Plywood vs MDF vs Particle Board: Difference and Comparison

Plywood vs MDF vs Particle Board

Are you looking for the right material for your home or kitchen cabinets? In that case, you have several options such as composite wood. This type of material is among the best and most affordable in the market but not many understand their differences. This article is here to help you differentiate composite wood products – plywood, MDF, and particle board.

But first, you may want to know a bit about composite wood. Composite wood is a substitute for real wood, which is made of a mix of wood flour or wood fibers along with plastic materials and binding agents. Why choose composite wood? Well, it is more durable and stronger than traditional wood.

In the early 1980s, the company American Woodstock created the technology behind composite wood. They call it WPC or Wood Plastic Composite. Using this technology, they were able to develop a flat sheet containing polypropylene and wood flour, eventually making automotive paneling. That was the first time composite wood was made.

Composite wood is more eco-friendly since it can be created using waste wood chips or wood pellets. It’s perfect because there are a lot of wood wastes that can be recycled and reproduced. Composite wood also doesn’t need cleaning or varnishing and is also waterproof. With these many benefits, it’s not surprising that it’s a popular material.

What is Particleboard?

Particleboard is a composite wood made from sawmill shavings, wood chips, sometimes even sawdust, plus resin, which are heat pressed together.  Chemicals such as dyes, wax, release agents, and wetting agents are then used to make the particleboard insect-proof, fireproof, and/or water-resistant.

Once all the wood scraps, chemicals, and resins are mixed into a liquid, it is then made to become a sheet. The process also involves evenly distributing the wood chips, so that the finished board won’t be too heavy. Wood bits and resin must have the tightest bond, thus the board is compressed several times.

Types of particles boards

There are also different types of particle boards, some of which are:

  • Oriented strand board (OSB) – the layers of woo strands have specific orientations and are often used for wall and floor bases.
  • Laminated particleboard – comes with a thin layer of laminates on the particleboard and is widely used in making modular kitchen, shelves, and wardrobes.
  • Veneered particle board – this particleboard is made by attaching veneer on its top surface, improving its aesthetics at a low cost.
  • Cement bonded particle board – this one’s bonding agent is cement, which makes it highly resistant to fire, moisture, and rot.
  • Melamine particle board – this particleboard has a sheet of décor paper full of melamine attached to its top surface, making it extra durable and scratch-resistant.
Plywood vs MDF vs Particle Board

Quality & Cost

Particleboards are a type of composite wood important for structural purposes. It isn’t as durable as other composite wood products, but it is great for furniture that has to be assembled. In terms of cost, it is more affordable than some plywood. Its price can go as low as $10 to as high as 35$ per sheet.

Advantages of Particle Board

The biggest advantage of particleboard is it is cost-effective compared to other composite wood products. It is also highly decorative with a flat and smooth surface. Particleboards don’t distort or dent easily, which is another plus to being easy to handle and transport because it is lightweight.

Particleboards also have more screw holding capacity, making them an excellent material for assembled furniture. This composite wood is easy to clean and needs only minimal maintenance. One notable feature of particleboards is it has thermos-acoustic insulation properties, so it’s great for speakers and similar uses.

Disadvantages of Particle Board

The biggest disadvantage of particleboards is their low strength compared to other composite wood products. Because it has low density, it can easily sustain damage during transportation. It is also weak against moisture, expanding, warping, and discoloring when exposed.

Particleboards also have low durability, being incapable of supporting heavy loads. Out of all these disadvantages, the most dangerous is the possibility that it is toxic. This is because its manufacturing uses urea-formaldehyde resin, from where formaldehyde gas comes from and is a known carcinogen.

What is MDF Wood?

The name MDF refers to medium-density fiberboard, a composite wood engineered using wood fibers. The wood fibers used for MDF are very fine, so the resulting fiberboard doesn’t have noticeable wood grain, knots, or rings. Fibers, heat, and glue are used to make tight fiberboards.

Either softwood or hardwood can be used to make MDF. Either way, the resulting fiberboard is denser and stronger than plywood. It also has veneer sealant applied to it to make the composite wood resistant to water damage. It makes MDF an excellent substrate for melamine, thermofoil, veneer, heavy lacquer, and vinyl.

Types of MDF wood

There are two basic types of MDF wood, which are:

  • Moisture resistant – often used in wet areas like bathrooms
  • Fiber retardant – used in places where fires or heat often occur such as the kitchen
Plywood vs MDF vs Particle Board

Quality & Cost

MDF wood is much sturdier than plywood, so its quality is good. It is also much better than traditional wood as it virtually has no imperfections. It always comes primed, ready for painting, and has no twists or warps. In terms of cost, it is more expensive compared to particleboard but is cheaper to replace than plywood.

Advantage of MDF

MDF wood has three main advantages – it’s low-priced, is not susceptible to voids and wood knots, and can hold paint easily thanks to its smooth surface. It can also handle high loads, but not too much weight. MDF is an all-purpose material capable of handling a range of jobs despite the low price.

Perhaps one of its best advantages is its manufacturing process that is similar to recycling, so creating MDF wood saves trees. Thanks to the chemicals used in its processing, MDF resists some insects. With its excellent density, it is easy enough to handle MDF for various wood projects.

