MDF vs. Plywood

What's the Difference?

MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) and plywood are both popular choices for various woodworking projects, but they have distinct differences. MDF is made from wood fibers bonded together with resin, resulting in a smooth and uniform surface. It is highly versatile, easy to work with, and has excellent screw-holding capacity. On the other hand, plywood is made from thin layers of wood veneers glued together, providing strength and stability. It is known for its durability, resistance to warping, and ability to withstand heavy loads. While MDF is more affordable and offers a consistent finish, plywood is often preferred for applications that require structural integrity and moisture resistance. Ultimately, the choice between MDF and plywood depends on the specific project requirements and desired characteristics.


Photo by Pickawood on Unsplash
CompositionEngineered wood made from wood fibers and resinEngineered wood made from thin layers of wood veneer
StrengthLess strong compared to plywoodStronger and more rigid
WeightHeavier than plywoodLighter than MDF
CostGenerally cheaper than plywoodUsually more expensive than MDF
Water ResistanceNot suitable for high moisture areasMore resistant to water damage
Surface FinishSmooth and consistent surfaceGrain pattern visible on the surface
UsesFurniture, cabinetry, interior trimFurniture, construction, exterior applications
Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash

Further Detail


When it comes to choosing the right material for your woodworking projects, two popular options that often come up are Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) and Plywood. Both MDF and Plywood have their own unique characteristics and advantages, making them suitable for different applications. In this article, we will compare the attributes of MDF and Plywood to help you make an informed decision based on your specific needs and requirements.

Composition and Manufacturing

MDF is made from wood fibers that are combined with resin and compressed under high pressure and temperature. This process creates a dense and uniform board with no grain, knots, or voids. On the other hand, Plywood is made by gluing together multiple layers of thin wood veneers, with each layer being placed perpendicular to the previous one. This cross-grain construction gives Plywood its strength and stability.

Due to its manufacturing process, MDF has a consistent density throughout the board, making it easier to work with and cut. Plywood, on the other hand, has natural variations in density and strength depending on the quality of the wood used and the number of layers. This can affect its performance in certain applications.

Strength and Durability

When it comes to strength, Plywood generally has the advantage. The cross-grain construction of Plywood gives it excellent strength and resistance to warping or twisting. It can withstand heavy loads and is less prone to splitting or cracking compared to MDF. However, it is important to note that the strength of Plywood can vary depending on the quality and thickness of the veneers used.

MDF, on the other hand, is not as strong as Plywood. It is more susceptible to moisture damage and can swell or warp if exposed to excessive humidity or water. However, MDF is still a durable material when used in appropriate applications. It is less likely to split or crack compared to solid wood and can be a cost-effective option for projects that do not require high strength.

Appearance and Finish

When it comes to appearance, Plywood has a natural and rustic look due to its visible wood grain. This can be desirable for certain projects where a more organic or traditional aesthetic is desired. Plywood can be stained or painted to enhance its appearance, and the natural grain patterns can add character to the finished piece.

MDF, on the other hand, has a smooth and consistent surface with no visible grain. This makes it ideal for projects that require a painted or veneered finish. MDF takes paint exceptionally well and provides a uniform surface for a flawless finish. It is also less likely to show imperfections or knots compared to Plywood.

Workability and Versatility

Both MDF and Plywood are known for their workability, but they have different characteristics in this regard. MDF is easier to work with due to its consistent density and lack of voids or knots. It cuts cleanly and smoothly, making it suitable for intricate designs and detailed work. However, MDF is denser and heavier than Plywood, which can make it more challenging to handle and transport.

Plywood, on the other hand, is lighter and more flexible than MDF, making it easier to handle and maneuver. It can be easily cut, drilled, and shaped using standard woodworking tools. Plywood's strength and stability also make it suitable for structural applications where load-bearing capacity is required.

Cost and Availability

In terms of cost, MDF is generally more affordable than Plywood. MDF is made from waste wood fibers and is manufactured in large quantities, resulting in a lower price point. Plywood, on the other hand, can vary in price depending on the quality of the wood veneers used and the manufacturing process. Higher-grade Plywood can be more expensive than MDF.

Both MDF and Plywood are widely available in various thicknesses and sizes. They can be found at most home improvement stores and lumberyards. However, it is important to note that Plywood may have more options in terms of wood species and veneer finishes, allowing for greater customization.


Due to their different attributes, MDF and Plywood are suitable for different applications. MDF is commonly used for interior projects such as cabinetry, furniture, shelving, and decorative moldings. Its smooth surface and ability to take paint well make it an excellent choice for projects that require a flawless finish.

Plywood, on the other hand, is often used for structural applications such as subfloors, sheathing, and roofing. Its strength and stability make it ideal for projects that require load-bearing capacity. Plywood is also popular for exterior applications such as siding, fences, and outdoor furniture, as it has better resistance to moisture compared to MDF.


In conclusion, both MDF and Plywood have their own unique attributes and advantages. MDF is known for its consistent density, smooth surface, and excellent paintability, making it suitable for interior projects that require a flawless finish. Plywood, on the other hand, offers strength, stability, and a natural wood grain appearance, making it ideal for structural and exterior applications.

When choosing between MDF and Plywood, it is important to consider the specific requirements of your project, including strength, durability, appearance, workability, and budget. By understanding the attributes of each material, you can make an informed decision that will result in a successful and satisfying woodworking project.

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