Whether you are building a house, a shed, a garage, a birdhouse, a patio deck, a set of stairs, or anything in between, one of the materials that you’re always going to need is wood. Now, of course solid and real timber is generally considered the best, but this may not always be an option, particularly due to the high price of solid timber. Therefore, what many people resort to is engineered wood.
However, with that being said, there are many different kinds of engineered wood out there, each having its own specific uses, advantages, and drawbacks. What we want to do today is to provide you with a basic definition of what engineered wood is, as well as to take a look at the 12 different types that you might come across.
What Is Engineered Wood?
Before we get into talking about what the different types of engineered wood are, it’s probably a good idea for you to have a basic definition of what engineered what is in general.
Unlike real and solid timber, which is taken directly from trees, milled, and used for building, engineered wood is a special type of building material that does incorporate real wood into the mix, but it has been processed in various ways. For instance, if you take a tree, grind it into pulp, mix it with glue, and press it into a sheet, that would be engineered wood.
Generally speaking, engineered wood products are made by using the fibers, pulp, or strands of hardwood and/or softwood, which are then pressed into solid sheets or boards using a combination of adhesives, chemicals, heat, and pressure (the exact engineering process will depend on the specific type of engineered wood in question. So, engineered wood is still technically wood, but it has been broken down, treated, mixed with various substances, and then formed into a specific shape.
12 Common Types of Engineered Wood
Now that you have a rough understanding of what engineered wood is, let’s take a look at the 12 different types of engineered wood that you might come across. We want to provide you with a quick definition of each as well as what their main uses and advantages are.
Perhaps the most common type of engineered wood you are going to run into is plywood. As the name suggests, plywood is made of several plies or layers of wood veneers, another term for wood strips. Plywood generally features between three and seven layers, depending on the type, and in some cases may have up to 21 layers.
These layers are glued together with a special kind of glue that is designed to resist moisture and shrinking. The strips of wood veneer are glued together at 90-degree angles to ensure great bonding and tensile strength, also known as a cross-grain pattern.
There are many kinds of plywood out there, ones made with softwood or hardwood, ones designed for exterior and interior use, ones made for being seen and others for hidden areas, and more. What is interesting to note is each type has its own specific applications and benefits. Plywood can be used for interior walls, exterior wall sheathing, roofing, flooring, furniture, and other general projects.
Plyboard is similar to plywood but does have some major differences. This type of engineered wood is made by adhering together thin layers of wood-based materials to create a core or center. In other words, the middle of plyboard contains a wood-based material. There are one or two veneer sheets used to cover the sides of the plyboard, thus sandwiching the wood-based strips in between the sheets of veneer.
Another way of imagining this would be to say that plyboard consists of a wooden frame that is filled with solid wood-based batons.
Plyboard is not as structurally sound or moisture resistant as plywood, so while it does have many of the same applications, it is not ideal for applications that involve a lot of moisture or need to bear a lot of weight. The other thing to keep in mind here is that because plyboard is most often made of softwood, as opposed to plywood, which is more often made of hardwood, it does cost significantly less.
See how plyboard compares with: plywood
3. Particle Board
Particle board (aka chipboard) is another type of engineered wood that you should be familiar with, one that is indeed similar to plywood but does also have some major differences.
Unlike plywood which is made by gluing together wood veneers in a cross-grain pattern, particle board is made by taking wood fibers and wood chips, mixing them with glue and other chemicals, putting them into a mold, and then a combination of heat and pressure is used to create solid board.
Due to the fact that particle board is made out of what is essentially waste or garbage wood, you can expect it to cost significantly less than plywood. On a side note, particleboard is also much more affordable than medium-density fiberboard, the next type of engineered wood that we are going to look at below.
Particle board does not hold up well to moisture or weight, but it does tend to have a smooth finish that is easy to paint. Therefore, while particleboard does not make for good structural material, such as for walls, it is a preferred choice for cabinet doors, various pieces of furniture, and other such applications. For more about its advantages and disadvantages, read this article.
