Mdf vs plywood; Differences and Comparison; Which one is Better?

mdf vs plywood

Which is better MDF vs Plywood? what’s one should you use for your projects? what are the pros and cons of each? those are the questions that might be getting hit in your mind before starting any furniture project.

A preference or which one is just better than the other one always depends on what you’re building? What kind of tools you’re using? They’re both are useful it’s just a matter of matching the right material with the right job.

Let’s do a head-to-head comparison of MDF and plywood, when we’re talking about MDF and plywood we’re talking about sheet panels. Let’s do a real quick anatomy breakdown of the two products because it’s going to make everything that comes afterward easier to understand.

Factors to consider before choosing MDF vs Plywood

1. What are they made of?

Well, start the big question what are they made of really easy to answer because both are manufactured from the same thing that is wood. Both MDF and plywood are tree-based wood by-products and they both contain a lot of glue to make perfectly binding sheets.

Plywood Sheet

Of the two of them, plywood is closest to normal wooden planks because it’s made of a bunch of very thin layers of wood. These layers or veneers are stacked up like a sandwich upon each other using glue, heat, and pressure. Each layer is laid 90 degrees to the one below it and above it so grain patterns are always running in different directions. This makes the plywood much stronger because it counteracts wood’s tendency to split or bow.

MDF on the other hand doesn’t share these properties, because MDF is made of fine wood pulp, and glues. Mush like a mixture of the wood pulp and glue is formed, then it gets flattened and pressed into sheets. It has no grain to it, no linear planks running through it. It’s almost more like a cake batter that gets pressed into a shape.

MDF Board

2. Finish

As plywood sheets are made from thin, and linear wooden sheets it has somewhat rougher finishes, that gradually decreases the shine of the plywood.

MDF stands for medium-density fibreboard, MDF uses smaller fiber so the finished product is smoother and more uniform. MDF actually has some applications where it really shines, you just have to work around its limitations.

3. Costing

let’s get back to our comparison we’ll start with the point most people are interested in, Cost. There’s a popular idea out there that MDF is a cheaper alternative to plywood. For the most part of the world, this is accurate, and MDF is a relatively cheap product.

So, how much does the alternative plywood cost? Well, it depends because when you say plywood you’re actually talking about dozens of different grades. There are so many grades of plywood, and different uses like interior and exterior use. 

There is plywood that has one decent finished surface, and an ugly surface, on the other side and they’re applied within every degree of thickness from 3/4 down to eighth of an inch. The thing is a lot of this plywood isn’t any more expensive than MDF. It’s just a question of what grade you’re getting.

For B/C grade plywood which only has one somewhat decent surface, you might pay about what you would pay for MDF.

4. Strength

Plywood is stronger than MDF because it has actual wood grain makeup. Furniture and shelves built with plywood are tougher than MDF projects, corners and edges don’t get bent or dinged as easily. They hold together better when they’ve moved around.

5. Sagging

If you are building with MDF make sure to place vertical supports apart shorter distance. If longer shells are spanned, their chances they’ll begin to sag from the middle. Applying plywood on the other hand might be tempted to span a little bit further because plywood isn’t prone to sagging and plywood is more durable as well.

6. Weight

MDF tends to be heavier than plywood so things you’ve built with MDF board are harder to manage. If you haven’t put a lot of redundant strength into your project you can pull components apart just by handling them.

On the other hand, plywood sheets are lighter in weight you can easily move your furniture here and there with ease.

7. Painting & Staining

As far as appearances there are drastic differences between MDF and plywood. Going to get painted or stained?

If you have a plan for painting your finished project, plywood goes well with the staining, plywood does have a stainable top layer or veneer like actual wood. There’s a grain for the stain to penetrate into although, you can skip staining on plywood and just do it with the clear seal like a urethane finish.

But talking about MDF is not a stain-grade board because of that fibrous nature. It also doesn’t have a wood grain surface so, there’s nothing for staying to penetrate and really nothing for it to show. But the smoother surface of MDF makes an ultimate choice to paint rather than staining.

