Friday, June 10, 2016

Making Cheap Furniture Last Longer

By Wong Ee Lynn
We all know that inexpensive furniture has a high environmental cost. Most affordable furniture is made with particleboard, medium density fibreboard (MDF) or laminate wood.
Pros of cheap furniture:
·         Mostly made using sawdust and lumber scraps, and thus reduces waste.
Cons of particleboard and MDF:
·         One of the components of particleboard is formaldehye, which is considered a "probable human carcinogen" by the Environmental Protection Agency.  Inexpensive furniture is thought to emit higher levels of formaldehyde because it's cheaper to manufacture particleboard using glues that are higher in formaldehyde versus low-formaldehyde options.
·         It also takes more energy to produce particleboard than it does to manufacture lumber boards.  The process typically begins where scraps of wood are broken down, dried, mixed with adhesives and heated.  It is then pressed into particleboard.
Above all, one of the main rules of green living is to buy quality items that won't need to be replaced often.  Particleboard and MDF furniture doesn't usually last very long.
Buying solid wood furniture can be very expensive, and we are not often able to find secondhand furniture of good quality. What, then, can we do to make our cheap furniture last longer? How can we take care of things and put them to use long enough to delay dumping them at the landfill? Here are some tried and tested tips:
1.      First, decide if you really need to purchase a new item of furniture. Minimising the units of furniture you have means fewer things to pay for, maintain, clean and find space for. Tidy up your closet and put storage boxes inside to eliminate the need for a chest of drawers. Make your dining table do double duty as the family work table and desk. Rearrange the sofa and armchairs to bring them closer to the coffee table to eliminate the need for side tables. Choose beds with underbed and headboard storage so you won’t need to purchase separate nightstands. Wait a month before you decide to replace a broken item of furniture. By the end of one month, you might decide you coped just fine without it.
2.      Find alternatives to cheap particleboard and MDF furniture. Steel, canvas, cane/rattan and bamboo are all good alternatives to particleboard and MDF, and will usually last longer.
3.       Another affordable alternative to particleboard/MDF would be unfinished wood products. Paint or stain them with the most environmentally-safe paints or wood finishes you can find.
4.      Buy good quality secondhand furniture from friends, families and people who are moving away. Very often, secondhand furniture just need minor repairs before they can be used again. You can paint or stain wood with high-quality paint to make it match your furniture. If there are chips, scratches, cracks or minor holes in wood furniture, you can fill these gaps using wood filler, such as Pye Woodfilla. If it is not necessary to repaint an entire item of furniture, but merely touch up scratches, you might not have to buy entire cans of paint. Acrylic paint, such as that left over from mug and coin box painting projects, makes a good touch-up paint. Mix it until you get the right shade or colour, dab it onto the scratches and give it plenty of time to dry.

5.      Find ways to make-over used furniture. A badly scuffed table or sideboard can be given a fresh new look with a glass surface, plastic tablecloths, or fabric table runners. For broken cabinet doors, take the measurements to a carpenter and have new doors made. If a sideboard or AV cabinet has broken drawer units but the rest of the item of furniture is still sturdy, remove the drawer units and metal tracks (if any), and put storage boxes in the space that is left (see picture).
6.      Here in the tropics, humidity (including moisture from mopped floors) wears out and damages cheap furniture more rapidly than in cooler, drier climates. To prevent and delay damage by moisture, place the furniture on risers, bricks or tiles, or attach sliders or castors to the bottom of furniture to keep them off the ground and not touching damp or humid surfaces.
7.      If you have already purchased cheap particleboard/MDF furniture, reinforce and line the surfaces (such as table tops and the insides of drawers and cabinets) with adhesive wallpaper, Contact paper or plastic sheets. Although purchasing and using more plastic is hardly sound environmental advice, the plastic covering will protect the surfaces from moisture damage, stains and scratches and help the item of furniture look better and last much longer. Plus, you can always wash and reuse plastic sheets.
8.      When putting cheap furniture together, tighten the joints as far as you can. This will stop it from wobbling and falling apart easily. Mark it in your calendar to tighten the joints again every 6-12 months. It would be a good idea to use wood glue or wood filler to fill up the gaps as well, as it would make your furniture sturdier.
9.      Use duct tape to reinforce sagging drawer unit bottoms. Check to make sure it doesn't interfere with any rolling or moving mechanisms.
10.  Many particleboard cupboards have flimsy thin boards for the backs (i.e. the part that leans against the wall). Use duct tape and Contact paper to strengthen these boards and hold them in place, as these are usually the first parts of the cupboards to fall apart.
11.  Use corner braces and brackets to reinforce the corners of cabinets, shelves and drawers so they will hold up better and be able to take more weight.
12.  In spite of the above, do not overload shelves and cabinets with too many things. Even out the weight of the contents. Put the heavier items on the bottom shelves and against the corners and walls, not the centres of the shelves, drawers and cabinets where it might sag.

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