Plywood vs MDF: Which is best for my DIY projects?

Plywood and MDF are both engineered wood products which are used for a wide range of uses and construction work. In many cases one may go to buy some panels for an upcoming project, and ends up getting somewhat confused as to what difference there is between the two. It is important to note that despite the fact that they may look somewhat similar to one another, plywood and MDF actually have certain differences in terms fo their traits and properties. Consequently one may be more suitable than the other for certain projects. We shall thus be outlining the main differences between them, along with their respective pros and cons, so as to help you make a well informed choice.

MDF-vs-Plywood. Image credit: Keyword Suggest

What is Plywood?

Plywood is considered to be very reliable, versatile and pliable. It is manufactured by undergoing a process whereby sheets of wood veneers are bound together. It is available in different thicknesses and grades. Lower grade plywood sheets are ideal for interior projects, whereas the higher grade ones are recommended for building furniture and cabinets as they have a nicer and more consistent finish.

What is MDF?

MDF stands for Medium Density Fibreboard. Such boards are made from a dense material. This is made up of hard and softwood residuals, pressed together with wax and resin bondings under very high pressure and temperatures. The result is a smooth and consistent finish which is ideal as a utility material, such as to build structures and carcasses.

Advantages of Plywood

  • It is strong and malleable
  • It can be stained and is thus ideal for higher end finishes, such as when one would like to show the wood grain.
  • It can hold screws and nails well.
  • It is more durable and longlasting than MDF when it comes to moisture resistance.

Disadvantages of Plywood

  • Is more expensive than MDF.
  • It could split and splinter and so it can be a bit problematic when it comes to cutting. In fact it is not ideal for complex cuts or designs.
  • Needs edge banding or some form of decorative moulding as the sides will show the layers.

Advantages of MDF

  • Very cheap.
  • Is easier to cut as long as a jigsaw or router is used. Can be used for more complex designs and shapes.
  • Has a nice consistent surface which makes it quite good for painting.

Disadvantages of MDF

  • Does not hold screws and nails well due to the fact that it is composed of fine particles.
  • Since it is very dense it is rather heavy and so difficult to lift and to handle.
  • Even though one can paint it, it is important to note staining is not such a good idea as the particles can end up soaking up the stain quickly, and as a result the finish may not be that nice.
  • Not ideal when there is high moisture as it is not waterproof at all.
  • MDF contains VOCs, so one should be careful when cutting or sanding it.

Considering all of these aspects, as a general rule of thumb one should avoid MDF at all costs if moisture is present. MDF will end up rotting and disintegrating quickly if it is exposed to water. Apart from that MDF is quite good for most indoor projects, especially where curves or odd shapes need to be cut.

For outdoor projects exterior plywood is better. It still would need regular treatments to prolong its life though. Plywood cut to size is best when there are complex shapes involved, and when you would want to stain it.

Special Thanks

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