Plywood or MDF, what’s one should I use for my projects? What are the pros and cons of each? Those are the questions that I’ve heard countless times from di wires. They want to know if I have a preference or if one is just better than the other one, and the answer I always have to tell them is, it depends, depends on what you’re building, what kind of tools you’re using not about a dozen other things as Well, I’ve used both materials hundreds of times over the years. I’Ve done lots of buildings with bows and I’ll confess that, like one for more than the other one and we’ll get today but they’re both useful, it’s just a matter of matching the right material with the right job.
So with that said, let’s do a head-to-head comparison of MDF and plywood and that’s coming up now on the honest carpenter show when we’re talking about MDF and plywood in this video we’re talking about sheet panel goods, the wood products and building materials that come in sheets. Typically, 4 feet by 8 feet: you take these sheets and break them down into smaller sizes to build a huge variety of things. Let’S do a real, quick anatomy breakdown. The two products, because it’s gon na make everything that comes afterwards easier to understand. Well, start the big question: what are they made of really easy to answer?
Because it’s the same thing for those boy, both NDF and plywood, are tree based, lloyd byproducts, and they both contain a lot of something else. Glue of the two of them. Plywood is closest to normal lumber because it’s made of a bunch of very thin layers of wood, these layers or veneers are stacked up like a sandwich nura here to 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 tendency to split or bow MDF, on the other hand, doesn’t share these properties this, because MDF is made of fine wood pulp and glues sort of like a mush.
It gets flattened and pressed in his sheets, so it has no grain to it. No linear lumber running through it. It’S almost more like a cake batter that gets pressed into a shape. It has a lot more coming with fibre board than plywood. In fact, that’s what the f and md f stands for medium density, fiberboard, it’s just a step up from normal fibre board that crumbly cheap material that so many of our cabinets and shelves are made of now.
At this point it could be easy for me to say: oh, it’s just fiber board it’s garbage, but that would be pretty unfair. Mdf uses smaller fiber, so the finished product is smoother and more uniform and nobody F actually has some applications where it really shines. You just have to work around its limitations, so let’s get back to our comparison, we’ll start with the point. Most people are interested in caused there’s a popular idea out there that MDF is a cheaper alternative to plywood and for the most part this is accurate and we have is a relatively cheap product. A full sheet runs you about $ 35, with tax in half-inch.
Thick sheets tend to be a little bit less than that, and you also have quarter inch MDF, which most people just call the backing board. That’S even cheaper, maybe $ 20 with tax. So how much does the alternative plywood cost? It depends because when you say plywood you’re actually talking about dozens or hundreds of different products, because there are so many grades of plywood. Various grades have different uses.
There are interior and exterior ply woods. There are plywood’s that have 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 these plugins aren’t any more expensive than MDF. It’S just a question of what grade you’re getting for BC grade plywood, which only has one somewhat decent surface. You might pay about what you would pay for nd yet, but then for anything of a higher quality.
In that same 3/4 thickness, you can start to see that price go up to 50, even sixty-five dollars a sheet. At that point, it becomes a bigger question of what you’re trying to do with that material, which brings us to our second topic. What our MDF and plywood used for truth is it’s kind of an endless range of things where MDF imply wood sheets, mostly wind up, is in shelving built-ins and cabinets because they come in larger sheets you’re free to break them down to whatever size you need you. Don’T have to edge joint individual boards, like you would if you were using dimensional lumber. This makes MDF in plywood perfect for custom doning all sorts of shelving, but two of them are not interchangeable.
I’Ve done a lot of built-ins over time. There are situations I’m definitely going to use plywood and situations where I’m going to use MDX. I base these decisions on several different factors: the first one being strength. Plywood is stronger than MDF because it had that actual wood grain make up. If I’m building with MDF, which is what I made this very simple energy Center from, I make sure to place vertical – supports no more than 28 inches apart.
If shells are spanned over that, I’m afraid they’ll begin to sag from anything placed on top of them apply. Wood, on the other hand, I might be tempted to span a little bit further because it isn’t this prone to sagging and plywood is more durable. Furniture and shelves built with plywood are tougher than MDF projects, at least that’s what I found corners and edges, don’t get bent or dinged as easily and they hold together better when they’re moved around. I mean just look what happens to fiberboard furniture when you have to move it. A few times think IKEA furniture components, just pull right apart.
Mdf can fail similarly, and it tends to be heavier than plywood, so things you’ve built 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 and as far as appearances go. There are also drastic differences between MDF and plywood. One question I always act is going to get painted or stained. Both products will generally hold paint very well so long as they’re primed, but MDF is not a stain grade product again because of that fibrous nature and how it’s made impressed it doesn’t have a wood grain surface, there’s nothing for staying to penetrate and really nothing for It to show plywood, on the other hand, does have a stainable surface, because the top layer or veneer is actual wood.
