Ply, MDF, or Particleboard? What to use when?

images_(7)When looking for engineered wood composite boards for any building project you will need something that is both affordable and suited to the type of project that you will be taking on.

Usually, you will be presented with 3 main options; plywood, participle board, or MDF – there is a distinct difference between the three so don’t just choose any one. In this article, I will explain the differences between the three, as well as the pros and cons of each type of board.

Participle board

Participle board is made from wood chips, shavings and sawdust that are tightly pressured together, along with a resin product, to form a solid wood sheet. Certain chemicals are added to this mixture as well to ensure that the sheets are fire resistant, water resistant, and insect proof and so on.


  • Affordable
  • Light-weight material
  • Great for self-assembly furniture
  • Holds screws well


  • Not very strong – cannot support extremely heavy loads
  • Not as eco-friendly as solid timber
  • Can be affected by moisture

Used for:

  • Cupboard carcasses
  • Floor and wall bases
  • Laminate and melamine covered boards



Plywood is made up of sheets of wood veneer that are bonded together into a solid piece. Plywood comes in different grades which are used for different purposes – plywood is graded by the type of wood, thickness, adhesives used, and manufacturing process. Unlike MDF and participle board, plywood still shows the wood grain looking more natural.

Plywood uses differ depending on the grade of the wood and can be used for anything including; home construction, grooved flooring, wall structures, cabinetry, wooden trinket boxes, curved wooden parts etc.


  • Plywood is usually stronger and more durable than other engineered wood, depending on grade
  • Available in different thicknesses
  • Less susceptible to moisture damage
  • Holds screws well
  • Easy to paint and sustain


  • Plywood is more costly than MDF or participle board
  • Edges need to be finished correctly otherwise layers show
  • Often splinters or rips when cutting
  • Difficult to cut


Medium-Density Fibreboard

MDF stands for medium-density fibreboard – an engineered wood composite made up of very small wood fibres. Wood fibres are combined with adhesive materials and heat to create a tightly bonded wood-board. MDF is denser than plywood and participle board creating a stronger building material.


  • Low cost material
  • No wood grain
  • Stronger than participle board
  • Easy to cut and router or shape; easy to create decorative edges
  • Allows for traditional woodworking techniques
  • No splinters
  • Smooth edges and cuts
  • Easy to paint


  • This is a dense and therefore very heavy material
  • It cannot be stained; must be painted


Final decision?

One cannot really say for sure which product is the better one as needs will be project specific. Your budget, moisture exposure, techniques that will be used and so on will all affect your decision.

Keep weight, material strength, function, clean cutting, desired finish (painted or wood-stained or raw), and possible exposure to moisture (if used in the kitchen or bathroom) in mind when making your decision.




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