HomeTriangle Guides: Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF) or Plywood?


Plywood and MDF have their own pros and cons. It’s important to know the differences between the two and the way they’re engineered.

If you are not a carpenter, a DIY person or a general handyman, in all probability you do not know the difference between the MDF and Plywood. For woodworkers it's an all important question. While plywood and MDF have their pros and cons, each can be preferred for individual applications. It’s important to know the differences between the two and the way they’re engineered.

The information given below will show you what each comprises of and the advantages and disadvantages of both. 

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Image: Uisplayshowcase.com


Plywood is a woodproduct made by pressing various sheets of wood veneer one over another intoone piece of several layers. The number of layers can vary; hence plywood comesin different thicknesses. But it also comes in different grades, and it’sequally important to know which grade best suits your purpose cost-effectively.Lower grades are used in places, which need not look pretty. They can be usedbelow flooring or in places like cellars, overhead storage and attics.

Higher grades are "stainable", look more elegant and have a smoother finish. Their wood grainis consistent; they generally have no knot holes or other imperfections. Thesurface of cabinet grade plywood is carefully sanded. Plywood also comes invarious species of wood like oak and maple. So the look of the finishedproduct before you choose.

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Plywood bench
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Why Use Plywood?

Plywood is made withlayers of wood veneer with the wood grain of each sheet running in oppositedirections. This makes it a very strong construction material. It can withstandwater damage because it does not allow liquid to quickly soak in and swell itas can happen with MDF.

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Wood veneers
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You can treat plywood with a wood stain of your choice, which makes it ideal forkitchen cabinets, table tops and other wood furniture where a stained woodsurface is desirable. Plywood holds screws tightly; as they piercethrough various sheets of wood veneer and are very well embedded. Today many plywood brands come without VOCs like urea-formaldehyde, so you can also have betterindoor air quality.

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Stained Plywood
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Why Avoid Plywood?

Though plywood is arelatively economic material it is pricier than MDF. Also, the higherthe grade and depending on the species of wood, the more expensive it becomes. Plywood layers arevisible on the sides and edges so you have to decorate them. You can do thiswith iron binding, finished pieces of wood or ornate molding. Plywoodoften splinters at the edges during cutting, and it may be difficult to get asmooth cut. Plywood also presents a difficulty when cutting detailed designs init. The edges will splinter, and the layers will possibly expose voids inseveral places. Plywood may contain VOCs, which can pollute the air inside your home.

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Splintered Plywood Edge
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Medium Density Fiberboard consists of wood fibers mixed with binders and pressed into largesheets similar to the size of plywood. Though there are other processesinvolved in the manufacture, this should give you an idea about the make-up ofMDF. It is similar to particle board but much denser and stronger.

MDF does not carry woodgrains because it’s composed of small wood fibers. There are also no gaps orvoids like in particle boards because it’s compressed at very high temperatures. And like plywood, MDF also comes in varying thicknesses fordifferent applications.

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Medium Density Fibreboard Sheets
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Benefits Of MDF

It is usually cheaperthat plywood. Since MDF has a very smooth surface, you don’t have to contendwith knots, which makes it very suitable for painting. Before painting, it isrecommended to apply a good oil-based primer. Do not use aerosol spray primersas they permeate the surface and tend to make it rough.

Because of itssmoothness, MDF is also a good substrate for veneer. The constituent materialis even throughout, so edges remain smooth and uniform after cutting. You canthus give it a decorative edge. MDF allows for easy cuttingof ornate designs such as scalloped or scrolled motifs.

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Painted MDF Kitchen Cabinet
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The Downside Of MDF

Just like particleboard, MDF absorbs water and other liquids very easily and will swell unless itis properly sealed on all sides and edges. Again, a quality oil-based primer or paint or other suitable sealant is recommended

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Water Soaked MDF Panel
Image - Izzylaif.com

MDF consists of veryfine particles and may not hold screws very well. It is also susceptible to strippingat the screw holes. MDF is also very heavy, and can be very cumbersome to workwith.

Like plywood MDFalso contains VOCs. The escaping gases can me minimized with the application ofprimer or paint. However, care should be taken while cutting and sanding toavoid inhalation. It is recommended to do this outdoors while wearing aparticle mask.

So even if you leave the carpentry to professionals, now you can decide which you will choose, MDF or plywood?



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