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Is there fake wood?

When it comes to wood products and materials, there are many options available today that offer the look and feel of real, natural wood, but are actually synthetic materials made to imitate wood. These types of man-made, engineered wood products are often referred to as “faux wood” or “fake wood.” So in short, yes, fake or faux wood does exist.

What is fake wood?

Fake wood, or faux wood, refers to any manufactured wood-like product that is made using non-wood materials or wood by-products. There are a few different types of faux wood materials commonly used today:

  • Plastic lumber – Made using recycled plastics like PVC or HDPE
  • Polyurethane – Poured into molds to create decorative trim and architectural details
  • Medium density fiberboard (MDF) – Made from wood fibers and glue
  • Vinyl – Plastic polymer formed into faux wood flooring or wraps for furniture
  • Laminates – Real wood veneer or printed surface laminated over composite boards
  • Particle board – Wood chips and resin pressed into sheets

Manufacturers blend these materials with dyes, wood grain patterns, and embossed textures to create the look of natural wood grains and tones. The resulting faux wood products are more affordable, uniform, and weather-resistant compared to solid wood.

Why use faux wood?

There are several reasons why faux or manufactured wood is commonplace today:

  • Cost savings – Faux wood is generally less expensive than natural solid wood.
  • Consistent quality – The manufacturing process results in consistent grain patterns and uniform boards.
  • Stability – Materials like plastic and MDF are less prone to swelling and cracks.
  • Weather resistance – Many faux woods hold up better outdoors than real wood.
  • Eco-friendly options – Some plastic lumbers utilize recycled materials.
  • Specific performance needs – Composite boards can be engineered for strength, sound insulation, etc.

Using manufactured boards and veneers allows builders, designers, and consumers to get the aesthetic look of real wood for less cost, with added durability and quality control in many cases.

Types of fake wood

There are several major categories of man-made wood materials used today:

Plastic lumber

Plastic lumber is made from recycled plastic materials like HDPE and PVC. Plastic polymers are blended with dyes and molded to create lumber boards and other products that mimic the look of natural wood. Advantages of plastic lumber include:

  • Resistance to rot, cracking and insects
  • Stable performance across a wide temperature range
  • No ongoing maintenance required compared to real wood
  • Long lifespan – up to 50 years

Plastic lumber is commonly used for outdoor decking, railing, landscaping, and park furniture where durability and low maintenance are priorities.


Polyurethane is a plastic resin that can be poured into molds to create decorative trim details and architectural millwork. Polyurethane moldings are a low cost way to get the ornate look of wood trim and accents. Polyurethane offers advantages such as:

  • Very realistic wood grain finish when painted or stained
  • Resistance to moisture, rot, and pests
  • Can be molded into any shape and style
  • Lightweight yet durable

Polyurethane decorative trim is used both indoors and outdoors in places like crown molding, window and door surrounds, columns, corbels, and exterior detailing.

Medium density fiberboard

MDF is an engineered composite wood made from breaking down wood fibers and combining them with wax and resin binders. The material is pressed into sheets, sanded smooth, and finished with laminates or veneers. MDF provides consistency and versatility at a lower cost than solid wood. Key benefits include:

  • Very smooth and consistent surface
  • Stable performance minimizes expansion/contraction
  • Takes paints and finishes uniformly
  • Easy to cut and work with compared to real wood
  • Versatile applications from furniture to molding

MDF has become a go-to material for furniture, cabinetry, interior trim, and applications where quality needs to be uniform and cost controlled.


PVC vinyl is used to create faux wood flooring planks and wraps that mimic the look and texture of real hardwood floors. Vinyl wood floor advantages include:

  • More affordable than hardwood floors
  • Durable and scuff/scratch resistant
  • Waterproof and easy to clean
  • Good insulation against sound and cold
  • Long lasting and low maintenance

In addition to flooring, vinyl films are used to cover surfaces like furniture, doors, and cabinets to give the appearance of wood grain at a lower cost.


Laminate flooring and surfaces utilize printed decorative papers topped with a clear melamine resin that are fused to a composite wood backing. Benefits include:

  • High definition wood grain patterns
  • Durable, scratch-resistant wear layer
  • Affordable compared to wood flooring
  • Easy DIY installation
  • Wide variety of wood tones and textures

Laminates allow for very realistic faux wood finishes to be applied to furniture, floors, countertops and cabinetry.

