MDF vs Plywood: Every Thing You Need To Know

It can be tough to decide what to use for your furniture when there are plenty of options available like MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) and plywood. I am often confronted with questions from people regarding their usage and so I thought it apt to put up an article detailing MDF Vs plywood.

While MDF is generally cheaper, it is not as hard as plywood. Since it does not go very well with moisture, it is better to use plywood for outdoor furniture. Here, I have compared MDF and plywood on the basis of different criteria for ease of understanding.


What Is MDF?

MDF is an engineered wood product created from wood fibers extracted from breaking down softwood and hardwood. These wood fibers are then glued together and made into panels by the application of high pressure and temperature.

MDF is almost similar to particle board but, is much stronger and denser. As it is made of small wood fibers, it has no wood grain. The fact that it is pressed hard at high temperatures makes it devoid of any voids the way it is in particle boards.

Advantages of MDF

Disadvantages of MDF

  • MDF is an environment-friendly wood as it uses recycled wood for its making. This helps save a lot of trees
  • As it is a smooth material, it does not have knots that can cause difficulty in attaching components or blemish the surface of a piece
  • Using MDF is economical. As it is not much costly to make, you will get it in cheaper rates in stores
  • Unlike solid wood, MDF does not contract or expand due to humidity and heat
  • It is easier to make intricate designs using MDF as it is easier to shape
  • During the construction of MDF, small amounts of formaldehyde is emitted which is not good for health
  • As MDF does not go well with moisture, it swells when directly exposed to water
  • Due to the glue present in MDF, some types of fasteners do not sink into the material easily
  • MDF makes use of certain chemicals that are not good to be exposed to children
  • MDF is a high-maintenance material. If you crack or chip it, it is difficult to be repaired. You cannot cover the damage like you do with other materials

What Is Plywood?

Plywood is created from peeler logs. For this, wood logs are used from which thin layers are peeled. This is done by rotating the woods along their horizontal axis. Doing so results in the production of sheets of veneer that can be cut into different dimensions according to the requirement.

These cut pieces are first dried, patched and then glued together. These are then baked in a press at 140 °C (284 °F) and 1.9 MPa to obtain plywood panel. The smoothness of the plywood depends on its grade. This determines whether it can be used for making interior pieces that look good.

Advantages of Plywood

Disadvantages of Plywood

  • Plywood is a strong construction material as it contains layers of wood veneer. Each layer has grain running a different direction
  • Screws are tightly held by plywood as the varying wood grains offer something to hold on to
  • Plywood is hardly affected by the presence of moisture. It does not absorb water and swell up easily
  • Unlike before, plywood without formaldehyde is available which is not dangerous to health
  • Plywood can be used for table tops, kitchen cabinets etc. where large stained wood surface is required
  • When cut, plywood sometimes splinters on the edges. So, you may not get a smooth cut
  • Most of the grades of plywood are expensive. With better wood species, the price of the plywood increases
  • The edges of the plywood have to be done somehow due to the layers that show on the edges
  • It is difficult to make elaborate designs in plywood as the edges will splinter. In such cases, edges will show layers and may have voids at places
  • It is found that commercial grade plywood has to be covered by laminates to make it durable and attractive

Comparison of MDF and Plywood


MDF Is Cheaper

The first point of difference would be the cost at which both materials are available. It is already discussed that MDF is engineered wood made from wood fibers. So, it is on the cheaper side. On the contrary, plywood is made from peeler logs making it costlier.

But, the cost depends on the types of wood and the grade of plywood too. Both MDF and plywood also differ in price depending upon their thickness. It is seen that higher grades of plywood cost more as they look more elegant when made into furniture.

Such higher grades display natural softwood or hardwood grains. Lower grades are used in places that are not easily noticeable like the subflooring.


Plywood Has A Lower Tendency To Split

When you try to drive a screw at the edge of MDF, it is observed that the core splits easily. The screw head may snap off before sinking or may push up chips when a countersink drill bit is not used. But when plywood is nailed at the edges, it has a lower tendency to split.

MDF has non-directional grain structure making it good for machining, drilling and cutting without resulting in splinters. As knots are absent in MDF, it is easy for finishing too. The hard surface of plywood makes the furniture made from it durable and strong.

As MDF has a smooth surface, it is mostly used for simple pieces that can be painted and used for interior designing. Both plywood and MDF are easy to use, especially for DIY experts who work with them regularly. Both varieties are used to make affordable furniture.


MDF Is Easily Damaged

When the strength and durability are considered, MDF is softer than plywood and is easily damaged when handled roughly. If too much weight is applied to it, it has a tendency to sag as it is not stiff like plywood. This is the reason why the shelves made from MDF are reinforced. Such shelves do not sag easily.

Plywood has an improved dimensional stability due to its cross graining. Such a structure reduces shrinkage and expansion. As a result, you get consistent panel strength in both directions. The sheets are in odd number thereby reducing warping. A plus point of plywood is that its dimension and strength are not affected by extreme cold.


Uses Of MDF And Plywood

As MDF is easily affected by moisture, it is mainly used for internal paneling and doors and furniture used indoors. Its smooth surface makes it ideal for painting. This also makes way for easy cutting of detailed designs using a band saw, scroll saw or jigsaw.

Plywood finds its use in the construction of interior stairs, framing, external cladding, doors, interior rails, exterior stairs, internal paneling, flooring, timber joinery products, shear walls, and timber portal frames. Plywood is used to create curved surfaces as it blends with the grain easily.

Wrapping Up

With enough details included in the article, I hope that you are now clear about the differences between MDF and plywood and how and where they are used. The list is important because many are confused as to which wood to use for their indoor and outdoor constructions.

I have tried to include even the minute details so that it is easier for you to take a decision the next time you construct something. I would be very happy to know if this was helpful to you. Please post your valuable opinions in the comments section and share the article if you liked it and found useful.

Abigail Jones

Hi, I'm Abigail. I like spending time tearing my house apart and putting it together back again. Join me on home improvement tutorials, tips on my blog.

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