Plywood vs. Melamine: Which to Choose?

Plywood vs. Melamine: Which to Choose?

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If you plan to build cabinets, furniture, floors, walls, roofs, and anything in between, it is crucial that you choose the best building material for the task at hand. Two very common building materials include plywood and melamine. Both are ideal building materials in their own rights, although they are extremely different.

Let’s figure out what both plywood and melamine are, what makes them similar and different, and which of the two you should use.

Plywood vs. Melamine: The Basics

Before we get into talking about the similarities and differences between plywood and melamine, let’s first figure out what both of them actually are.

What Is Plywood?

Plywood is a very specific type of engineered wood, and it is often seen as one of the very best types of engineered wood out there. Unlike solid lumber, plywood is composed of many components.  Specifically, it is made out of a combination of resin and either hardwood or softwood veneers. These wood strips are laid down side by side to form solid layers.

Several layers are placed over top of one another, with each layer being perpendicular to the last. Plywood is generally made out of between three and seven layers of veneer strips. These veneer layers are then all glued and pressed together to form a solid sheet.

There are many types and grades of plywood out there. You have A, B, C, and D, with A being the highest quality and D being the lowest quality. The higher the grade, the fewer knots and holes the plywood has, and the smoother it is.

You also have different types of plywood in terms of interior use, exterior use, marine-grade plywood, and more. Some are more durable and water-resistant than others. In general, plywood is quite strong, it can be moisture resistant, it holds onto screws well, is not overly heavy, and is fairly easy to work with.

Plywood is a versatile building material that can be used for both structural and non-structural purposes.

What Is Melamine?

Melamine can be confusing as far as building materials are concerned. Many sources claim that melamine is a type of engineered wood. This is 100% false. Although melamine can be formed into boards and used in place of engineered wood, it has absolutely nothing at all to do with wood.

What confuses people is the terminology and how people use the word. Yes, there are types of engineered wood, primarily particle board, which may be coated in a layer of melamine for added durability, fire resistance, and waterproofing. You can find 100% melamine boards out there, as well as engineered wood coated in this substance.

That said, what actually is melamine? Melamine is an organic compound with the scientific formula C₃H₆N₆. Melamine is an organic polymer, or in simplest terms, it is a type of plastic.

Dicyandiamide, hydrogen cyanide, or urea are broken down into cyanuric acid, which is mixed with chemicals, creates a reaction, and forms this plastic melamine substance. It’s often used for reusable plastic cutlery, plates, cups, toys, and more, and of course, can be formed into board-like building materials or used to coat other types of engineered wood, such as particle board.

Similarities of Plywood and Melamine

Seeing as one of these materials is wood and the other is plastic, the similarities they share are limited.

1. Both Can Be Used for Similar Purposes

A basic similarity here is that both can be used for a variety of purposes such as cabinetry, making furniture, and even for flooring, roofing, and walling. Plywood is the more versatile of the two, although they are both quite versatile.

2. Both Come In Various Sizes

Another basic similarity that both materials share is that the sheets can be purchased in a wide variety of sizes to meet your needs.

3. Both Are Relatively Easy to Work With

Another benefit that both materials share is that they are relatively easy to work with. Both materials can be worked on using relatively basic tools. That said, plywood is a bit less dense, and therefore slightly easier to work with when it comes to basic nails, hammers, and other such tools.

4. Both Can Contain Harmful Chemicals

Both melamine and plywood contain a variety of toxic chemicals that may be harmful if ingested or inhaled. This is especially the case when either of these materials is being cut apart, with the dust that is released being toxic in some cases.

5. Both Aren’t Ideal for Painting

Although both materials can technically be painted, they aren’t ideal for it. Plywood tends to be too rough to easily paint, and melamine needs to be treated and primed before it can be painted.

Differences Between Plywood and Melamine

Let’s now talk about the vast number of differences that there are between plywood and melamine.

1. One Is Wood, the Other Is Plastic

The most basic difference here is of course that plywood is wood, whereas melamine is plastic. They are just two completely different materials altogether.

2. Melamine Is Generally Used as a Coating

Although some boards can be made out of 100% melamine, it is more common that it is used as a coating for other types of engineered wood such as particle board. Plywood is of course a standalone type of building material.

3. Melamine Is 100% Waterproof

A big advantage of melamine is that it is 100% waterproof and extremely weather-resistant. There are some kinds of plywood that are extremely weather-resistant and water-resistant, and in some cases even waterproof, although it just doesn’t stack up to the waterproof nature of melamine.

4. Melamine Is Fire Retardant

Melamine also has special properties that make it extremely fire retardant and hard to set on fire, which certainly is not the case with plywood. Plywood burns very easily.

5. Melamine Comes in Many Colors

Melamine usually comes complete in many different print and color options that are totally finished and ready to use. This kind of selection is not something that you will find with plywood. Plywood generally all looks very similar.

6. Melamine Is Smoother

Melamine has a much smoother texture than plywood. It’s extremely smooth to the touch, and for this reason, many choose it over plywood for aesthetic purposes.

7. Plywood Has a Much More Natural Appearance

On the other hand, in plywood, you can still see natural wood grains, and many people prefer this natural appearance.

8. Plywood Is Stronger Than Melamine

Plywood is the much stronger of the two in terms of structural integrity and weight-bearing capabilities. You can’t really use a melamine board for anything structural.

9. Plywood Weighs Less Than Melamine

Although the difference is somewhat negligible, plywood does weigh slightly less than melamine.

10. Plywood Holds Onto Screws Better

Plywood really excels at holding onto screws and nails, whereas melamine does not. Melamine is actually rather poor at holding onto screws.

11. Melamine Is Easier to Saw

Plywood tends to splinter and fray as it is cut, whereas melamine is much easier to cut in smooth and straight lines.

12. Melamine Is Cheaper

High-quality plywood can cost a whole lot of money, whereas melamine is generally extremely cost-effective.

Which of the Two Should You Use?

If you are looking for something cheap, smooth, easy to work with, and available in many different colors, then melamine is the way to go. It also works well for areas that don’t have to be structurally sound necessarily, yet also require good waterproofing and fire retardant abilities.

On the other hand, if you need a material that is structurally sound, then it is plywood that you want. Plywood just has a much more natural appearance, it’s much more durable and long-lasting, and it is structurally sound too. Remember that you can also get certain types of plywood that are moisture resistant or in some cases even waterproof.


Melamine is a fine building material, but that said, if you need something to last, then it is plywood that you want to go with. However, both do have specific applications that they excel at.