Plywood vs MDF vs Particle Board

Plywood vs MDF vs Particle Board

The current trend in home and kitchen cabinet construction is the use of composite wood. This trend is not without merit. This type of wood is pocket-friendly, along with being of high quality.

So, What exactly is composite wood? 

It is a derived wooden product made by combining the fiber strands of different wood types. Asides from different wood types, this type of wood could also contain thermoplastics. An instance is WPC or wood-plastic composite wood.

Composite woods have a similar appearance. This explains why most people don’t know there are diverse types. The three main types of composite wood are plywood, MDF, and particle board. While these wood types are similar in appearance, they differ from each other.

In this article, we’d examine these three types of composite wood. We’d also examine quality and cost, Advantages, and disadvantages. So, keep reading as we provide you with this information. 


Differences Between Plywood vs MDF vs Particle Board

These materials differ in several ways, including content and structural properties. Let’s examine each type of composite wood in more detail;

Particle Board

What is Particleboard?


Particleboard is a type of composite wood made from several materials. These materials include; sawmill shavings, wood chips, resin, and sawdust. 

The process of making particleboard involves mixing all these materials into a liquid. There is also a mechanism that ensures the even spread of wood chips. Hence, it keeps the board weight minimal. 

After mixing and even spreading, heat introduction occurs. Heat pressing is the method used to combine these materials into a sheet. This pressing occurs several times. To ensure a tight bond between the makeup materials.

Wood engineers use chemicals to make this type of wood insect, water, and fireproof. The chemicals include wax, dyes, wetting agents, and release agents.

Types of Particle boards


There are different types of particle boards. The difference between them rests on the makeup material. The different types include;

Cement Bonded Particle Board


The bonding agent used here is cement. Thus, making this type of particle board resistant to rot. The cement also makes it moisture and fire-resistant.

Oriented Strand Board (OSB)


In this type of particleboard, the wood strand layers have a specific placement. And this makes them ideal for use in making floor bases and walls.

Veneered Particle Board


This type of particle board has an aesthetic appearance. Its appearance is due to the low-cost veneer attached to its top surface.

Melamine Particle Board


The melamine particle board is both durable and resistant to scratch. These features are due to the melamine placed on its surface.

Laminated Particle Board


Laminated particle boards are ideal for making wardrobes and shelves. They come with a thin laminated layer. This type of particle board has a pleasant appearance. This makes it ideal for building a modular kitchen.

Quality & Cost

Particle board costs range from $10 to $35 per sheet. As for quality, particle board is an important structural wood. Therefore, it is ideal for making furniture that would undergo assembly. However, it is important to note that this composite wood is not as durable as others.

Advantages of Particle Board

Particle board as a form of composite wood has some advantages over its counterparts. Here are some of these advantages.


Compared to other composite wood types, particle board is cost-effective. It is a low-cost composite wood that is budget-friendly.

Smooth Surface

Particle boards often have a smooth and flat surface. This surface makes the finished product appear beautiful and neat.

Easy to Handle

The light weight of this wood makes it easy to handle. This also makes furniture made from these boards easy to transport. Its light weight is due to the even spread of its component materials. Also, particle boards do not distort or dent easily, taking pressure off transporters.

Minimal Maintenance

Particle board, as a type of composite wood, is quite easy to maintain. This ease of maintenance is due to its smooth surface, which makes it easy to clean.


Composed of scraps obtained from other wood products, particle board is eco-friendly. Making this type of composite wood does not need extra tree felling.

Thermo-acoustic Insulation

This wood can shield sound. This is why it is ideal for use in making speakers. It also has use in the false ceiling often seen in theaters and auditoriums.

Disadvantages of Particle Board

Although budget-friendly, building with particle boards is not all rosy. Here are some disadvantages of using particleboard in construction.

Poor durability

This type of wood, due to its component materials, has low strength. And on exposure to heavy loads, it could fracture or break.


One of the possible resins used in making this board is urea-formaldehyde. It is a toxic resin that could make the particle board toxic.

Poor Water Resistance

Particle boards are susceptible to moisture damage. Expansion, warping, or discoloration on exposing this wood to excess moisture. In other words, particle boards have low water resistance.