Disadvantage of MDF

One of the most significant disadvantages of MDLF wood is it’s weaker than natural wood, so it isn’t ideal to use for shelves. It does not last long, which means a loss of money even though it is considerably cheaper. It is also easily damaged, buckling fairly easily under pressure.

MDF is also more water-absorbent, which makes it swell over time. As such, you must be conscious when using it. It also doesn’t work well with screws or nails. If punctured with a nail, a fraction may appear. The worst disadvantage is it contains formaldehyde, so you don’t want to inhale its dust.

What is Plywood?

Out of the three, plywood is the sturdiest wood composite. This one is made up of several wood veneer sheets, pressed and bonded to develop a solid piece of engineered wood. The technique used to manufacture plywood is called cross-graining. It lessens expansion and shrinkage while increasing the strength consistency of the board.

The most notable characteristic of plywood is it has different grades depending on the purpose. The grade of plywood depends on the type of wood ply, the adhesive used, thickness, and the process of manufacturing. This means each grade differs a lot, making it essential you know about them to pick the right one based where or what you want to use it for.

Higher-grade plywood is great for making shelves and cabinets. On the other hand, lower-grade ones are perfect for subflooring. The plywood grade isn’t the only factor to consider when choosing plywood. It also has many different types with unique traits and different uses, which would be helpful to know.

Types of plywood:

The different types of plywood are:

  • Softwood – great for grooved flooring
  • Hardwood – often used for heavy-duty flooring or wall structures
  • Decorative – the type you can easily draw on and dye
  • Flexible – plywood that you can use for curved parts
  • Tropical – this type is a soft, low-cost wood
  • Marine – the kind of plywood perfect for boats and docks
  • Aircraft – this plywood has high heat and humidity resistance and high strength
Plywood vs MDF vs Particle Board

Quality & Cost

Plywood is one of the most durable wood composites. It is the engineered wood you want to use for anything sturdy, be it a door or a shelf. However, this quality is based on the grade, which defines the toughness of the wood composite. As for the cost, it will depend on the size but it can range from $5 to $55 per sheet.

Advantage of Plywood

Plywood has several advantages, such as durability and strength far better than MDF wood. It can be made from different species of wood and has a wide range of thicknesses. Compared to MDF, it sustains less water damage. There are plenty of benefits to using plywood, including:

  • Smooth surface
  • Easily painted or shaped
  • Holds screws well
  • Easily cut into different shapes
  • Resistant to cracking, warping, twisting, or shrinking
  • Available in big size
  • Economical to use

Disadvantage of Plywood

Plywood has many benefits, but its disadvantages are almost as much. For one, it is more costly than MDF wood. Its edges often splinter during transportation, not to mention the layers are exposed. This makes it so that you must finish the edges with veneer or laminate. Other disadvantages of plywood include

  • Hard to cut
  • Can be damaged by water
  • Can cause eye irritation due to volatile organic compound
  • Must be covered with laminates to increase the lifespan
  • Susceptible to termites

Particle Board, MDF & Plywood Grades

The voids and knot holes on the composite wood make the difference between particleboard, MDF, and plywood. These defects show the quality of each composite wood, specifically the amount and extent of repair needed. Another factor that affects their grading is the type of adhesive.

Grade                         Description

A                     –           Small patches, knots, and burls

B                     –           Slight color streaks, small patches, burls, pin knots

C                     –           Sound knots, smooth patches, slight discoloration

D                     –           Significant defects demoting premium or good panels

G1S    –           Designation applies by dealers that means “Good 1 Side”

You can find out the grade of composite wood from the stamp “APA The Engineered Wood Association.” It should have the letters A, B, C, or D that indicates the grade. The A is the highest grade, which means their composite wood has minor defects. Meanwhile, D means defects downgraded the composite wood.

Plywood vs MDF vs Particle Board
Plywood vs MDF vs Particle Board

Comparison of Plywood, MDF, and Particle Board

Here is a quick comparison between plywood, MDF wood, and particleboard.

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What is the right material for modular kitchen cabinets?

Laminates like particleboard, MDF, and plywood are all excellent materials to use for modular kitchen cabinets. They are great because they have high durability, high moisture resistance, and cost-effective. However, plywood is perhaps the best choice out of the three.

The problem with plywood is it’s susceptible to water damage. But you can remedy it by choosing the right type of plywood to use. You also have to make sure proper installation, whether it is plywood, particleboard, or MDF wood. With proper installation, you can ensure that the composite wood’s edges don’t peel off.

Which to choose – plywood or MDF or particleboard for wardrobes?

Wardrobes are shelves for clothes, which need more durability. On that note, the most preferred choice to use for making wardrobes is plywood. This composite wood is a lot more durable than particle board and MD. Since wardrobe is often used roughly, plywood makes a long-lasting option.

Plywood is made of sheets of wood veneer put together, with strength evenly distributed to create solid layers. It is the strongest wood composite and yet also lighter and much easier to work with, which makes it highly versatile. It goes to say this is the material you would want to use for a custom wardrobe.

What’s The Best Wood Solution?

The best wood solution comes down to the purpose. If it’s a cabinet, you can use any of them but plywood makes the best choice. But if you want to save money, you can use MDF for the shelving unit instead. You don’t really need to use a single type of wood for your project, so your choice doesn’t have to be limited.

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    2021-04-12T03:20:51+00:00

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