31st Oct 2023 -

The choice between medium-density fibreboard (MDF) and plywood sheets can significantly impact the outcome of your projects. Both materials are strong and durable. However, understanding their unique characteristics is pivotal for making informed decisions.

This guide delves into the nuances of MDF vs plywood, unravelling their distinct performances and unveiling the ideal applications for each.

Pros and cons of MDF and plywood

Deciding to opt for MDF or plywood can place most builders and architects at a crossroads. Delve into the intricacies of each as we unveil the distinctive pros and cons that shape these materials. 

MDF advantages

  • Smooth surface: An MDF board has a smooth and uniform surface, making it ideal for applications where a polished finish is essential, such as an interior door, cabinet and furniture making.
  • Versatility: Because MDF is highly versatile, you can easily cut to size MDF and it can easily be shaped. This is one of the key MDF advantages because it allows you to create intricate designs. 
  • Cost-effective: Generally, MDF tends to be more affordable than plywood. The MDF cost makes it an attractive option for jobs with tight budgets.
  • No grain pattern: MDF lacks the grain pattern found in natural wood. As a result, it provides a consistent appearance across the entire surface.

MDF disadvantages

  • Susceptible to moisture: Poor MDF moisture-resistant properties mean it can swell or warp when exposed to water. This limits its use in areas prone to high humidity or moisture.
  • Not structural: MDF lacks the structural strength of plywood. Therefore, it is not strong enough to be considered for load-bearing applications.

Plywood advantages

  • Strength and stability: Plywood is known for its strength and stability, making it suitable for structural applications. It can bear heavy loads and is often used for plywood flooring and roofing.
  • Moisture resistance: Overall, plywood has good moisture resistance, especially marine plywood. It can withstand exposure to water better than MDF. This makes it suitable for outdoor jobs and high moisture and humidity areas.
  • Variety of grades and thicknesses: It comes in various grade and plywood thickness options, allowing for flexibility in choosing the right type for specific projects.
  • Natural wood appearance: Plywood retains the natural wood grain pattern, providing an aesthetic appeal that some projects such as a floor may require.

Plywood disadvantages

  • Cost: Despite the many positive properties of plywood, it can be more expensive than MDF. Your project budget will be greatly affected by the plywood cost.
  • Surface imperfections: Lower-grade plywood may have voids and imperfections in the layers, affecting the appearance and finish.
  • Heavier than MDF: While plywood is lighter than solid wood, it is generally heavier than MDF. This can influence handling and transportation.

Common examples of MDF and plywood in construction

The choice of materials plays a pivotal role in determining longevity, functionality, and aesthetic appeal. Based on the above advantages and disadvantages, delve into common applications of MDF and plywood. 


  • Cabinetry: MDF is often used for kitchen and bathroom cabinets due to its smooth surface and ability to take paint or veneer well.
  • Furniture construction: It is commonly used for crafting furniture pieces such as shelves, tables, and dressers.
  • Interior doors: MDF is used for interior doors because of its stability and smooth surface, making it easy to paint.
  • Moulding and trim: Overall, MDF is a popular choice for baseboards, crown moulding, and other decorative trim elements.
  • Wainscoting and panelling: Panels are used for wainscoting and MDF panelling for walls to add a decorative touch. 


  • Sheathing: Plywood is commonly used to install sheathing for exterior walls and roofs in residential and commercial construction.
  • Subflooring: Generally, plywood sheets serve as a stable and durable subfloor material for various types of flooring.
  • Concrete forms: Plywood is used to create moulds for pouring concrete, particularly in construction projects involving foundations and walls.
  • Cabinetry and furniture: Thick hardwood veneer plywood is often used in the construction of high-quality cabinets and furniture.
  • Boat building: Waterproof plywood sheets, such as marine plywood, are designed to resist moisture. It is used in boat construction for its durability and water-resistant properties.
  • Exterior doors: Plywood is used for exterior doors, especially in budget-friendly options, or as a base material for solid wood doors.

How to finish or veneer plywood and MDF

While applying a finish involves a series of steps common to both materials, the ease of veneer application can vary. Plywood offers a smoother canvas for veneering. However, MDF demands meticulous preparation to ensure a seamless bond with veneers. Below, we provide insights into the distinctive processes for plywood and MDF.

Finish application

Plywood: Applying finish to plywood sheets is generally straightforward. Plywood's natural wood grain allows finishes like polyurethane, varnish, or lacquer to adhere well and create a smooth, attractive surface. The process involves sanding, sealing, staining, and applying thin coats of finish with sanding between layers.

