminates. Why? Not to save money, but to give our clients furniture that’s the best solution for their particular situation. In order for you to understand our thinking, here’s a quick look at what solid wood (aka lumber), veneer, and laminates each do best, and what each material is not so good at.
Solid Wood & Veneer: What’s the difference?
You can cut up a tree lots of ways. We use two varieties in most of our products: Lumber, commonly called solid wood, and veneer. Lumber is made by cutting a tree into a variety of smaller pieces, with the mix chosen to maximize the yield of useful sizes, as seen in the log cut into lumber on the left below. Veneers are made by cutting a log into very thin slices with a knife as seen on the right. Both of these are actually solid wood, in that they contain no other material and retain the original structure of the tree. Tables made from lumber look and act very different from tables made with veneer. Each has its good points and bad points.
Solid Wood Conference Table
Solid wood has variable appearances and structures. Each tree’s grain responds to its local environment, so there are wide variations in appearance and in any pile of lumber.
Solid wood lumber is best for: Table tops smaller than 4’ x 8’ and parts of the table that need a complex shape and will receive heavy wear. We also use lumber to make table edges and base parts. Live edge solid wood slabs are good when you want a very natural-looking design.
Solid wood lumber’s disadvantages: It changes dimension whenever the weather changes: humid weather makes it get bigger and dry weather makes it shrink. This can cause warping and cracking, limiting the size of panel that can be made entirely out of solid lumber. It’s also not efficient use of forest – if you’re concerned with sustainable manufacturing, veneers are a much better choice.
Many of the most expensive and spectacular pieces of furniture in history were made using veneers– there were pieces in King Tut’s tomb, which have survived 3500 years. However, industrial methods and techniques have made it possible to make cheap veneered panels and furniture, hence the bad reputation. Built properly, veneer furniture is as durable as solid.
Veneers are best for: Larger tables, complex shapes, and more. The most spectacular trees get cut into veneers, so if we want the coolest wood we have to use them. Additionally, you can get a lot of veneer from a single tree, thus covering a large area in a consistent way. Lastly, large veneered panels are much more stable than large solid panels.
Plastic laminate (commonly called Formica) is an incredibly useful material for table tops. It’s inexpensive, extremely durable, and comes in a huge variety of patterns and colors. About a third of the tables we make are built with laminate tops.
Laminate Advantages: We use laminate when the table will receive hard use and/or the client is trying to keep costs low. For durability at a reasonable price, laminate is unbeatable. Laminates also eliminate most of the finishing labor involved in producing a table, and that’s often a significant savings.
Laminate Disadvantages: Laminate isn’t as beautiful or elegant as tables made with lumber or veneer. For formal settings, and when you want to impress your guests, laminate is the wrong choice.
So which one is best? It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish – and what kind of trouble you want to avoid. We’re ready to help you think about your situation and guide you to the right decision. Contact us today for a free consultation with an experienced design engineer.
I run a small law firm in Boston, Mass. Over the past 5 years, Paul Downs has built two custom pieces for me, a conference room table and more recently, an L-Shaped desk for my office. Both pieces are gorgeous and of extraordinary quality. Both were built to the exact dimensions we needed. They were not inexpensive and they took some time to arrive, but both items are extremely high quality and will last longer than I will. The customer service, shipping and installation were also excellent.
20:59 10 Jan 22
We ordered a conference table and matching credenza for our business conference room. We had a long list of specific features for our conference room furniture and Paul Downs was able to meet all of our expectations.The design and planning process was easy and the product we recieved is of the finest quality. Additionally, it was refreshing to work with a team that promptly followed up on every question, email and phone call.
19:07 03 Jan 22
It is so nice to have a solid, quality, American-made, boardroom table in our offices now. Thank you Paul Downs! The interaction with the design team and our being able to control many aspects of the actual design make this table feel like it's a one-of-a-kind. Everyone involved from accounting to shipping was professional and courteous, and the deadlines given were met at each milestone.We highly recommend Paul Downs Cabinetmakers!
