Making the Grade: Deciphering Particleboard Labeling

Long timber beams and boards may come to mind when one thinks of forest products, but not all wooden materials are created equal. Researchers from the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) Wood, Fiber and Composites Research group are constantly working to refine technology used to create products that don’t necessarily fit the mold of traditional dimension lumber.

Particleboard is one such material. Itis produced by mechanically reducing the wood raw material into small particles, applying adhesive to the particles, and consolidating a loose mat of the particles with heat and pressure into a panel product.

The particleboard industry initially used cut flakes as a raw material; however, economic concerns prompted development of the ability to use sawdust, planer shavings, and sometimes even, mill residues and other waste materials.

Common wood elements used in wood-based composites from top left, clockwise: shavings, sawdust, fiber, large particles, wafers, and strands.

Common wood elements used in wood-based composites from top left, clockwise: shavings, sawdust, fiber, large particles, wafers, and strands.

This board can be used in a variety of applications, from furniture and flooring systems to paneling substrates and soundproofing.

To manufacture particleboard with good strength, smooth surfaces, and equal swelling, manufacturers  ideally use a homogenous raw material—though particleboard is readily made from virtually any wood material and from a variety of agricultural residues.

Low-density insulating or sound-absorbing particleboard can be made from kenaf core or jute stick. Low, medium and high-density panels can be produced from cereal straw. Rice husks are commercially manufactured into medium and high-density products in the Middle East.

Because material and production processes can vary, the quality and strength of the particleboard can as well. FPL handles the research, industry creates the product, but how does this knowledge get handed down to the consumer?

A grade mark on particleboard ensures that the product has been periodically tested for compliance with voluntary industry product performance standards. Inspection or certification programs also generally require that the quality control system of a production plant meets strict criteria. Particleboard panels conforming to these product performance standards are marked with grade stamps.

Examples of grade stamps for particleboard. (Courtesy of TECO, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and Composite Panel Association, Leesburg, Virginia.)

Examples of grade stamps for particleboard. (Courtesy of TECO, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and Composite Panel Association, Leesburg, Virginia.)

For more information, including additional examples and explanations of grade labeling for plywood, oriented strandboard (OSB) and sheathing, please refer to Chapter 11 of The Wood Handbook: Wood as an Engineering Material.