MDF: While MDF is smooth and uniform, its edges are more porous, requiring additional attention during the finishing process. Sealing the edges and applying primer are crucial steps. MDF takes paint well, making it suitable for a painted finish. The application process involves priming, painting, and applying multiple thin coats of finish.

Veneer application

Plywood: Veneering plywood is generally easier because plywood naturally has a wood grain that the veneer can adhere to. Applying veneer involves using adhesive to bond a thin layer of wood to the plywood surface. The result is a surface that mimics solid wood.

MDF: Veneering MDF sheets can be a bit more challenging. While MDF is smooth, it lacks a natural wood grain, making the bonding process a bit different. Proper surface preparation, such as using an MDF primer, is crucial to ensure a strong bond between the veneer and the MDF. 

Is MDF more difficult to repair than plywood?

Both MDF and plywood have their pros and cons when it comes to repairs. MDF is smoother than plywood, which can make it a bit more challenging to repair. Its uniform composition means that repairing a damaged area might involve filling, sanding, and painting to achieve a seamless finish. 

On the other hand, plywood consists of layers of wood veneer. Repairing it might involve filling gaps or cracks, sanding, and possibly matching the finish. Plywood's layered structure can make certain repairs easier because you can work with individual layers.

Below are some practical tips on how to repair MDF and plywood.

Repairing MDF

Filler material - Use a high-quality wood filler or epoxy filler to fill any dents, scratches, or gouges in the MDF.
 - Make sure to choose a filler that dries hard and can be sanded smooth.
Sanding - Once the filler is dry, sand the repaired area with fine-grit sandpaper to achieve a smooth finish.
 - Use a block or sanding tool to ensure an even surface.
Priming - Apply a primer to the repaired area before painting. This helps the paint adhere better and provides a consistent finish.
Painting - Use paint that matches the colour of the existing MDF. Acrylic or latex paints work well.
 - Apply multiple thin coats, allowing each coat to dry before applying the next.

Repairing plywood

Wood filler - For small cracks or holes, use a wood filler that matches the colour of the plywood.
 - Be sure to apply the filler with a putty knife and level it with the surface.
Veneer patch - With damaged veneer, consider using a veneer patch. Cut the patch to fit the damaged area, glue it in place, and then sand it smooth.
Sanding - Sand the repaired area to ensure a flush and smooth surface. Start with a coarse grit and progress to finer grits for a polished finish.
Staining or painting - If you have used wood filler, you may need to stain or paint the repaired area to match the rest of the plywood.
 - For larger repairs, consider refinishing the entire surface for a uniform look.

What is the best option for acoustic performance?

When it comes to acoustic performance, MDF sheets are often considered a better option than plywood. This is primarily due to the dense and uniform composition of MDF, which helps it absorb sound more effectively. Here is why MDF is often preferred for acoustic applications.

1. Density

MDF has a higher density compared to plywood. The dense composition of MDF makes it more effective at reducing sound transmission and minimising vibrations.

2. Homogeneous structure

It is made from wood fibres and resin, pressed together under high pressure. This results in a homogeneous structure without voids or gaps. As a result, it provides consistent acoustic properties across the entire panel.

3. Smooth surface

MDF typically has a smoother and more even surface than plywood. This smooth surface allows for better application of finishes, including acoustic treatments such as fabric coverings or paints designed for sound absorption.

4. Less resonance

With its layered structure, plywood may have more resonant frequencies that can affect acoustic performance. MDF's uniform density minimises such resonances, contributing to better sound absorption.

Despite this, the actual performance also depends on the specific application and the MDF thickness. For high-performance acoustic panels or treatments, MDF is often a preferred choice.

However, in some cases, combining layers of different materials, including plywood, may be used to achieve specific acoustic goals.

Plywood and MDF materials at competitive trade prices

Elevate your construction projects with top-notch MDF and plywood sheet materials. Our extensive selection includes versatile and reliable options for diverse applications. Whether you are crafting custom furniture or tackling structural projects, our MDF and plywood materials boast exceptional quality and durability. Explore the possibilities of these construction essentials and unlock the potential of your projects.

Maximise your savings and streamline your procurement process by opening a trade account with us. As your trusted partner in the construction industry, we offer exclusive benefits for trade accounts, including competitive trade pricing, fast UK delivery and personalised one-on-one support.

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