Here’s a good question: how do I know which material is better for my project? Knowing the differences between MDF and plywood can significantly improve the quality of your work and make for an easier decision. So I’ve made a list of pros and cons to better understand them.
MDF stands for Medium Density Fiberboard and is an engineered wood usually made from softwood residuals. The wood is broken down into fibers and, together with some wax and resin binder and it is pressed into panels using a high heat press. MDF is used since the 80’s, when mass production began in both North America and Europe.
Because it’s made from such small particles, MDF has no grain or knots on the surface. It comes in different thicknesses, adequate for different projects.
- Typically has a flat, smooth surface, making it ideal for veneering
- Less expensive than many natural woods
- Easy to drill and cut
- Doesn’t have the tendency to split
- Won’t expand and contract as much as natural wood
- MDF is denser than plywood, making it also heavier
- It acts like a sponge around water and may warp and expand if not sealed well
- MDF dulls blades quicker than plywood
- When MDF is being cut, it releases a great deal of dust
- The resins used to bind it are formaldehyde based and the panels release gases for several months after manufacturing, so this poses a health risk if not handled correctly
Plywood is an engineered sheet material made from several layers or “plies” of wood veneer that are glued together, each layer rotated at an angle to one another. This process is called cross-graining and gives it that distinctive wafer look on the sides.
Plywood was introduced as a standard building material in the late 20’s in the United States.
It comes in different grades and thicknesses, each one good for a different project. The low grades might be good for construction and packaging, for example, while the high grade ones are better suited for furniture or high-end speakers.
- Small amount of shrinkage and warping because of the cross-graining
- Consistent strength across the panel
- Great material for construction work, even at subzero temperatures
- The top veneers are usually made from higher grade wood than the core, making it ornamental in by itself
- It’s a lighter material compared to MDF
- Pricy compared to MDF
- Plywood has a tendency to splinter at the edges when cut
- It’s difficult to choose the right kind of plywood for a project
- Plywood has formaldehyde based adhesives, which are carcinogenic in high concentration
- Plywood consumes more natural resources than MDF, becoming a point of concern
Now you can make a better decision on which one is the best for your project. Give each one a try and let us know how it went! Which material do you like more?