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Best Bookshelf Materials

by Staff Writer

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Bookshelf

It's not unusual for bookshelves to incorporate multiple materials for different features. If you haven't decided on wood, wood products, metal or glass bookshelves, look at their relative strengths and weaknesses. Look below to learn the best bookshelf materials.

  1. Wood: "Solid wood" is a common term for furniture made from lumber planks. Beware of making assumptions based on labels like "hardwood" and "softwood." Hardwoods are derived from deciduous trees and softwoods from coniferous trees; the terms don't connote their relative strengths. Balsa is a hardwood even though it is very soft, just as Douglas fir is a softwood even though it is very hard. They all make excellent, classic stock material for bookcases. Generally, harder woods are the heavier and more resistant to scratches. Still, softer woods, if treated correctly, will keep just as well as harder woods.

  2. Plywood: Made by stacking thin sheets -- "plies" -- of lumber and gluing them under pressure, plywood features grains that alternate direction for strength. Several grades are available, of differing cost. Top and bottom plies can be high-quality woods to create the appearance of fine woods, but edge veneer or molding is needed to complete the illusion.

  3. Particleboard: Wood chips glued together carry a much lower price tag than solid wood, and particleboard is denser and more uniform. It's a great choice when cost is the primary consideration. Bookshelves crafted from veneered composite boards can look and feel as good as real wood.

  4. MDF: Wood fibers, tiny chips and sawdust collected and glued into sheets form medium-density fiberboard (MDF). Low-cost MDF makes an excellent base for veneers; plus, its strength is consistent and it shapes well.

  5. Metal: There's a reason most library bookshelves are made from metal: Metal bookcases are resistant to moisture and fungus, their low-friction shelves are easier on books' bindings and metal's strength-to-weight ratio can't be beat. Their cost usually comes in below any other material.

  6. Glass: Glass bookshelves weigh more than other types, but if you plan on assembling your bookshelves only once, the style points can be well worth it. Tempered glass shelves (in wood or metal uprights, called "standards") give your home an unbeatable contemporary feel, and glass bookcases' smooth, transparent surfaces add brilliant levity to a decorating piece that might otherwise be notably opaque and heavy.

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