MDF vs Plywood

When working on a cabinetry project for your home, you may wonder whether you should use or MDF or plywood. Both of them are popular materials that people often use for wooden projects such as doors, frames, cupboards, shelves, and decks. In this article, we will see the pros and cons of MDF vs plywood to help you choose.

Continue reading to find more information about:
– What are MDF and plywood,
– The advantages and disadvantages of MDF vs plywood,
– The suitable uses of MDF and plywood, and
– Which material that is better for your project.

What is MDF?
Medium density fiberboard (MDF) is a wooden board that is made from fine particles of hardwood or softwood residuals that are combined by wax, a resin binder, and the application of high temperature and pressure. MDF is classified as an engineered wood product, and is a popular building material that is used in similar applications as plywood. See also: Hardboard vs Plywood.

There are now several different types of MDF designed for different needs and purposes. MDF products are usually labeled with different colors to indicate their types. The ultra-light MDF plate (ULDF) is suitable for applications that require a lightweight material. Moisture-resistant boards are typically labeled green, whereas fire-retardant boards are either red or blue.

MDF is much stronger and denser than regular particle board. It is also generally denser than plywood. It is composed of approximately 82% wood fiber, 9% resin glue, 1% wax, and 8% water. It is strong and easy to cut, so it is frequently used in school projects and furniture.

Pros of MDF
The first advantage of MDF vs plywood is that it is very easy to process. The texture and density levels across the board are consistent and similar. It is easy to cut, so you can easily make detailed designs that have scrolled or scalloped patterns. You can also easily make decorative edges. The edges are smooth and will not have splinters or voids.

Second, MDF typically has a very smooth surface. It makes a great choice for painting. The surface can hold paints well. This is also why MDF is preferred for school projects and furniture. You can apply any color you want for the finish.

Third, MDF is usually cheaper than plywood. This is because MDF is easier and cheaper to produce. So, if you are looking for an affordable material that you can use to experiment, it is a viable choice.

Cons of MDF
There are several disadvantages of MDF that you should consider. First of all, MDF is similar to particle board that it tends to soak up water and liquids, unless it is perfectly sealed on all sides. The fine particles that compose MDF make a sponge-like structure which can absorb moisture and swell. Moisture-resistant MDF is available, but is not fully waterproof. So, MDF is not suitable for outdoor applications and bathroom furniture.

Second, MDF is not stain-resistant. The reason is related to the first weakness; the fine particles tend to soak water and liquids. Once stained, it looks awful, and there’s no easy way to get rid of the stain.

Third, MDF does not hold screws well. The fine particles put into a dense and tight structure, but they are easy to break when drilled. So, MDF is not suitable if your project relies on screws to hold the things together.

Fourth, MDF releases fine wood particles and volatile gases when cut. These particles and gases are harmful for your health if inhaled. The particles may also get blown to your eyes. Hence, when working with MDF, you have to wear protective gear such as goggles and a mask to avoid catching these particles and gases on your eyes and lungs.

What is Plywood?
Plywood is a wooden board that is made by pressing and binding wood veneer into one solid piece. Hence, you may be able to see visible layers on the side of a plywood board. Just like MDF, plywood is also considered as an engineered wood product. It has become a very popular choice for building applications and furniture.

Plywood is available in several different grades and thicknesses, so you need to choose a suitable product for your project. Lower-grade plywood products are usually utilized for construction purposes, whereas the higher-grade ones are much smoother and prettier for furniture. There are also plywood products made from specific wood species, so you can get the exact look that you want for your project. You can read more about the different types of plywood on Wikipedia.

Pros of Plywood
The first advantage of plywood is that it has a stronger internal structure. Unlike MDF which is composed of fine wood particles, plywood has multiple wood veneer layers that are solid and strong. Because of this, plywood can hold screws much better.

The second advantage of plywood is that it is less susceptible to water and moisture. It does not soak up water and liquids as easily as MDF. So, it is a viable choice when you need a water-resistant material. However, note that plywood is not fully waterproof and may still get rotten, so you still need to seal it properly when there is a risk of water/moisture damage.

Third, plywood is stainable. This is because plywood has grains. It makes a great choice for table tops, kitchen cabinets, and any project where you want to have a wide stained wood surface.

Cons of Plywood
Plywood is more difficult to cut than MDF. Making a smooth cut on plywood without splinters and voids is already quite challenging, let alone making scrolled or scalloped designs. So, plywood is nice when you need a simple rectangular board but not when you need to make a complicated pattern.

Plywood usually shows its layers on the sides. Because of this, you may need a special finishing technique to shield and hide the edges. You can use iron-on edge banding, decorative mouldings, or piece of timber for the finishing.

Also, plywood is relatively more expensive than MDF. Don’t forget that higher-grade products and exotic woods can increase the price further.

MDF vs Plywood Comparisons
MDF
– Wooden board made from fine particles of hardwood or softwood residuals that are combined together
– Very prone to water and moisture
– Not suitable for screws
– Not stainable
– Easier to cut without splinters or voids

Plywood
– Wooden board made from multiple wood veneer layers that are pressed and bound into one solid piece
– More resistant to water and moisture
– Has strong internal structure, can hold screws well
– Stainable surface
– More difficult to cut, often develop splinters or voids

Conclusion
MDF vs plywood have different advantages and disadvantages. MDF is great for indoor applications and projects that require easy cutting or machining. However, MDF is very prone to water and moisture, is not suitable for screws, and requires you to wear protective gear to avoid catching the fine particles and gases. Meanwhile, plywood is suitable for exterior uses and screws, but it is more difficult to cut.


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