MDF vs. Marine Plywood: Which to Choose?

MDF vs. Marine Plywood: Which to Choose?

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If you are planning on building something that needs to be solid in nature, both MDF and marine plywood are decent options to consider. That said, MDF and marine plywood are not at all the same things.

Let’s figure out what makes them similar and different, and which of these two building materials you should be using for specific situations.

MDF and Marine Plywood: The Basics

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

What Is MDF?

MDF stands for medium density fiberboard. Medium density fiberboard is a special type of engineered wood that is created by breaking down either softwood or hardwood into wooden fibers.

These fibers are then combined with a resin binder and wax, and then formed into panels by applying pressure and high levels of heat.

MDF is a very common and affordable building material, especially for indoor usage. It is somewhat structural in nature and also generally denser than plywood.

What Is Marine Plywood?

We then have marine plywood, which is a special type of plywood, which is also a type of engineered wood product. Here, wood veneers, or very thin wooden strips are laid side by side to form a single layer. There are then anywhere between three and seven layers created, with each layer having the strips facing perpendicular to the last layer.

This creates a so-called across grain pattern that allows her great strength, durability, flexibility, and screw holding capabilities. Marine plywood is very special due to the fact that it has special exterior glues and an improved core, which are both designed to help resist moisture absorption and rotting. Marine plywood is extremely strong and virtually 100% waterproof.

Similarities of MDF and Marine Plywood

Now that we know what both MDF and marine plywood are, let’s figure out what makes them similar.

1. They’re Engineered Wood

One basic similarity between both of these building materials is that they are both types of engineered wood. This means that real wood has been taken, broken down, and then reconstituted into panels, albeit in fairly different ways.

2. They’re Common and Affordable

Plywood is known for being a somewhat affordable building material, especially when compared to solid lumber. On that note, MDF is one of the most affordable building materials out there. No, these two things don’t cost the same amount, although both are affordable.

3. They’re Both Fairly Durable

Although there are differences in durability between the two, both can be fairly structural in nature and handle a good amount of weight.

Differences Between MDF and Marine Plywood

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

1. Overall Durability

While MDF does have a decent amount of durability, and although it is denser than plywood, it is not nearly as durable.

Marine plywood has that special cross grain construction that allows for a great deal of flex and weight bearing capabilities.

Your average piece of marine plywood can hold a lot more weight and take much more impact than MDF. When compared to marine plywood, MDF is not very durable at all.

2. Waterproofing

One of the main benefits of marine plywood is of course that it is virtually 100% waterproof. This is not something that can be said for medium-density fiberboard, which really isn’t water resistant at all. Marine plywood is great to use outdoors, whereas MDF is not.

On that note, marine plywood is not going to absorb water, and therefore won’t shrink, crack, or crumble due to water absorption, which is not at all the case for MDF.

3. Workability

There are some differences in workability to consider here. On one hand, MDF is generally easier to cut in straight lines than plywood is. However, MDF creates a lot of dust when cut, and there’s always a risk that you might crack it.

That said, plywood is much better at holding onto nails and screws than MDF, which really doesn’t do a good job at holding onto screws at all. What does need to be said however is that for decorative purposes, MDF is a bit easier to sand and paint than marine plywood is.

4. Usage

Another big difference here is that marine-grade plywood can be used for virtually anything, both indoors and outdoors. On the other hand, MDF is generally only ideal for indoor usage, especially when there is not much weight that needs to be held up. MDF is just not nearly as versatile as marine plywood.

5. Cost

You can expect your average piece of marine-grade plywood to cost anywhere between two to four times as much as your average piece of MDF.

MDF vs. Marine Plywood: Which Should You Use?

When it comes down to it, if you are looking for durability, longevity, and waterproofing, it’s always marine plywood that you want to use. This is especially the case for any outdoor purposes.

However, if you need something cheap and you don’t need it to be able to bear a lot of weight, and you will be using it indoors, then MDF is a fine option to consider.


Now that you know what the differences between MDF and marine plywood are, you can make an informed decision between the two.