MDF vs. Plywood – Meaning And Structural Differences

Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) is an engineered wood composite made from wood dust and fibers glued together using resin adhesives and glue. The dust and fibers are converted into panels under high temperature and pressure applications. The result of the compression is a smooth wood product that has no grains or shares in its structure and does share many similarities with particles board.

MDF boards are however different from particle boards given that particle boards are slightly stronger. MDF is relatively soft in comparison to plywood and often get damaged easily if roughly used. It is also not that stiff as compared to plywood and can excessively sag if too much weight is applied to it.

The poor stiffness and soften properties are the reason why MDF is often reinforced with other strong wood materials if used for shelving. Glue for MDF can be used to add strength to joints in MDF wood products such as tables and kitchen cabinets. The glue resin is very sticky and does guarantee formation of tight bonding between MDF sheets

Plywood is made from thin layers of peeled wood that are cut from logs along their horizontal axis. The veneer wood layers are then cut to the required dimensions, dried and glued together at temperatures of 140 degrees Celsius and high-pressure conditions of 1.9MPa to make a plywood panel. Plywood comes in different grades, and the classification is often based on the smoothness of the plywood surface.

Plywood has superb cross graining. This feature greatly adds strength to dimensional stability and keep shrinkages and expansion within reasonable limits. Plywood panels’ strength is consistent in any direction and can uniformly balance any reasonable weight limits. Odd numbers of sheets are used for the intentions of reducing warping of plywood, and the other benefit of plywood is that its dimensions and strength are not affected by extreme cold – contrast is observed in MDF. 

MDF vs. Plywood – The Pros

MDF products are very smooth, and that makes them ideal surfaces for painting using oil-based primers. The smoothness also guarantees consistent edges that don’t have undesirable splinters or voids. Generally; MDF is cheaper than plywood, and that makes it great for use in budget decorations. The consistency in structure and smoothness also allows for easy cutting of MDF products into detailed designs by using band saws, scroll saws or jigsaws. 

Plywood comprises of good layers of veneer running in different directions, and that gives it strong properties as a building material. It is also less susceptible to water damage and won’t swell soak up quickly as compared to MDF that is in contact with water. Plywood also holds screws with a tight grip, and this feature ensures that wood products made from plywood get to have some durability in them. In decoration projects that require heavy use of a stained wood surface, plywood can serve as an excellent material for making top tops and kitchen cabinets.

MDF vs. Plywood – The Cons


MDF wood products are mostly filled with volatile organic compounds such as urea-formaldehyde. These compounds can pose a health risk if they make human contact at adequate concentrations. Coating MDF products with paints and primers can reduce the emission of these harmful volatile compounds. MDF may also be of not much help in applications where large weights may be used. It is not that stiff and can easily sag under excessive weight.

Working on MDF products can also create ventilation problem. MDF produces a lot of dust when cutting and this can cause respiratory issues for the persons involved. MDF has poor water resistance capability, and any reasonable water seepage into the internal structures of MDF product can significantly reduce its strength.

It is always advisable to apply thick and heavy primer paints on the surfaces of MDF products to boost their water resistance capability. MDF also gives an awful look if it is stained since it only soaks up the staining agents like a sponge material. The high density of MDF makes it very heavy and working with heavy wood products is often not an easy task.

Given its excellent strength, durability and water resistance; plywood comes at a higher price than MDF. That may not make it ideal for use for budget home renovation projects. Though its water resistance is better as compared to MDF, excessive exposure to water may cause plywood to split across its surface and that can significantly weaken its strength and durability. For home renovations that require smooth cuts, it may be difficult to arrive at that feature with plywood since most of its internal surface is porous.

Many plywood products also contain volatile compounds such as urea-formaldehyde, and these can create health issues if inhaled. The layers that show on the edges of plywood are often not that attractive and diminishing them require some additional woodworking processes such as edge banding or decorative molding. 

Author Bio:

Danny L. Montgomery is the founder and owner of the blog He is experts of woodworking. He loves to share everything about woodworking.

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