MDF vs. Birch Plywood: Which to Choose?

MDF vs. Birch Plywood: Which to Choose?

Handyman's World is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

MDF and birch plywood are both fantastic building materials to consider. That said, they are not all the same things, and they have many big differences between them.

Let’s figure out what makes medium density fiberboard and birch plywood different, so you can make an informed decision between the two.

MDF and Birch Plywood: The Basics

Before we start talking about similarities and differences, let’s first figure out what both MDF and plywood are.

What Is MDF?

First we have MDF, which stands for medium density fiberboard. Medium density fiberboard is made by taking both softwood and hardwood and using a special machine to break them down into small fibers.

Those fibers are then mixed with resin and wax and are then pressed together using high amounts of heat two form solid panels.

MDF is generally used for indoor purposes, especially for things where minimal weight bearing capabilities are required. Although MDF is fairly dense and heavy, its durability is somewhat limited, which is also true in terms of waterproofing.

What Is Birch Plywood?

We then have birch plywood, which is a special type of plywood, which is engineered wood. Here, very thin layers or strips of the birchwood are taken, laid side by side to form a single layer, with multiple layers being put on top of each other.

Each layer of strips is perpendicular to the last, thus forming a so-called cross grain pattern for a great deal of flexibility, durability, weight bearing capabilities, and screw holding capabilities.

Birch plywood is made out of only birchwood and nothing else. Birch plywood does have a decent amount of water resistance, which means that it is ideal for both outdoor and indoor usage.

Similarities of MDF and Birch Plywood

When it comes down to it, there are very limited similarities between MDF and birch plywood, but let’s take a look nonetheless.

1. They’re Engineered Wood

The only real similarity between these two things is that both MDF and birch plywood are types of engineered wood. Real lumber is taken, broken down, and then reconstituted into panels.

2. Both Are Suitable for Indoor Use

The other thing similar here is that both birch plywood and MDF are suitable for indoor usage. Birch plywood is also suitable for outdoor usage, but MDF is not.

Differences Between MDF and Birch Plywood

Now that we know what makes Birch plywood and MDF similar, let’s figure out what makes them different.

1. Overall Strength & Durability

Birch plywood is absolutely the much stronger of these two building materials. It can bear a lot more weight and it can also handle heavier impacts. When compared to birch plywood, MDF is not very durable at all. MDF  is not really structural in nature either, whereas birch plywood can be.

2. Waterproofing

Another big difference is that birch plywood is fairly water-resistant. No, it is not 100% waterproof, but it is far more water resistant than MDF. MDF quickly absorbs water and will start to degrade and crumble.

That said, both plywood and MDF can be waterproofed to an extent.

3. Flexibility

Birch plywood is quite flexible. If there is too much weight on it, it can bend, and then spring back into place. MDF will just sag under plenty of weight and will most likely break. That said, with some work, it is possible to bend MDF too.

4. Density and Weight

What is interesting to note is that although birch plywood is much stronger, MDF is actually denser and heavier, which actually makes it harder to work with.

5. Cost

You can expect a high-quality piece of birch plywood to cost anywhere from two to five times as much as your average piece of MDF.

6. Appearance

Birch plywood does have a fairly natural look and it looks more or less like real wood, although there may be some knots in the surface. This means that sanding and painting can be a challenge. MDF on the other hand tends to be extremely smooth, so it’s easy to paint.

7. Workability

While MDF does create a lot of dust when cut, it is easy to cut straight, and to paint. Birch plywood is a little more difficult to cut without causing it to splinter.

MDF vs. Birch Plywood: Which Should You Use?

MDF is perfectly fine if you want to build some minor furniture indoors, or even things like cabinet shelves and doors. However, if you need something that is fairly water resistant, quite structural in nature, and looks really nice too, we do recommend going for the more expensive birch plywood. Generally speaking, plywood is just a better building material across the board.

Summary

Now that we know what the main similarities and differences between birch plywood and medium density fiberboard are, you can choose which one to use for specific projects.