Solid wood is sturdy, beautiful, heavy and durable, but precisely because of those qualities, it’s usually quite expensive. There are two common and widely available compromises to natural wood in the form of plywood and MDF (medium-density plywood), both of which are used to make furniture and decoration.

They are not as resilient or hardy as natural wood, but make up for that by being cheaper and quite versatile. But if you have to choose between MDF or plywood, which one is the best? Is there even a big difference to notice?

Well, turns out there is. Here’s what you need to know!

“Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me. – Carol Burnett

Which one is cheaper?

The price is usually the most important bit for homeowners who are working on a tight budget. If price is your concern above all else, MDF is often the cheaper option.

Keep in mind both MDF and plywood have variations of thickness and brand, so prices can be interchangeable in some cases. But overall, MDF tends to be cheaper.

Which one looks better?

This one is a bit subjective to taste, so let’s be a little more specific: if you’re looking for the one that looks more like real wood, then plywood looks better.

MDF is made of pressed wood fibers, and it looks just like it sounds – which is not to say it looks bad at all. It’s light and gets the job done, it just doesn’t look like real wood if that’s what you’re looking for. That’s not really a problem though, as stated before, it’s just a matter of preference.

Which one is more resistant?

If you want furniture that can withstand more weight, then plywood is the right choice. 

Unfortunately MDF loses this battle, and anyone who’s ever owned MDF furniture for a while will know why. Because it’s lighter and softer, MDF doesn’t deal well when trying to support heavy objects and tends to bend, sag and split over time. Of course different thickness is a factor, but especially if you find extremely cheap MDF furniture, you should expect it to be brittle. 

Of course this can be prevented entirely by simply avoiding any strain on your MDF furniture – don’t concentrate too much weight on a single area, don’t drag it around, and don’t let it get wet.

But, long story short, if you want more resistance and durability overall, then go for plywood – which is also the best choice for outdoor projects, since MDF can easily soak up water.

Which one is lighter?

Plywood is significantly lighter than MDF. Despite being more brittle in comparison to plywood, MDF is actually way heavier, which can be troublesome when moving furniture around.

Which one is more malleable?

If you plan on cutting the furniture to mold it specifically to a room, MDF is a lot easier to cut. 

MDF is often used for custom furniture since it cuts easily even along the edges to make for curves and very specific cuts. Plywood in comparison is definitely not made for customizing like this, it’s much harder and difficult to cut.

However, a word of warning: because it’s softer, MDF doesn’t anchor screws that well. If anchored badly or pressured too hard, the screws will loosen and compromise the integrity of your furniture. Assuming your project needs screws and nails, then plywood is much better for that.

Which one is easier to paint?

While some might prefer the natural look of plywood and MDF, some might prefer painting their furniture for an entirely different look. In that case, which one is better for painting?

The answer would be MDF. With a nice coat of primer applied before painting, the final look will be very solid. Plywood can take paint well enough, but because it looks closer to natural wood, it’s usually better to stain it instead.

Conclusion

From all those questions answered, I’m sure you can tell there isn’t a single obvious winner here. Both plywood and MDF have pros and cons and either of them can be used effectively depending on what kind of project you’re working on, be it a simple coat rack or a big closet.

But now that you know exactly what their qualities are, you can decide for yourself which one is best for you!

Need more help with assembling some furniture – MDF or plywood? Talk to a professional handyman today or a local carpenter and get free quotes in your area!


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