Plywood vs. Fiberboard: Which to Choose?

Plywood vs. Fiberboard: Which to Choose?

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If you are planning on building something in your home, then you have some options to consider in terms of building materials. The two construction materials that we want to examine today are plywood and fiberboard. Although both are types of engineered wood, they really don’t share too many similarities. Let’s figure out what both fiberboard and plywood are, what makes them similar and different, and what both are best used for.

Plywood and Fiberboard: The Basics

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

What Is Plywood?

First, we have plywood, which is a specific type of engineered wood product. This means that while it does have components that are real wood, it’s not solid lumber. Plywood can be made using either softwood or hardwood veneers, which are long and thin strips of wood.

These are laid side by side to form a layer. There are then anywhere from three to seven layers made for an average piece of plywood. Each layer has the strips facing perpendicular to the last, which creates what is known as a cross-grain pattern. This allows the plywood to hold onto screws very well, be very durable, and be impact resistant too.

These layers are then glued and pressed together using great amounts of heat and pressure. Plywood comes in many different grades and ratings and is commonly used for floor underlayment, sub-roofing, sheathing, walling, furniture, cabinetry, sheds, as well as many other applications.

What Is Fiberboard?

Fiberboard is another specific type of engineered wood. Fiberboard is made by taking exploded wood fibers, or in simplest terms, what essentially amounts to sawdust, mixing them with resin and adhesives, and using pressure and heat to form them into solid sheets.

There are two different types of fiberboard, these being MDF or medium-density fiberboard, as well as HDF or high-density fiberboard, and as you can tell, one is a bit denser and stronger than the other.

That said, although fiberboard can come in many ratings, particularly in terms of interior and exterior usage, it’s not the most durable product out there. Fiberboard is often used to make light furniture, shelves, cabinets, and light backings for larger pieces of furniture.

Similarities of Plywood and Fiberboard

Now that we know what both plywood and fiberboard are, let’s figure out what makes them similar to one another. As you are about to see, there really aren’t many similarities here at all.

1. They’re Both Engineered Wood

One shared similarity, the most basic one, is that they are both types of engineered wood. This means that real wooden components, whether wood fibers or whole wood veneers are used to create a larger and solid sheet. Yes, the process in which they are made is a bit different, but both are still engineered wood.

2. Both Come in Interior and Exterior Grades

The other thing worth noting here is that plywood and fiberboard both come in different grades. For instance, plywood can have grades A, B, C, and D, and can also have an X at the end, which means it is rated for exterior use. With fiberboard, it can be MDF or HDF, and particularly with HDF, can also be rated for outdoor use.

Differences Between Plywood and Fiberboard

Now that we know what makes plywood and fiberboard similar, let’s figure out what makes them different from one another.

1. The Construction Process

Plywood is made by gluing and pressing together wooden veneers or long strips of wood in a perpendicular manner. Alternatively, fiberboard is made with exploded wood fibers, which are essentially sawdust.

2. Cost

Another huge difference between these two types of engineered wood is that plywood is generally much more expensive than fiberboard. It can be up to three or four times more expensive than MDF, and up to twice as expensive as HDF. For this reason, many people choose fiberboard over plywood, simply because it is the more cost-effective of the two.

3. Durability

One of the biggest benefits that you get with plywood is that it is just much more durable and stronger than fiberboard, and this is all thanks to those wooden veneers creating a cross-grain pattern. Plywood, even the lower grades, tends to have a good deal of impact resistance, durability, and weight-bearing capabilities. While most types of plywood can certainly be used for weight-bearing and structural applications, fiberboard usually cannot.

4. Moisture Resistance

Yes, you can find both plywood and fiberboard that are rated for exterior use, particularly in terms of moisture and weather resistance. However, due to the construction method and quality of the materials used, plywood, in general, does tend to resist water better than fiberboard, especially the higher grades of plywood. Even exterior types of fiberboard will only be able to stand up to moisture for so long.

5. Appearance

Unless you go for the highest quality of plywood, it usually won’t look all that nice, as it often has many knots and defects. Therefore, using anything but the best plywood for aesthetic purposes is not recommended. Plywood can also be hard to paint or stain properly. However, fiberboard tends to be a bit smoother and nicer looking, as well as being easier to paint and stain.

6. Workability

Plywood is not the easiest to cut without splintering or cracking due to that cross-grain construction. Fiberboard on the other hand tends to allow for much smoother and cleaner cuts to be made.

Plywood vs. Fiberboard: Which Should You Use?

If you are building light furniture or cabinets, and you need something cost-effective and aesthetically pleasing, fiberboard is the better option. However, if we are talking about exterior use, strength, and moisture resistance, plywood is always going to be the better option of the two.


Now that you know what makes plywood and fiberboard similar and different, you can choose the best one for your specific application.