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Lawsons are the largest independent timber, building & fencing merchants in London and the South East of England. Established in 1921 Lawsons now have a number of branches offering the complete range of building materials.

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Should I Use MDF or Plywood?

MDF and plywood are both affordable and strong timber sheet materials that are popular among builders, gardeners, DIYers, and crafters alike. The cost and versatility of these materials means that you can use them for practically everything, but it’s important to know the strengths and limitations of your materials. We’ve put together a quick guide to help you choose between plywood and MDF for your project to get the best outcome.

 

Pros and Cons of MDF

MDF is made by breaking down both hardwood and softwood particles, mixing them with wax and resin,  binding the mixture using pressure and heat. The result is a strong, solid, and uniform board with no voids, splinters, or weak points.

MDF is great if you want:

  • A very cheap material
  • A very smooth surface
  • Consistency
  • Uniformity all the way through the board – perfect for more complex shapes or decorative edges

However, you may want to reconsider MDF if you don’t want:

  • A material that soaks up water and other liquids and swells – this means painting it can be a challenge, even with good primer, and MDF does not stain well
  • A heavy board – the density makes MDF quite weighty

 

Pros and Cons of Plywood

Plywood is made of multiple layers of wood veneer. It comes in several trades – higher grades are more attractive and smoother, while lower grades are less attractive and are generally used for projects where the plywood will be hidden.

Plywood is an excellent material if you would like:

  • A somewhat natural wood look that you can stain, paint, or varnish
  • Strength
  • A material that is less susceptible to water damage
  • A material that can hold screws well

However, it does have a few disadvantages:

  • Plywood is more expensive than MDF – especially higher grades and hardwood species
  • You can see the layers on the edge – if you do not want to make this into a design feature, they will need to be finished with an iron-on edge or decorative mouldings
  • It is difficult to cut to be perfectly smooth
  • It is difficult to cut into detailed designs

So Which Should I Choose?

MDF is great for indoor use and more elaborate projects – for example, if you want to create a rococo style table with various decorations and flourishes, MDF is the best option for you. You won’t risk splinters or chipping, and the smooth surface is great for a consistent paint job.

Plywood is an excellent building material – it can handle being outdoors and can even be bent with the grain if you want something curved. It has even become quite a fashionable material, with designers showing off the layers and properties of ply, rather than trying to disguise it as solid wood.