Susceptible to Damage

This composite wood’s brittle nature makes it susceptible to damage. Also, against screws and nails, damage is inevitable.

MDF Wood

What is MDF Wood?

MDF is a composite wood made using wood fibers from both soft and hardwood. The fiber used in making Medium-Density Fiberboard (MDF) is very fine. This explains the distinct lack of wood grains, rings, or knots on its surface.

Exposure to wax, resin binder, high pressure, and heat fuses these particles. This results in the production of fiberboard that is strong and dense. Besides, improving the physical qualities of this fiberboard involves applying veneer sealant. This sealant makes MDF resistant to damage on exposure to moisture. Aside from veneer, MDF could also house materials like melamine, vinyl, and lacquer.

Types of MDF Wood

MDF wood comes in two basic types;

Fire Retardant


This MDF wood is used in places often exposed to high temperatures. This is why it is ideal for use in the kitchen.

Moisture Resistant


This is a type of MDF wood with a surface sealant like a veneer. MDF woods in this category are resistant to moisture. Thus, making them ideal for use in bathrooms and other wet areas.

Quality & Cost

Compared to particleboard, MDF is more expensive. But, it is worth the cost due to its high quality. Due to its fine fiber content, this type of wood does not have warps or twists. In other words, it comes use-ready without the need for further processing.

Advantages of MDF

Medium-density Fiberboard or MDF, is one of the best composite woods for construction. Here are some advantages of using MDF composite wood.

High Strength

Strength is one of the high points of MDF. This is especially true when compared to particle board wood. It also has high density due to its fine wood fiber makeup.

Smooth Surface

MDF wood has a surface free from rings and knots. In other words, it has a very smooth surface. This surface makes an amazing base for finishing and paint application.

Resistant to Warp and Cracks

Most composite woods are susceptible to warp and crack when the temperature fluctuates. But, this is not the case with MDF. With this composite wood, there is no risk of warping or cracking.

Ease of Customization

MDF is quite easy to customize. This ease is because of its consistency and structure. Also, this composite wood does not produce chipping and splinters during cutting.


Making this type of wood does not need extra tree felling. This is because its components are mainly wood residuals.

Disadvantages of MDF

MDF has a higher strength and density as opposed to particle boards. However, this density makes MDF difficult to fabricate. Here are some other disadvantages of using MDF composite wood.

Difficult to work with

Due to the high density of this material, it is heavy. Being heavy, working on this material alone is an uphill task

Susceptible to Water Damage

MDF is not water resistant. On exposure to high moisture, it swells as a result of soaking up water. But sealing this wood on all edges and sides using a waterproof finish helps with this problem.

Not Sturdy

When handled wrongly, it is quite easy for this material to suffer damage. Damage here usually appears in the form of sagging.


Just like the Particle board, MDF also contains formaldehyde. This means that inhaling dust from this composite wood is detrimental to health.


What is Plywood?

Manufactured through the process of cross-graining, plywood is very sturdy. This cross-graining process increases board strength. It also reduces shrinkage and expansion that degrades composite wood. Plywood comprises several wood veneer sheets. These veneer sheets become a solid piece through bonding and pressing.

It is important to note that, unlike other composites, plywood has grades. Several factors differentiate grades. These factors include the type of wood ply and the manufacturing process. Other factors include the thickness of the ply and the binding adhesive used. 

These grades have different purposes. For instance, Higher-grade plywood is ideal for cabinets and shelves. For the lower grades, they are best for subflooring. Other uses of plywood include cabinet doors, shutters, lawn chairs, tables, exterior walls, and stairs.

Types of Plywood

The different types of plywood include;



This type of plywood resists high heat and humidity. It also has immense material strength. Its strength is due to the several layers of glued birch or mahogany it contains. Other wood species used for making plywood include beech, douglas fir, and walnut.



Softwood plywood contains spruce, pine, and firs. They are pliable, lightweight, and easy to handle. This type of wood is ideal for making grooved floors.



Also called Cabinet grade plywood, this composite wood has an attractive outer layer. The beauty of its outer layer is due to its walnut or maple component. Also, it is easy to dye and draw on this type of wood.



