Desktop Dilemma: Plywood vs. MDF – Which Is the Better One?
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Desktop Dilemma: Plywood vs. MDF – Which Is the Better One?

|Jun 3, 2024
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It’s important to carefully consider the material your desk is made from. After all, you’ll likely spend several hours at your workstation, so ensuring that your desktop is durable is crucial. In the battle between plywood vs. MDF, who will win?

Although they may seem alike, these materials are different, each with its own unique properties.

Plywood and MDF are commonly used in tabletop construction, and each has its own pros and cons. To determine which one would serve you better, we’ll talk about each before putting them side by side to help you make an informed buying decision.

Let’s get started!

Why MDF or Plywood?

The truth is that although everyone loves a solid wooden tabletop, it’s not an option for many people.

That’s because of the high price point. Wooden desks typically require more time and skill to produce, which is why you can expect to pay more for them.

Fortunately, MDF and plywood are two great alternatives that offer a comparable finish without the hefty price tag. Still, many ask the question, “Is MDF better than plywood?”

Why MDF or Plywood?

What Is Plywood?

Before we answer that question, let’s first look at each material, starting with plywood.

Plywood is a type of manufactured material that is made by gluing layers of wood veneer together. It is produced using a cross-graining technique that makes it rigid and long-lasting.

The material has a number of applications. It is a great wood for desktop manufacturing and can be used to produce other kinds of furniture. Plywood is also used in construction, for flooring, and to create cabinets.

Many different types of wood can be used to make plywood, including hard and soft woods. Among the most common are the following:

  • Cedar
  • Pine
  • Birch
  • Maple
  • Oak

What Is Plywood?

The Different Grades and Types of Plywood Available

Plywood is available in a number of different grades and types. This is because different wood and manufacturing processes are used. Each one has its place and can be used for various applications. Let’s take a look at some of the most common types:

Structural Plywood

Structural plywood is generally used in construction. Flooring, roofing, and wall sheathing are common applications of this material. Thicker plies are used to produce it, and different grades are available, depending on how the plywood performs under a load.

Hardwood Plywood

As the name suggests, this type of plywood is manufactured by gluing together pieces of hardwood. This makes it stronger and more resilient, making it perfect for furniture, architectural millwork, and more.

Softwood Plywood

On the other hand, plywood that comprises layers of softwoods such as pine, fir, or cedar can be utilized for DIY projects and other applications where rigidity is not so important. This type of plywood is not typically used to build your own desk, as it lacks the strength that is needed for tabletops.

Marine Plywood

Marine plywood is designed for environments where the wood would be exposed to water. It is made from waterproof adhesives and is resistant to the growth of dangerous black mold on wood and delamination.

Exterior Plywood

Since some types of plywood are used in construction, they are treated to resist the elements before being used in exterior parts of a building. Exterior plywood is typically used for siding and decking.

Interior Plywood

There are various grades of interior plywood available. This type is typically utilized in the construction of cabinets, decorative paneling, and furniture.

The Different Grades and Types of Plywood Available

The Advantages Plywood Offers

Plywood is a widely used material because of the benefits it offers. To help you answer the question, “Is MDF better than plywood?” let’s look at these advantages:

It’s versatile. As we have just seen, plywood is available in a number of types and grades, which means that it can be used for a number of different applications.

It’s strong and durable. Because of the technique used to produce plywood, it offers great strength and rigidity, which can be great if you’re considering a standing desk with a plywood tabletop.

It’s affordable. If you’re hoping to get a similar finish to solid wood but don’t want to pay the hefty price tag, then plywood is a great alternative.

It resists warping. Unlike solid wood, which may warp when exposed to changes in temperature, plywood retains its shape.

The Advantages Plywood Offers

What Is MDF? 

Now that you know all about plywood, let’s talk about another commonly used wood alternative: MDF.

Medium-density fiberboard, or MDF, is an engineered material. To produce it, wood fibers are broken down and combined with resin and wax and bound together at high pressures and temperatures.

The result is a smooth-surfaced, uniform, dense board that can be used for a number of applications.

MDF is widely recognized for its versatility. Like plywood, it is available in various grades. It can be painted to improve the look and feel. Because it is made from wood fibers instead of solid wood, it is less likely to split, warp, or break. Its composition also makes it easier to work with than solid wood.

This material is typically used to make furniture, cabinets, and more. However, it’s important to note that MDF is not used for external applications where it can be exposed to moisture, as it has a tendency to swell when wet.

The Advantages of MDF

Medium-density fiberboard offers a number of benefits:

  • It’s uniform. One of the reasons for choosing a desk made from MDF is its uniformity. This material is consistent in density and composition, which offers a more predictable final look.
  • It’s versatile. Like plywood, MDF can be used for a number of applications. Decorative paneling, molding, shelves, furniture, cabinets, and more can be made using this wood product.
  • It’s easy to work with. Medium-density fiberboard can be machined and shaped quite easily using various tools. This can be beneficial if you are looking for a desk with a unique design or pattern.
  • It offers a great finish. MDF can be smoothed to produce a flawless finish.
  • What Is MDF? 