18:27 08 Oct 21
The team at Paul Downs designed an outstanding conference table for our foundation. The table beautifully and richly tells our story. You have surpassed our greatest expectations. It is a family heirloom and a wonderful reminder of our mission for God.
13:10 27 Sep 21
Our company built a new headquarters in 2018 and for three years we searched for the perfect conference room table for our boardroom. We knew we were being picky, but also knew it deserved the perfect table. Finally we came across Paul Downs Cabinetmakers and they helped us custom design exactly what we were looking for. They worked hard to match the existing furniture in the boardroom and reworked our logo into the table to get it just right. We are very pleased with how it turned out. It certainly has that 'wow' factor when walking in the boardroom and seeing it for the first time. We highly recommend Paul Downs Cabinetmakers for anyone searching for that perfect piece of furniture and needs help bringing it to life!
11:32 06 Aug 21
Seamless transaction from start to finish. Everyone was extremely helpful at Paul Downs.
16:43 26 Jul 21
The team at Paul Downs couldn't have been better to work with and the tables are beautiful! They were very accommodating working with our project schedule and the room AV requirements/integration within the tables.Can't wait for the client to move into their new space and start to enjoy them!We will definitely recommend the Paul Downs team for any other custom work desired.
20:19 20 Jul 21
From start to finish, the Paul Downs Custom Furniture process was top notch. The designers took my vision and space and created a beautiful quality piece at a fair price. I highly recommend them for your next custom table project.
16:31 17 Jun 21
Had a great experience getting our conference table from Paul Downs. From the design phase with Nate to the delivery with Andy and Carolina, everyone was extremely helpful and made the experience one of a kind. Easily some of the best customer service I have ever experienced and very thorough in there process.
16:03 10 Jun 21
We had our conference table completed yesterday and looks fantastic in our new facility!The level of service and the quality of our Table far exceeded my expectations for our conference room.Thank you from all of us @CHICAGO ANODIZING COMPANY !
16:24 04 Jun 21
Just received our new conference table. Super pleased with how it turned out. PDC was very professional and communicated well throughout the entire process. They have a good team and I would highly recommend them.
14:35 07 May 21
From the moment we had our first call to the installation of our conference room furniture, the level of service was impeccable. The design and craftsmanship of our conference room tables and credenzas is outstanding. We are proud to have such beautiful pieces part of our newly renovated law firm office.
00:21 23 Apr 21
Former employee and wanted to let people know how other American woodworking and conference table manufacturers should operate! Paul Downs Cabinetmakers is a great example.The owner treats his employees like a part of his family. From the guy sweeping the floor all the way to the top, everyone is treated as a valued team member who is actually heard throughout the organization. Everyone’s input is valued.I spent 3-1/2 years working for Paul Downs and it was a wonderfully unique experience in a trade that is often underpaid and undervalued.The team works very well together, from an open initial brainstorming process, to fabrication, to packaging and final installation.You set your own schedule, and there’s never an issue if you have something come up.Pay was great with the owner trying to ensure his biggest asset, his employees, had a livable wage and benefits.It was a great team, great work I could be proud of, and an awesome experience! Keep making gorgeous stuff guys!
20:12 16 Apr 21
The entire team at Paul Downs did an amazing job. They built our law firm a beautiful boardroom table and matching credenza. Everyone (shipping coordinators, project managers, engineers, etc.) went above and beyond to make sure that all of our needs were met. They explained everything and were very responsive throughout the entire process. I highly recommend them!
14:38 14 Apr 21
As an interior designer working on commercial projects, it can be challenging to find quality conference tables for clients. Paul downs created a gorgeous custom modular table for my country club client that allows flexibility to configure tables into one large table , two tables or four tables. They worked with me throughout the entire process and provided the necessary drawings and details. The table finish and workmanship is beautiful! I am so impressed with the quality and the service provided by Paul Downs' project team. I look forward to working with Paul Downs in the future.