There’S a grain there for stain to penetrate into, and it’s so cases you can skip stain on together on plywood and just do it the clear seal like a urethane finish. This is a really popular look in modern architecture and it’s possible because high grades of plywood, like birch and maple and oat, have such a high quality veneer. They look great when the finish is natural. That’S really what you buy them for, there’s no point getting a high grade plywood, if you’re just gon na hide it with paint. You want to accentuate that grain.
Make it stand out. Just remember that when you do get into that class of plywood, individual sheets is going to start to cost double what MDF costs. Those are cabinet grande, ply woods and they’re really best for projects for aesthetic quality is of the highest value. Another thing to consider about these is workability. How do i MDF and plywood respond to tools to 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 cross cuts. Plywood, on the other hand, is very susceptible to tear out. You have to use all the wood work of tricks to protect your edge or it’ll splinter and blow out.
I talked about this in my current video a few weeks back so check that one out and you get a chance, both plywood and MDF, to be drilled with normal drill bits that works out fine. But when it comes to fasteners, MDF does not want to hold a screw nearly as well as plywood. Plywood has that wood grain, which is good material for screw threads to grab and yep. 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 not effective at all and while we’re speaking about the edge of the material, it really brings us to a similarity between the products edge Exposure, neither plywood nor MDF has a nice-looking edge. When you see the edges of both. What you’re, seeing is what they’re made of what’s inside of them, 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 of some sort. But MDF has a slight advantage here and then it routes more cleanly than plywood does a router will just show the ugly core of plywood and even worse, it will actually expose more gaps down in the wood, but routing MDF that just take on a more subtle Texture that can be sand into a higher finish. Really good. Router bits can be used to make high-quality figured panels out of MDF. You see it get used along a nice handling projects in hallways and stairs and working both materials with power tools brings up another important topic.
Dust control on the whole plywood makes about as much sawdust as normal nice. You should try to use vacuum filtration when you can and wear a dust mask the rest you can sweep up, but MDF makes a dust that is far worse. It’S like pure powder, its fusing in the air sticks to everything and if you breathe it even for a little while you’ll be coughing all day, always wear a mask when working with MDF and, if possible, try to get some open air of ventilation. You might just want to move your setup outside just to deal with MDF dust and then, when you’re done, move everything back inside, because MDF really has no business being outside for long periods of time. On the topic of indoor outdoor air, quality, plywood and MDF really differ this because they actually make exterior-grade plywood, which are basically just like other treated lumber.
They don’t look 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 and the edge grain is called, but in the end it will start to delaminate and the layers will come apart. I really can’t recommend using it outside. There are other options for MDF, though it should never be used outside. It’S basically designed to fail when it’s exposed to water.
Those wood fibres act like a sponge drinking up moisture. Yes, you can paint it and that will help, but the milk that paint ruptures reflects just a bit. The soaking process starts that MDF bloats and turns to mush keep MDF indoors used on your terior shelving and built-ins, where it’s totally stable. That’S my recommendation. Somewhere, the 90s material companies started making exterior trim on this stuff.
They said it was formulated or designed for moisture control things like that, but it’s still just MDF. I don’t care how well you design it. It’S going to fail faster than wood. I’Ll. Do a whole video on that at some point it gets the real pet peeve of mine, but we can just leave it that for now no wrap up by saying that up the two of them.
I really prefer a plywood. I like it for its strength and durability. I like that it doesn’t weigh a ton, especially half-inch, thick plywood, which I use for a lot of projects. I like the fact that doesn’t turn into toxic powder when you cut it over the last several years. I’Ve used way more plywood than MDF projects and even though it’s a bit more expensive you’re, actually seeing more cheap alternatives to cabinet grade plywood coming out these days, things like sand apply and radiata pine plywood have a very decent appearance and texture, but they’re priced closer To MDF, so you can buy them without feeling a big price pinch.
The one other good thing I’ll mention about MDF, though, is that it’s very flat even DISA plywood’s can take on a bell which store it incorrectly or, 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, just something else to think about there. That’S my two cents on the topic, though. What are your opinions on it? Do you use MV up a lot, have any tricks that make it work better or are you strictly birch plywood kind of person? Let me know down in the comments I’m always eager to hear other opinions, as always thanks for watching be sure to check back in.
For more videos coming up soon and please consider subscribing and hitting that little Bell button beside the subscribe button to turn on notifications that way, you’ll know the moment we post something: I’m Ethan James with Yanis carpenter, comm I’ll, see you next time.