In a nutshell particleboard is spruce and pine mixture coated in resin to improve strength, durability and resistance to water and time. If you think you have never seen particleboard – look at your bookcase, dresser or a night stand and chances are that they are made of this material. Particleboard is considered composite material – together with the brake pads of your car and a plethora of other items, this generally suggests that particleboard is a mixture of two or more materials which are bound together – at microscopic level they remain the same in their structure. In addition to furniture, at one point human engineering was manufacturing automobiles from particleboard such as the almighty Trabant made in Eastern Germany for example. It was taken out of production in the early nineties. The fenders, hood, doors and trunk lid were all made of particleboard. While not exactly the safest material, it was certainly light and powered by a two-stroke two-cylinder whooping 21-horsepower gasoline engine! Max speed was about 75 mph with a manual choke, brakes and steering, gravity driven fuel-to-carburetor and conveniently located gas tank right in front of the driver! It was perfect to get around town and run errands.
To make particleboard spruce trees are loaded into an industrial wood chipper. Timber becomes chips and pine saw dust is added – it is of finer texture and forms a smooth mix. Next step is to dry the material by extracting moisture and right after that a commercial shaker separates all small and non up to standards flakes in order to maintain high quality of the resulting furniture material. The mixture is bound together by magic glue which is not made of flour and water like in the old days. Instead, urea, ammonia and hard water are mixed to achieve special adhesive fit for purpose. The glue is sprayed in with the particles on their way to heavy rollers which compress the pulp into boards. Following are heavy-duty heaters which take the wood-glue mix to temperatures well above water boiling – this dries up the adhesive and strengthens the mix. A final steel press pushes it all together to create uniform particleboard sheets.
Approaching it completion, particleboard sheets are next taken to an extraterrestrial-looking wheel where they are loaded, dried off and cooled down – this s a commercial implementation of a slowly rotating drier and cooler. Once the furniture sheets are ready, they are typically taken to another facility where they are yet again heated, applied with glue and finally foil wrapped into desired colors. The newly made resin coated sheets are then cut up to specifications and this is how your bookcase is born. All is loaded into a flat pack design cardboard box for customers to take home and start the arts and craft classes after work. Some assembly and tools would be necessary.
The flat pack design process is often as long as the furniture design itself – similar-shape boards have to pack in flat smaller cardboard boxes and be neatly loaded onto trucks from distribution centers to retail stores and eventually to customers’ homes. The flat pack is considered eco-friendly packaging to the extent that it allows for fully stocked trucks to travel and optimize trips saving fuel. It is very much like thermoform packaging – it may be inconvenient for consumers yet it is here to stay.
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