Welcome to my article about MDF vs Plywood!
Natural wood looks terrific, but it can be quite expensive.
If you are looking for something more affordable, there are a few options available, the most common of which are medium density fiberboard (MDF) and plywood.
Both have their share of benefits, but which is best for your needs?
This article will provide all the information you need on MDF and plywood to help you make a wise purchasing decision.
But before we dive into the detailed analysis, I want to first provide you with a quick comparison table so you can easily compare the two materials side by side.
MDF vs Plywood Comparison Table
What is MDF?
Medium Density Fiberboard or MDF is an engineered wood product made from wood fibers formed from pulped hardwood and softwood.
The fibers are glued together with a wood and resin adhesive.
High temperature and pressure are then applied to form the materials into panels.
This results in a smooth grain-less wood that is similar but more durable than particle board.
What is Plywood?
Plywood is made by peeling thin layers from wood logs that are rotated on a horizontal axis. The veneer sheets that are peeled are cut into specific dimensions, dried, patched and glued together.
They are baked in a press at 284 degrees Fahrenheit (108 degrees Celsius) to form a panel.
The material may or may not be smooth or visually appealing enough to be integrated in furnishings, but it can be stained to improve its appearance.
Properties of MDF vs Plywood
If you are looking for a strong wood substitute, plywood is your best option.
MDF can become easily damaged. It also sags under weight so it is not the best choice for shelving.
Plywood, on the other hand, has cross grains that prevent expansion and shrinking. It is made of a number of wooden sheets that reduce the chances of warping.
Its strength and durability are also not affected by extremely cold temperatures.
MDF has a soft core that can be easily split if you drive a screw into the edge of it. If you drill without a countersink drill bit, the head of the screw may pop off or it may cause chips to form.
The cross graining in plywood helps it stand up better to drilling and hammering.
However, MDF has its advantages when it comes to workability. Its non-grained structure makes it easy to cut without producing chips or splinters.
And, because it doesn’t have knots, it produces a great finished appearance.
MDF tends to be cheaper than plywood, but plywood costs vary depending on grade and the type of plywood being used.
Higher grades take a combination of hardwood and softwood that make them more attractive while lower grades may be used in areas where they are not visible.
The price of both products will also vary according to their thickness.
MDF vs Plywood Uses
Here’s a rundown of the best uses for both products.
MDF has low moisture resistance and is therefore used mostly for interior applications.
Here are some examples of the projects that MDF is most suitable for.
- Furniture: MDF can be used to make most types of furniture including cabinets, shelves, tables and cupboards. The smooth appearance means that paint or stain is not necessary.
- Flooring: When it comes to flooring, MDF is not as durable as hardwood, but it can hold up for a few years.
- Decorative Projects: You can use MDF for decorative projects such as pen holders or TV trays.
- Wainscoting: MDF is perfect for decorative wood paneling projects like wainscoting.
- Doors and Frames: The material is ideal for doors and door frames.
- Trade Show Booths and Theater Decorations: MDF is ideal for temporary project like tradeshows and theaters that may require the creation of makeshift items like booths and props.
Plywood is ideal for exterior and interior applications. Here are some examples of when it will work best.
- Floors, Wall and Roofs: Marine grade plywood is strong and therefore perfect for floors and roofs. Standard plywood is ideal for walls and other construction needs.
- Boats and Boat Parts: As the name suggests, marine grade plywood is terrific for boats boat parts. It will hold up well to water and other elements.
- Vehicle Internal Bodywork: If you have woodwork inside of your car, it’s probably plywood.
- Packages and Boxes: A plywood box will keep items safe when shipped.
- Fencing: Plywood is a great wood alternative for fence building.
- Concrete Panels: Plywood is perfect for panels because it covers a lot of space and does not have any joints.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Now here’s a rundown on both product’s advantages and disadvantages.
- Low Cost: MDF tends to be cheaper than plywood making it an affordable solution for many construction products.
- Smooth Surface: The product’s smooth surface ensures there are no voids or gaps. It also means it does not require painting or staining.
- No Knots: MDF does not have any knots which makes it easy to cut.
- Waterproof: Most people think that MDF is not suitable in humid areas because it’s not waterproof. However, there are waterproof varieties available.
- Environmentally Friendly: MDF is made from waste wood and wax. These are biodegradable materials. What’s more, no tree has to be cut to create the product.
- Weaker Than Wood and Plyboard: MDF does not have a cross grain texture. This makes it weaker than plyboard and wood.
- May Not Be Waterproof: MDF boards that are not waterproof will not hold up well in moist conditions.
- Not Great for Screw Holding: MDF is not very strong, so it doesn’t hold screws and nails well. You will need to pre-drill holes for nails and screws which makes for a timely process.
- Contains VOC: MDF contains VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) that emit toxins and could be a health risk.
- No Texture: MDF does not have a wood grain texture. Many people find it to be a less attractive option as compared to plywood and wood.
- Heavy Weight: Even though MDF is not as durable as plywood, it has a heavier weight. This makes it difficult to transport.
- Moisture Resistant: Plywood is moisture resistant so it can be used in humid spaces.
- Durable: Plywood’s cross grains make it highly durable.
- Available in a Variety of Sizes: The material is available in a variety of sizes and thicknesses. This means it can be used in different applications and does not require a lot of alterations.
- Lightweight: Plywood is lightweight. This makes it easy to use and transport.
- Doesn’t Split Easily: Plywood’s durability means it’s easy to drive nails and screws into and it holds up well under weight.
- Texture: The material has an attractive wood like texture, and it can also take paint and stains.
- Cost: Plywood is more expensive than MDF and it can even be costlier than wood.
- Voids and Gaps: Lower quality plywood may have voids and gaps that make it difficult for it to hold screws. These can be filled in with wood glue.
- Not 100% Waterproof: While plywood is moisture resistant, it is not 100% waterproof. Therefore, it can get damaged if exposed to large amounts of water for a long period of time.
- Needs Maintenance: To ensure plywood holds up well, it’s advisable to maintain it with paints and laminates.
- Hard to Cut: Plywood has knots that make it difficult to cut.
MDF vs Plywood: Conclusion
Plywood and MDF are both good wood alternatives, but they have advantages and disadvantages that make them more or less suitable for certain tasks.
The one that you will require depends on the kind of project you’re undertaking, how much work needs to be done to the wood, the desired appearance of the final product and whether it will be for outdoors or inside.
I hope this article has been useful in helping you discover the differences between plywood and MDF!
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About The Author: Hi There! I’m Dave. I’m a certified millworker and carpenter, and have been working in the industry for over 10 years. I created this website to pass on my knowledge so that other enthusiasts, no matter what their skill level, can enjoy the craft as much as I do. I hope you enjoy!