It’s easy to think of MDF and plywood as the same thing when you see them in the home improvement section of your local store. But they could not be more different. Where the strength of one is the weakness of another.
Find out the differences between the two and where best to use them.
What is MDF?
Medium Density Fibreboard or MDF is an engineered wood composite.
When creating MDF, manufacturers break wood down into the basic fibre or fibre lumps. For this reason, the particular species of wood, straightness, knottiness, etc. are not important. This allows manufacturers to source cheaper MDF raw material and keep the overall costs low.
The fibres are then combined with an adhesive and pressed together under heat. The heat is what cures the adhesive while making the fibres pliable during pressing.
You can purchase MDF in a variety of thicknesses and grades. It’s the material typically used in ready-made furniture, cabinets, shelves in storage units and decorative wall cladding.
Characteristics of MDF:
- Smooth, uniform, knot-free surface; consistent throughout the edges
- A great substrate for veneer
- Its surface is so smooth that it lends itself well to painting
- Easy to split and damage; not as durable as plywood
- Soaks water like a sponge which results in the degradation of the material
- Impact resistance lower than that of plywood
- Lighter than plywood
- Easy to cut and cut edges are smooth with no splintering
- Unable to hold screws
- Easy to laminate, veneer, or lacquer
- Absorbs some paints such as aerosol spray primers
- Perfect for quality primers with oil as a base
- Bonding agents contain low concentrations of formaldehyde
We are a wholesale MDF supplier and stock a large range of MDF. This ranges from standard grade to moisture resistant, fire retardant, melamine overlay and timber veneered MDF boards.
Plywood is a wooden panel made by putting together several thin layers of wood veneers to create a solid piece. The layers can be different types of wood.
Check out our article on how plywood is made.
Depending on the grade, plywood is best for use in the construction of homes, boats, floors, walls, and ceilings. Higher grades are also suitable for making cabinets.
Because of the different treatments of plywood, it can serve for interior, exterior and even marine construction purposes.
Characteristics of Plywood:
- Very durable building material with the grain on each layer of veneer running in different directions
- Looks more like real wood; solid wood appearance
- Resistant to water damage
- Heavier than MDF
- Won’t soak up water or swell easily
- Perfect for staining
- Holds screws tightly
- Some models come without formaldehyde
- More expensive than MDF; the higher the grade, the pricier it gets
- Cutting exposes some sharp edges; splinters when cut
- Challenging to cut to create design details
We supply a huge range of plywood and can usually custom prepare and treat plywood to your specific purposes. All our plywood is 100% sourced from local Australian plantations. It is also guaranteed renewable and certified with a zero formaldehyde emission rating.
MDF or Plywood — Which one should you use?
You can decide which one to use for your project based on the application and your budget.
Since it does not handle moisture very well, MDF is better for indoor applications and decorative purposes (like furniture). It is also a better choice for applications that require specific shaping, cutting and drilling, since it does not splinter like plywood. If you are going to use paint, MDF is also a great choice for a smooth effect.
For the construction of doors, stairs, ceilings, floors and exterior projects, it’s better to use plywood. Plywood holds up quite well to water exposure. It can also handle heavy loads, so consider it for framing walls or kitchen cabinets.
If you have no specific preference and you’re just thinking about cost, then MDF is the winning choice. But if durability or strength is what you’re after, plywood wins hands-down.
Still can’t decide which material to use? FA Mitchell is one of the best plywood and MDF suppliers to the trade, builders and specifiers in Sydney and around Australia. Let us walk you through your options and give you expert advice on the best plywood or MDF to use for your next commercial project.
Contact us now for a consultation.