17:51 17 Mar 21
Working with Paul Downs to design, create and install our company's boardroom table was a seamless process and the finished product absolutely exceeded our expectations. Every team member, from designer to project manager, was super responsive, friendly and demonstrated complete expertise.I wouldn't hesitate to work with the Paul Downs company again and can't recommend them more highly! A truly great experience from start to finish with a beautiful table to show for it!!
16:44 16 Mar 21
The table was exactly as designed and they met the deadline that was promised. They communicated throughout the process and installation went off without a hitch. Everyone is pleased by the new addition to our board room.
13:49 12 Jan 21
This was the very best customer experience I have every had with a custom conference table manufacturer in my 35 years of business in this industry.From the design to the interaction with Paul Downs with the end user to the installation; it was a 10 out of 10 in every way.The end user is even more pleased with the end result than we are!
18:49 04 Jan 21
This has been a wonderful experience. My table is beautiful and everyone was very helpful.
16:09 04 Jan 21
We would certainly recommend Paul Downs for not only the beautiful conference table and credenza they made for our church but willingness to help us thru the process and patience as we made decisions. Great organization.
22:35 24 Nov 20
Always great working with Paul Downs and their superb craftsmen. Our second conference room table complements our first one that was designed five years ago. High marks from the start of the project to final delivery and assembly at our new offices. Chuck Mosser, EVP/CFO @ IntelliGenesis, LLC
18:00 27 Oct 20
Nate did a wonderful job designing our conference room table incorporating our logo. He was easy to work with and patient when we went through different variations. The final product is absolutely stunning and will be proudly used in my main conference room for years to come.
19:09 21 Sep 20
Hard to express how satisfied we are, not only with the product which is absolutely beautiful but this is the way business should be done! If more companies in the U.S. would provide "real service" like Paul Downs does we would not even consider buying from another country. Every step of the way was a pleasure and extremely professional. Other companies should take note of the customer service and relationship development from Paul Downs. 5 STARS PLUS!
21:14 27 Aug 20
Paul Downs made a custom dining room table and 8 chairs for me years ago. I still love it, and it is in wonderful shape and just as beautiful as when I first bought it. He worked with me to design exactly what I wanted and even went on his own to a furniture shop to see a table that I liked. He designed one that was 10 times better- more solid and stable, more beautiful and with leaves that just magically slid out when I needed a bigger table! I have to say it was one of the best business experiences I have had with anyone. He was patient, nice, flexible and most important, a straight shooter who did what he said. His talent and high standards are obvious once you start working with him. He is a true artist with wood!
12:21 18 Aug 20
Top Notch Company! Excellent customer service and genuinely good craftsmanship. Initially they crafted a beautiful custom table and matching credenza for our boardroom. A year later we asked for another custom table to match the large table and catering credenza that would house a small fridge. They knocked it out of the park on both projects....completely exceeded our expectations! The pictures do no justice to these beautiful pieces. I highly recommend Paul Downs Cabinetmakers if you're looking for quality, custom work.
12:30 13 Aug 20
Paul Downs Cabinetmakers exceeded our expectations, from the very beginning of the design process all the way through to the installation of our conference table and credenza. Great communication and are engaged each step during the process of design, production and installation. We could not be happier with the entire experience.Property Manager Brethren Mutual Insurance Company
23:45 27 Jul 20
Paul Downs delivered a beautiful and well constructed table. They maintained great communication throughout our project and made sure we got exactly what we wanted. Our installation was professional and quick. Even during the Covid pandemic, Paul Downs stayed in contact and kept our project moving. We are excited to gather around our table for many years to come.
17:16 15 Jun 20
We were looking for a modular elegant looking board for our boardroom and were challenged with finding a table that would fit in our rectangular space. The whole process start to finish was professional and Paul Downs staff were accommodating and provided options for our needs. We ended up purchasing the board table, presenter table and two small movable tables. The logo was an option that was suggested by the designer and it was a great addition. The table was assembled by our staff and the documentation provided to us was spot on. The quality of the table and the workmanship is meticulous and you can tell that there was a lot of thought and care put into the design and construction of the table.