Plywood in this category contains hardwood like walnut, oak, Birchwood, and maple. They often contain seven or more layers of wood. Thus making them sturdy and ideal for wall structures. They are also best for heavy-duty flooring.



This type of plywood commonly contains western larch or douglas fir. The wood used for making this plywood is durable. They also have high resistance to both pressure and heat. Marine plywood is ideal for use in docks and for making boats. In boats, it is the material of choice for hull construction.



This Plywood type is flexible. In other words, it can take different shapes and designs through bending. Woods used in this category are not hardwoods. The thickness of flexible wood varies greatly from 3mm to 16mm.



Tropical plywood contains wood that grows in the tropics. This includes trees like Ebony, rosewood, mahogany, and teak. This wood is soft and budget-friendly.

Quality & Cost

Of all the composites, plywood has the highest quality. It is also the most durable composite. Due to its different grades, this composite wood has a variety of uses. The cost per sheet of plywood ranges from $5 to $55, depending on grade.

Advantage of Plywood

Plywood is of high quality and arguably the best composite wood for construction and other purposes. Here are advantages of using plywood over both particleboard and MDF.

High Strength

Plywood is a very strong material. With this structural strength, it has a low probability of damage. This also means composite plywood has high durability. Another reason for its durability is the quality of the adhesive used.

Dimensional Stability

This wood does not suffer shrinkage and expansion due to fluctuations in temperature. This is due to its high dimensional stability.

Holds Screws and Nails

Unlike other composites, plywood has no issue holding nails and screws. This ability is due to the strength of its cross-grain pattern.

Less Susceptible to Water Damage

This is particularly true for marine plywood. It is a composite wood that resists water damage since it does not soak up water.

High Versatility In Application

Plywood is highly versatile in application. It is used both within and outside the home. It also has use both on land and in water.

Disadvantage of Plywood

Although quality is optimum in plywood as compared to other composite wood, there are still some demerits using this wood. Here are some disadvantages of using plywood in construction.


Although it is of high quality, it is not pocket friendly. It is expensive to get this plywood type.

Difficult to Work with

Molding or cutting plywood is a difficult task. The reason is due to its high strength and density of components.

Requires Post-Process Finishing

Without the right finishing, layered edges of plywood components would show. And this would affect the aesthetic quality of the wood. This is why this composite would require a veneer or laminate finish.

Particle Board, MDF & Plywood Grades


Below is a table showing the grades and what they signify

The major difference between plywood, particleboard, and MDF is the presence of knot holes and voids. Knot holes and voids are defects on the wood surface. Their quantity determines the grade of the plywood. It also determines the quantity of repair needed to make the plywood surface optimal. 

Are you looking for the grade of composite wood? Check the stamp from the APA The Engineered Wood Association. What you would find would be letters. Usually, A, B, C, or D, are the letters found on the wood and represent their grade.




Knots, small patches, and burls


Pin knots, burls, slight color streaks, small patches


Slight discoloration, sound knots, small patches


Defects of high magnitude, reducing the wood value


This means Good 1 Side


What is the Suitable Material for Modular Kitchen Cabinets?

All three materials wood types mentioned above, are good for making modular kitchen cabinets. This is due to their positive qualities. These qualities include; resistance to moisture, durability, and cost-effectiveness. 

However, if you are to pick just one, then plywood is best. This is due to its high quality, versatility, and other benefits discussed in this article. Also, plywood is very durable, often standing the test of time. 

Which to Choose – Plywood or MDF or Particle Board for Wardrobes?

The right composite to choose is plywood when making a wardrobe. The reason is its durability, an important factor in wardrobe making. However, this does not mean you cannot use particleboard and MDF for wardrobe making. They could also serve but would not last as long as plywood.

What’s The Best Wood Solution?

There is no best solution. The reason is that the 3 wood types have their strengths and weaknesses. The best wood solution is dependent on what you are making. It also depends on the condition or situation of use.


Composite wood is the current trend in home and kitchen construction. The three main types of composite wood are: MDF, plywood, and particleboard. These woods have their merits and demerits. The type you choose for your project is dependent on several factors. These factors include project requirements and environmental conditions. 

However, when it comes to strength, plywood is the strongest. This is due to the type of wood and adhesive used in making it.

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