What Is Engineered Wood Flooring and How Is It Made?

A selection of engineered wood flooring products laid out in a fan shape on a light brown engineered wood floor. The individual planks all have natural wood veneers and look like solid wood from above. However, the side profiles reveal the layered construction that uses engineered wood. In the bottom right corner is a cartoon factory and in the bottom left is a cartoon production line with two workers and a small crane. Across the top of the image are the words "What Is Engineered Wood Flooring and How Is It Made?" written in white lettering over a semi-transparent brown background.

Compared with hardwood flooring, engineered wood flooring is a cheaper way to achieve a sleek, natural home aesthetic.

Engineered wood flooring combines the natural beauty of real wood with long-lasting durability and strength.

However, what is engineered wood flooring, and how does it differ from hardwood flooring?

Engineered wood flooring is a type of flooring often made with high-quality plywood pieces bonded together with adhesive to form the core. In most cases, it uses two to twelve thin plywood pieces. The top layer (wear layer) is covered with a hardwood veneer from oak, maple, or cherry.

In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss how engineered wood flooring is made.

I’ll also discuss its pros, cons, and everything else you need to know. From this discussion, you’ll be able to make an informed decision on whether engineered wood flooring is the right choice for you.

Let’s get started!

The Process of Making Engineered Wood Flooring

Covered shelving in a factory yard containing wood products. The photograph is taken from between two rows of shelving, looking along the aisle. The shelves are very long and are made of blue steel. The floor of the aisle is paved with Monoblock.
A wood storage area with rows of wood cut to different shapes and sizes ready for use in a manufacturing process.

Making engineered wood flooring is complex because the final product must achieve the look of a solid wood floor at its cheaper price point. Moreover, it must allow for easy installation to cater to the DIY market in which it is so popular.

Engineered wood flooring has the following basic structure:

  • Wear layer: This is the topmost layer. It’s made from high-quality hardwood veneer.
  • Core layer: This is the middle layer made from several layers of plywood.
  • Backing layer: It’s the bottom-most layer that’s in contact with the floor. It’s a single layer made from wood veneer.

The width of each plank of engineered wood flooring ranges between 90mm and 300mm (3.54 and 11.81 inches). The height is between 14mm and 20mm (0.55 and 0.79 inches).

Engineered wood flooring goes through the following steps to achieve the above layers:

Step 1: Sourcing the Trees

The first step is to get the trees for veneer and plywood generation. These trees are usually sourced from sustainably managed forests to preserve the environment.

Step 2: Debarking the Trees

A large log being fed along the production line by a toothed roller. The log has just been debarked and will be sent to the next stage of processing. The machine the log is being processed by is green and the steel teeth on the roller are the color of bare metal.
Debarking is one of the first processes the wood undergoes to get it ready for production of engineered wood flooring.

Debarking involves removing the bark from the trees. It’s done using debarkers with a series of blades and saws that strip away the tree’s outer layer.

The blades on the debarkers travel along the logs’ length to remove dirt, bark, and debris.

After debarking, the logs are immersed in a vat, steam bath, or pool of water to soften the wood fibers.

Step 3: Generating the Wear Layer

The veneers used to make the wear layer are then generated using either of the following processes:

  • Dry-solid sawn: It involves exposing the wood to low humidity levels so it can dry slowly. This method prevents cupping by keeping the moisture inside the wood cells intact.
  • Rotary-peel: The logs are boiled at a specific temperature for a set period of time. After boiling, the logs are scraped from the outside and pressed flat.
  • Sliced-peel: The wood is boiled for a specific time and temperature and sliced from the end.

Once prepared through the above processes, the veneers are cut to the desired thickness, mostly 0.6mm to 6mm (0.02 to 0.24 inches), depending on the manufacturer.

However, it’s worth noting that the quality of the engineered wood flooring depends on the veneer’s thickness. The thicker the veneers, the higher the quality of the engineered wood flooring.

After drying the veneers to the appropriate moisture content, they are stored in readiness for assembling with the other layers to make the engineered wood flooring.

Step 4: Making the Core and Backing Layers

The core and backing layers of the engineered wood flooring are made from different materials. They include:

  • Plywood
  • Solid wood finger-blocks/slats
  • Composite materials
  • Medium-density fiberboard (MDF)
Plywood sheets neatly stacked on top of each other. The photo is taken from the side and the individual layers in each sheet are clearly visible.
Plywood is a very strong material thanks to the arrangement of the individual layers of wood at right angles to each other.

Step 5: Assembling the Layers

Once the wear, core, and backing layers are in place, they are assembled and bonded with an adhesive.

The layers are assembled perpendicular to each other. The 90-degree angle assembly helps enhance the dimensional stability of the engineered wood flooring.

Since bonding the layers can introduce moisture into the wood, the product is left to dry to attain the appropriate moisture content. The drying duration depends on the desired moisture content.

Step 6: Finishing and Cutting

After assembling and drying the engineered wood flooring pieces, they undergo the final sanding to flatten them and make them smooth.