8. Workability

Another thing to consider about these is workability. How do MDF and plywood respond to tools, being cut, in fastened? Here’s another place where differences really show up so both feel similar when cutting but MDF cuts a little more smoothly and much more cleanly.

Again, with no real grained the saw doesn’t cause splintering in MDF a ragged blade will make a harsh cut but a sharp blade will make a razor-tight cut and that includes rips and crosscuts.

Plywood, on the other hand, is very susceptible to tear out you have to use all the woodwork of tricks to protect your edge or it’ll splinter and blow out.

Both plywood and MDF are to be drilled with normal drill bits that work out fine. But when it comes to fasteners MDF does not want to hold a screw and hinges tightly. As plywood has that wood grain which is a good material for screw threads to grab.

On the other hand, just have the fiber core so a screw off and tear that material to power or get stuck in the glue bind up and even snap off.

Things are worse on MDF edges with pre-drilling you can simply set a screw when you apply wood edge it won’t cause splitting unless you fail to pre-drill. But with MDF you’re going straight into the fiber core the softest part of the material and the edge will either split into fragments or the screws will just pull out with little effort.

9. Edge Exposure

Neither plywood nor MDF has a nice-looking edge, plywood edges will show the sandwich layering and MDF edges will have a grainy texture look. For any type of nicer built-ins or cabinets you pretty much always want to hide this edge usually with a screen trim or laminate. MDF has a slight advantage here and then it routes more cleanly than plywood does.

10. Dust control

On the whole, plywood makes about as much sawdust as normal that can be clean with ease. But MDF board cutting makes dust that is far worse, it’s like pure powder. It can fuse in the air to stick on everything. It may cause you breathing problems or even for a little while you’ll be coughing all day.

11. Indoor Vs outdoor Use

Plywood and MDF really differ in this because plywood is basically just like other treated lumber that MDF board isn’t. Plywood looks as good and they tend to be sort of wavy and warped but they do resist fungal growth.

As for normal untreated plywood, it will hold up outside especially if it’s painted on the other hand, the MDF board should never be used outside. MDF is basically designed that fail when it’s exposed to water. Those wood fibers act like a sponge drinking up moisture. Yes, you can paint it and that will help but with time paint ruptures, soaks the water, and turns to mush. keep MDF indoors, use on your interior shelving and built-ins where it’s totally stable.

Difference between MDF vs Plywood

mdf vs plywoodPlywoodMDF
Made ofStacking a bunch of thin layers of wood with the help of glue and pressure.MDF is made from flattening and pressing the wood pulp and glue mixture.
FinishRough finish, edges tend to bend.Smoother and shiny finish with finer edges.
CostingLittle expensive than the MDF board.Cheaper in price than plywood.
StrengthLess tend to sag and don’t demand vertical support at shorter distances.Prone to sagging, demand vertical support at a shorter distance.
Ideal UseCan be used for both interior and exterior projects if precautionary measures are taken.Mostly used for interior building like shelving, cabinet doors.
WorkabilityGreat response to tools while cutting or drilling, and anchoring accessoriesMake dusty powder while working and prone to damage while drilling or cutting the MDF board.
ResistancePlywood treats like other wood planks and can resist moisture and fungal growth.Fail on exposing to water, so keep it for indoor building and shelving uses.
DurabilityThe hard structure of plywood makes it more durable.The softcore structure of MDF is not hard and can be damaged easily.
Differences Between mdf and plywood

Conclusion

Wrap up by saying that comparing MDF vs plywood and, picking up between two of them preferring plywood will provide strength and durability. Even though it’s a bit more expensive you’re actually seeing more cheap alternatives to cabinet-grade plywood coming out these days.

On the other hand, the reason for going to MDF boards is that it’s very flat even plywood can take on a bell. If moisture gets to them and you have to fight that warp out of your panels when you’re working with it. MDF doesn’t tend to do this as much you pretty much always trust you’re going to get a really flat stable material with MDF.