MDF vs. Plywood: A Comparison

There’s no doubt that both wood products are great alternatives to solid wood. However, it’s important to remember that they are not the same. Here are the differences between MDF vs. particle board:

Strength and Durability

When choosing the best home office desk, it’s important to think about strength and durability. Ideally, you want your work table to stand the test of time, so it’s important to choose carefully. Where strength is concerned, plywood is definitely the winner. MDF is typically softer, and under pressure, it tends to split or sag.

If you’re planning on storing equipment and supplies on your desk, we recommend going for plywood, as it has better load-bearing capabilities. Moreover, this material can be used to create curves and bends without losing its rigidity.

MDF vs. Plywood: Weight

Weight is another factor to consider. While a heavy desk might be great for many applications, if you are purchasing a standing desk, you’ll want something more lightweight.

Because it contains resin and wax, MDF is heavier than plywood. This may make the latter a more preferable material for tabletop construction.

MDF vs. Plywood: Weight

Aesthetics

Looks are important, and each material offers its own unique aesthetic. If you prefer a painted finish, then we recommend that you go with MDF, as it offers a clean, smooth surface, and the product itself takes well to paint.

Plywood, on the other hand, takes stains well. It can also be painted, so think about the look you want when deciding on a material for your desk.

We also need to mention here that plywood looks a lot more like solid wood than MDF since it is produced using layers of veneer, while particle board is created using fibers. If you want your desk to look like solid wood, then we recommend going with plywood.

Moisture Resistance

While it may not seem as important to you, choosing a wood product that is resistant to moisture is crucial. That’s because accidents can happen, and when you spill liquids onto your workstation, it helps to know that your desktop won’t start to swell. When it comes to moisture resistance, plywood typically outperforms MDF. Although moisture can harm both materials, plywood is less likely to warp, expand, or delaminate when exposed to excessive humidity or moisture. This is because plywood has some natural moisture resistance, as it is constructed of thin layers of wood veneer that are glued together.

However, MDF is created by compressing wood fibers with wax and adhesives under high heat and pressure. It is more consistent and denser than plywood, but it is also more prone to absorbing moisture, which, over time, can lead to swelling and damage.

Moisture Resistance

MDF vs. Plywood: Cost Differences

For many people, cost is one of the most important factors. However, we must note here that it should never be the only thing you consider when choosing a new work desk. Quality, durability, weight, craftsmanship, and more are also crucial.

Ideally, you should go for a material that offers the best value for money. That product is plywood. Although it is more expensive than MDF, the benefits it offers will ensure that your desk lasts a long time, saving you money in the long run.

Application and Use Cases

The last factor we will look at is the application and use cases for both materials. Because of the variations in composition and production, these wood products have different applications.

MDF offers a smoother end result and is generally easier to work with, making it best suited for interior projects, such as cabinetry, decorative paneling, shelves, and furniture. Plywood, on the other hand, is more rigid and durable, making it suitable for construction projects, indoor applications, siding, decking, roofing, furniture, and more.

This wood product can also be used for building cabinets, shelves, and decorative paneling. Both materials are used in the production of desktops.

Overall, we recommend plywood for your desktop. However, the option you choose will depend on your own personal preferences and requirements.

Application and Use Cases

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is MDF heavier than plywood?

Yes, because MDF has a higher density than plywood, it is usually heavier. Plywood is composed of thin layers of wood veneer bonded together. MDF, on the other hand, contains compressed wood fibers, wax, and resin, which makes it denser and heavier.

2. Which wood product would be best for a standing desk?

Standing desks can be raised and lowered to support sitting and standing. To facilitate this movement, the tabletop itself needs to be as light as possible while still providing rigidity. Because of this, plywood is generally the better option, as it is more lightweight, allowing you to raise and lower the desk with ease.

3. Is MDF or plywood more waterproof?

If you are looking for a material that holds up well when exposed to moisture, then plywood is definitely the way to go. Unfortunately, medium-density fiberboard swells when it comes into contact with water, resulting in a change in shape and rigidity.

4. Which material resists wood mites better?

Wood mites can pose a considerable problem for furniture owners. While both MDF and plywood are more resistant to these pests than solid wood, plywood offers a slight advantage because of its layered construction.

Frequently Asked Questions

Final Thoughts

If you are looking for a mid-century modern desk or a standing desk for your home office setup but cannot afford solid wood, MDF and plywood are two great options. These manufactured materials offer a similar finish at a more affordable price.

However, as we have seen, they are very different and are produced using different techniques.

When choosing between plywood vs. MDF, it’s important to take note of your personal preferences. Both wood products offer their own pros and cons, and understanding what these materials are and how they can benefit you is important for making an informed decision.

Need more inspiration for your office? Check out these cubicle décor ideas!

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