MDF vs Plywood: Which is Better?

Wood looks wonderful but the cost and care it entails sometimes makes alternatives necessary. Both MDF (medium density fibreboard) and plywood are popular substitutes to real wood. They are factory-made and available in boards of various thicknesses. Both these materials are widely used for fabricating different types of furniture, decorative panels and so on, but there arises a conundrum when one needs to decide between MDF and plywood for the woodwork. If you are purchasing new furniture or planning to engage carpenters for home renovation, here is all you need to know about MDF vs plywood so that you can make an informed choice.

MDF
MDF is manufactured by combining sawdust and chemical binders under high heat and pressure.

 

Applications:
MDF is ideal for fabricating mouldings, ornate panels, shelves (but not heavy-duty shelves). MDF jali designs look great too, especially in ceilings. MDF plywood is highly recommended for decorative pieces or panels that just need to be finished with paint.

 

Pros:

  • MDF is a cheap, budget-friendly material.
  • The material has no voids, which makes MDF a very dense and strong material, but on the downside it becomes very heavy.
  • MDF board is composed of tiny wood grains so it can be easily cut, drilled, machined and filed to achieve a good finish.
  • MDF is recommended for creating elaborate designs because the small wood fibres and smooth edges allow the CNC (computerised cutting machine) router to move easily.
  • Another plus is that MDF is made from wood waste, which makes it sustainable and environmentally-friendly.

Cons:

  • One concern about using MDF is that it easily absorbs water and warps. This particular characteristic makes MDF unsuitable for the outdoors and other moisture-laden areas such as kitchens or bathrooms.
  • Another drawback of MDF is that since the material is made of fine particles packed together in a binder, it does not hold screws very well. As a result the screws come off the screw holes and it becomes difficult to repair.
  • During the manufacturing of MDF boards, a lot of chemicals are used as binders – the final product emits high levels of VOCs such as formaldehyde, which are a health hazard. As a precaution it is essential that the carpenters wear masks while working with MDF so as to prevent inhalation of the fine wood-dust particles.
  • MDF board is a relatively soft material that tends to sag or split under heavy weight.
    Tip: For long-term durability, use thick primer or paint on the MDF to seal the boards and prevent water absorption to some extent.

PLYWOOD
Plywood comprises thin layers of wood veneer that are glued together to form a single piece of board.

Applications:
Most types of plywood is best suited for furniture items such as table tops, kitchen cabinets, wardrobes and so on. Boiling Water Resistant or BWR-grade plywood or marine plywood are highly recommended for outdoor use. The multiple layers of veneer that form the plywood are bound together with water-resistant glues. The final product can be finished with epoxy resin, which is also waterproof.

Pros:

  • Plywood has a very long lifespan as the succeeding layers are laid so the direction of their grain is crossways to each other in order to impart strength and stability to the plywood.
  • Unlike MDF, it is less susceptible to damage by water. BWR plywood is highly durable and can last a lifetime.
  • Another advantage of plywood is that it holds the screws very tightly. Tahe cross-graining of different layers of veneer provides adequate support to the screws and prevents them from coming off.
  • Unlike MDF, plywood is flexible and can be bent to design curved surfaces.

Cons:

  • Plywood is comparatively more expensive than MDF.
  • The multiple layers of veneer show at the edges, so the sides need to be finished with veneer or laminate.
  • Since plywood density is high as it is made of multiple thin sheets of wood, it is difficult to create elaborate designs in plywood and at the same time achieve a good finish.