Parota wood or fiberboard? The answer is complicated

Most people in Mexico will tell you to get your dining room and bedroom furniture made with parota wood and stay clear of fiberboards. But is it true?

The rationale is that this wood, spoken of in almost legendary terms, is termite-proof. And, that fiberboards will never hold up in humid areas. But is this true? You might be surprised!

Parota wood can be toxic

Parota wood is indigenous to Central America and abundant in Mexico. In Spanish, the word parota translates to huanacaxtle. Fun fact: La Cruz de Huanacaxtle is supposedly named after a cross that stood in the town, made from this decorative wood.

Parota trees grow rapidly and have large trunks, which means they work well for large furniture pieces (think large dining room table tops made from slabs). This wood is lighter in weight than many other kinds of wood and water-resistant. Parota is, however, a softer wood. This can be problematic if you have a dining table or dresser that needs to withstand some significant weight.

What most people do not know about parota is that it can be quite toxic. Some carpenters will no longer work with this wood because it can cause severe eye and respiratory infection. For those with allergies, this may not be the best option.

Although subterranean termites prefer softwoods, they will invade most species of wood. Drywood termites require little moisture in the wood they eat.

Parota has beautiful wood grain. There is no need to paint it – the beauty lies in its rich grains and golden hues. Although costlier, furniture made from this indigenous wood will make a beautiful statement in your home.  

Fiberboards can withstand moisture

Fiberboards are an engineered product made from wood fibers that are bonded together with a strong adhesive under significant heat and pressure. Fiberboard has been around since the early 1900s. It is also used in construction, flooring, home appliances, automobile manufacturing, and cabinetry.

There are three main categories of fiberboard based on their density – low, medium, and high. The density refers to the amount of wood compressed into one panel. The higher the density, the stronger and harder it is. Low-density fiberboards, often referred to as particle boards, are used frequently in construction for sub-floors. High-density fiberboards are mainly used in laminate flooring. Medium-density fiberboards are highly recommended for furniture.

Fiberboards are also sub-categorized into different classes, based on their properties to withstand stress and moisture. Medium (MDF) and high density (hardboard) have a much higher resistance to moisture and stress than particleboard. Some MDFs and hardboards are even treated to be moisture resistant. Unlike particleboard, these materials will not split or crack.

Today, many manufacturers of fiberboards incorporate fungal and insect resistance. The resin and glue in the fiberboards are a deterrent since termites tend to find them quite distasteful.

Fiberboards can be painted and stained many beautiful colors and look outstanding in your home for a fraction of the price of parota.

Price comparison

Solid wood furniture will cost more than furniture constructed with fiberboard. In some cases, you will find furniture that is a hybrid of solid wood and fiberboard. Parts of the furniture that are hidden, such as the front and the top, are constructed using solid wood. The inside and back, which are generally hidden, are built with fiberboard. This gives the best of both worlds, a beautiful looking piece at a more reasonable price.

Which is better?

Somewhere along the line, people started confusing low performing particle board with water-resistant, well-wearing fiberboards. They also started giving parota wood mystical furniture powers. Both options have pros and cons.

The bottom line is buying the brand names you know. Buy from manufacturers who stand behind their materials and production. Buy from retailers you trust, who know their products and can help you select the right one for your style, needs, and budget.

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Sheryl Novak
Sheryl Novak
Sheryl Novak is an expat Canadian and owner of SOLutions Mexico, an online furniture store in Mexico. Sign up for our free newsletters, which deliver our top headlines twice a week.
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