The product is then cut to the desired length and width, ready for installation.

Does Engineered Wood Look Cheap?

Although cheaper than solid wood, finished engineered wood floors don’t look cheap if installed properly. The engineered flooring will be indistinguishable from solid hardwood, provided it has a good wear layer and quality construction.

Furthermore, you can choose an engineered wood that has been stained to match your desired color for an even more authentic-looking hardwood floor. As such, engineered wood floors can offer a quality and beautiful look.

The only reason engineered floors are cheaper is because their cores are made with cheaper (but very strong) plywood.

What Is the Life of Engineered Wood?

A photograph of a man's hand wiping a shiny brown engineered hardwood floor with a beige-colored cloth. The floor has a beautiful grain and the top left corner of the image has "25 years" written in it in an ornate beige font.
Although engineered hardwood flooring doesn’t last as long as solid hardwood flooring, with careful maintenance, it could last for at least 25 years.

The life of engineered wood is between 25 and 30 years, depending on veneer thickness, material quality, and how it is cared for.

You can extend the longevity of your engineered wood flooring by taking proper care and keeping it in good condition.

Do I Need Underlayment for Engineered Hardwood?

Although you don’t need underlayment for your engineered hardwood floor, its presence adds insulation and support, making a room more comfortable. Therefore, it’s advisable to have an underlayment when installing an engineered floor.

What Is the Main Benefit of Using Engineered Wood Flooring?

The main benefit of using engineered wood flooring is its aesthetic appeal, high stability, and durability. These three features are essential in flooring because they help maintain the quality of the floor for a long time.

Furthermore, engineered wood is easier to install than solid wood. It’s also suitable for places with high moisture as it’s less prone to moisture damage.

However, installing engineered wood floors below grade is not advisable.

Does Engineered Wood Attract Termites?

A light brown engineered wood floor with the planks extending away from the camera lengthways. Overlain in the center of the image is a cartoon termite with a red circle around it and a red line diagonally across it.
Termites find engineered wood less appetizing, so engineered wood floors are likely to be more resistant to such attacks.

Engineered wood doesn’t attract termites because it’s designed to be stronger than natural wood and impervious to these pests. The strength and resilience of engineered wood are attributed to its construction, as it’s made from stable layers of wood glued together with other materials.

What Should I Look for When Buying Engineered Wood?

You should look for the following characteristics when buying engineered wood:

  • Veneer thickness for the wear layer: The thicker the veneer, the more durable the engineered wood floor.
  • The number of layers in the core: The more layers, the better the stability.
  • The type of wood used in the wear layer: Select a hardwood such as oak or maple for quality and durability.
  • Adhesive: Make sure it’s certified green to ensure environmental safety.

How Toxic Is Engineered Wood?

The main toxicity of engineered wood emanates from formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, and air pollutant.

However, governments have measures to control the use of formaldehyde in laminated boards and floors. For instance, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) set limits for formaldehyde use.

How Thick Should Engineered Wood Flooring Be?

Engineered wood flooring planks stacked haphazardly over an already laid engineered wood floor. A hammer rests on top of one of the planks and a yellow-and-black cartoon tape measure is measuring the thickness of one of the planks.
The thickness of engineered wood flooring is between 15mm and 20mm. If the planks are too thick, this can reduce the ceiling clearance in buildings with low ceilings.

Engineered wood flooring should be between 15mm and 20mm (0.59 and 0.79 inches) thick for high stability and durability. Anything thicker or thinner can affect the floor’s functionality.

Thicker engineered wood flooring is unsuitable for houses with limited ceiling heights.

What Is the Best Wood Flooring?

The best wood flooring is one made from hardwoods like oak, maple, and cherry. With a lifespan of more than 100 years, hardwoods are the perfect choice for long-lasting, durable flooring.

What Is the Least Toxic Hardwood Flooring?

The least toxic hardwood flooring is one that uses Non-added Urea Formaldehyde (NAUF). NAUF is a type of wood glue that doesn’t release toxic fumes and is safe for indoor use.

Does All Engineered Wood Contain Formaldehyde?

Although all engineered wood contains formaldehyde, the levels are controlled to ensure safety. Moreover, some floors use NAUF and NAF versions, which are even safer.

The Pros and Cons of Engineered Wood Flooring

The table below summarizes the pros and cons of engineered wood flooring:

CheaperIt can’t be refinished as many times as solid wood
StylishIt’s prone to fading
Can withstand high humidityRequires regular maintenance
Aesthetically appealingIt’s less characterful than solid wood flooring
Good for a home’s valueNot long-lasting
Table 1: Pros and cons of engineered wood flooring

So, What Is Engineered Wood Flooring – Final Thoughts?

Engineered wood flooring is an excellent choice for any room due to its aesthetic appeal and durability.

These floors are easy to install since they use tongue-and-groove boards that lock together.

When in the market for engineered wood flooring, look for greater veneer thickness and hard-wearing types of wood to get a high-quality product.

Now that you know about engineered wood flooring, check out this article to learn about eco-building more broadly.

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