16:58 31 Mar 20
A fantastic place to work if you are given the opportunity. Paul has assembled a group of hard working, intelligent, and passionate group of people to deliver a fantastic and unmatched end product. As an engineer, I was offered competitive pay and opportunity to work on exciting projects with diverse challenges. This job takes place in a fast paced manufacturing environment where you will succeed if you have a good attention to detail and are as committed to the end product as everyone else that works here.
14:43 04 Feb 20
To get the idea what Paul Downs is about, you can read Paul's excellent book 'Boss Life' about running a small business or you can take a look at his archive of NY Times columns, you can also ask to discuses their operating manifesto on Culture, Craftsmanship & Prosperity.But seeing his shop in action is really something to witness.In a high-tech sales and design studio, engineers interface virtually with clients around the world designing one of a kind conference tables in real time. After their work has been finalized it goes onto the shop floor where artisan woodworkers and craftsmen use a process of continuous improvement to make custom conference tables and some other furniture pieces.Everything about this shop screams perfectionism. The floors are swept, every stack of vernier or wood board is organized. Work that is better done by machine is done with CNC and other woodworking technology. Finished pieces are assembled and inspected prior to shipping These guys do their work as true craft and design professionals.The final tables can be seen on their website and social media are second to none.This is a high end process for businesses who are ready to invest in the look of a killer conference room that the Paul Downs team can bring to reality.
14:30 20 Sep 19
My experience with purchasing our conference room table from Paul Downs was excellent. They assisted us throughout the process, incorporated our changes, and stored the table until we were ready for delivery. The quality is excellent. Delivery and set up was perfect. Very satisfied.
17:10 09 Sep 19
Great experience from start to finish. Great service and we ended up with an amazing table and desk for our conference room. We gave them our vision and they made it happen. Thank you!
19:13 12 Aug 19
The most professional company we worked with throughout our construction job. Nate (design) and Andy (project management) were our main contacts. They were engaged throughout the process. They presented multiple options every step of the way. They were extremely responsive and helpful. They delivered on time. Quality of work was incredible. We'll be using them again for other custom furniture needs coming up. Highly, highly recommend them.
02:44 23 Jul 19
I am an architect and interior designer and was seeking a custom made conference table for my husband’s company. I am very particular and highly appreciate quality craftsmanship. Paul Downs made the entire process seamless and efficient, which is important to me...and I am sure to many. Everything was pinpointed and accurate so that there was no question that all my wishes were addressed. The table is exquisite and the quality is top notch. I would definitely recommend them to anyone. Now if I could only convince them to branch into private residential tables!
14:15 18 Jul 19
Great quality work on our board room table. Very professional.
13:27 18 Jul 19
Paul Downs Cabinetmakers were recommended to build a conference room table for our firm. The table needed to fit into our new conference room. Every step in the process was mapped out and double checked by Paul Downs so the end product not only fit but was a magnificent object of beauty. Their craftsmanship exceeded our expectations and we are delighted to show our clients the end product.
16:08 17 Jul 19
From the design process to the delivery, everything was flawless. Our company conference room table gets tons of compliments.
17:01 15 Jul 19
We needed a larger conference room table with lots of technology added so it could also function as our Emergency Operations Center. Our Paul Downs Design Engineer showed us a host of options, talked us through the pro and cons and really made the process easy. Now we have the table. It's exactly as designed and expected. Thank you for a great experience. And it was affordable.
14:44 15 Jul 19
Paul, did a great job in a timely fashion and I would use him again for any future cabinet needs.
14:53 10 Jul 19
We love our table. It sits in our companies largest and most used room. When you walk in the table exceeds the look and feel we wanted in our board room. The process of designing and installation went smoothly and easily. Thanks!!!
00:31 10 Jul 19
I have received TOP NOTCH service at every stage of my project.My project is likely one they are not aiming to get (two flip up 3'x6' custom conference room tables) but they certainly made me feel like it was a BIG deal to them.The attention I received at every stage was great. Small questions were welcomed and answered to my satisfaction.Fantastic company to work with!