Particle board

Particle board is manufactured from wood chips, sawmill scraps, or other lumber by-products that are pressed and bonded together with resin adhesives into sheet form. Advantages of particle board include:

  • Cost efficient use of recycled wood materials
  • Consistent quality with limited defects and variation
  • Machines and finishes well
  • Versatile applications from shelving to furniture

Particle board provides a low cost base material for many faux wood products like budget furniture, underlayment, and subflooring.

How to tell real wood from fake wood

There are a few techniques that can help identify whether a wood material is authentic or imitation:

  • Check the edges and ends – Real wood will show natural grain patterns while fakes will have more uniform colors and textures.
  • Look for repeating patterns – Faux wood often uses repetitive grains and photoprints that aren’t natural.
  • Consider the weight – Plastic and composites tend to be lighter than natural woods.
  • Inspect joins – Clean butt joints suggest laminates or veneers versus solid woods with irregular seams.
  • Study the finish – Fake wood is often shinier and more perfect than authentic wood’s patina.
  • Do a scrape test – Gently scrape a hidden section with a coin to see if color comes off.

With close inspection and by looking at indicators like weight, finish, cut edges, and joints, you can usually decipher whether wood is the real deal or a manufactured alternative.

Most common uses of fake wood

Due to the lower cost, improved consistency, and weather resistance, there are several applications where faux woods are heavily utilized:

Faux wood type Common uses
Plastic lumber Outdoor decking, railings, fences, landscaping
MDF Interior trim, cabinetry, furniture substrates
Vinyl Flooring, wraps for doors, cabinets, furniture
Laminates Kitchen countertops, cabinetry, flooring
Particle board Furniture, underlayment, shelving

Faux wood materials strike an ideal balance between the pleasing aesthetic of real wood with the affordability, performance, and consistency required for large-scale manufacturing and construction.

Faux wood for outdoor use

For outdoor environments subject to moisture, sunlight, insects, and temperature swings, faux woods perform remarkably better than natural wood. Some ideal uses of fake wood outdoors include:

  • Decking – Plastic lumber composites resist splintering, twisting, and decay.
  • Fencing – PVC vinyl and plastic wood lasts for decades outdoors.
  • Siding – Fiber cement boards resemble wood but won’t rot or warp.
  • Trim – PVC and cellular PVC trim maintains its color and grain.
  • Landscaping – Fake wood mulch and edging won’t fade or deteriorate quickly.
  • Outdoor furniture – Synthetic wood materials withstand weather extremes.

While real wood needs a lot of maintenance and sealing to survive outside, faux wood building products retain their integrity and appearance for many years of outdoor exposure.

Environmental impact of faux wood

There are some notable environmental impacts of using manufactured versus natural wood products:

  • Pros
    • Utilizes wood industry leftovers and recycled plastic
    • More stable so less likely to end up in landfills
    • Requires less virgin trees to be harvested
  • Cons
    • Some faux wood is not recyclable
    • Manufacturing can use solvents and release emissions
    • May off-gas VOCs inside homes

There are tradeoffs to consider. Using wood by-products and plastics diverts waste while reducing deforestation. However, some processing and chemicals used in engineered woods raise environmental and health concerns. Consumers should look for eco-friendly certifications when buying faux wood products.

Future outlook for fake wood products

Several trends are shaping the future role and prevalence of faux wood products:

  • New materials development – Companies are innovating more sustainable, durable composites.
  • Improved aesthetics – Printing technology and finishing will make fake wood even more realistic.
  • Rising cost – As real lumber prices increase, fake wood becomes more attractive.
  • Desire for resilience – Faux wood’s reliability and low maintenance will appeal to builders and homeowners.
  • Prefab boom – As modular construction grows, engineered wood components will gain share.

With all these drivers, faux wood will almost certainly continue taking share from real wood in many applications due to its predictability and performance attributes.


Fake or faux wood refers to a range of man-made composite materials engineered to provide the appearance, texture, and workability of natural wood grains at a more affordable price point. Major faux wood categories include plastic lumber, polyurethane, MDF, vinyl, laminates, and particle board. Thanks to manufacturing predictability, stability, weather-resistance, and cost savings, faux wood has become ubiquitous in construction, furniture, flooring, and other applications where quality, performance, and budget are priorities. With technology improvements and cost pressures not abating, fake wood is poised to imitate its natural counterpart more convincingly than ever.