See how particle board compares with: plywood
4. Medium-Density Fiberboard (MDF)
Medium-density fiberboard (or MDF in short) is made by taking hardwood and softwood residuals and scraps that are no longer needed or usable for other purposes, and breaking them down into wood fiber or wood pulp. Special machines are used to pulverize and shred the wood until you have what essentially amounts to a special kind of sawdust, which is then mixed with a resin binder and wax, put into molds, and then, using hydraulic power and heat, is pressed into various sizes and shapes.
On an interesting note, MDF is denser than plywood. MDF is most commonly used as a building material in both commercial and residential applications.
Generally speaking, due to its relatively poor moisture resistance, it is not recommended for outdoor use. That said, it can be used for a variety of applications including furniture, cabinets, flooring, decorative projects, wainscotting, speaker boxes, doors and door frames, and other such things.
Keep in mind that medium-density fiberboard, due to its limited strength and moisture resistance, is going to cost less than plywood.
5. High-Density Fiberboard (HDF)
Whereas above we spoke about MDF or medium-density fiberboard, here we are looking at HDF or high-density fiberboard. As you can probably tell by their names, the two are similar. Indeed, both of these types of engineered wood are made by taking old wood scraps and residuals that can no longer be used for other applications, pulverizing them down into sawdust and fibers, mixing them with adhesive and other chemicals, and then pressing them together with heat.
The difference is that high-density fiberboard generally uses much better wood scraps, and it is of course made to be much denser than MDF.
In other words, when compared to MDF, HDF is much more durable. It’s stronger, it can bear more weight, and it does cost a lot more too. HDF is still not overly moisture resistant, but it is stronger than MDF. HDF is often used for backing panels, door skins, high-use furniture, and laminate flooring. MDF is more suitable for decorative pieces, whereas HDF can often be used for structural or weight-bearing applications.
See how hardboard compares with: plywood
6. Oriented Strand Board (OSB)
In all reality, if we were to compare OSB or oriented strand board with any of the other types of engineered wood we looked at so far, it would most closely resemble particle board. Scrap wood is broken down into wood chips or wood flakes, which are then mixed with adhesive and compressed into sheets of wood. Oriented strand board is usually very rough in nature, often looking like cheap plywood.
What is interesting to note is that in recent years, due to its high level of strength, as well as decent moisture resistance, oriented strand board has actually overtaken plywood in popularity, particular when it comes to construction-related load-bearing applications. For instance, 66% of all structural paneling is now made with oriented strand board.
Oriented strand board is also often used in furniture construction. What is surprising to note is that on average, you can expect to spend up to 40% more on a piece of plywood than on a piece of OSB of the same dimensions, another reason why it has become a very popular building material.
See how OSB compares with: plywood
7. Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL)
One of the most interesting types of engineered wood out there is LVL or laminated veneer lumber. Laminated veneer lumber is made by taking multiple thin layers of wood, usually hardwood, which is then glued together or assembled using very special adhesives. Now, what is very unique about this type of engineered wood is that it is one of the few types that are actually stronger than normal milled lumber.
Due to the fact that high-quality materials are used in the construction of it, and because it can be built using very specialized techniques, it ends up being straighter, more uniform, and stronger than milled lumber. Plus, it is less likely to twist, warp, bow, or shrink than milled lumber. LVL is a reliable and strong building material that is often used in house construction, particularly for ceiling and floor beams, roof rafters, and other such large beams.
8. Laminated Strand Lumber (LSL)
LSL or laminated strand lumber is very similar to PSL, something that we will look at further below. To be precise, this is a type of structural composite lumber.
LSL is made out of graded and dried wood veneers, or out of strands or flakes, that are precisely layered on top of each other, and then bonded together using moisture-resistant adhesive. It is formed into blocks that are commonly known as billets.
This engineered wood product has great structural strength, screw-holding strength, and it can be moisture resistant too. It is often used for things like beams, headers, framing, wall studs, and for other such applications.
9. Composite Board
We are not going to go into too much detail here, because technically speaking, a composite board is a type of engineered wood that can actually include other types.
Simply put, a composite board is one that is made out of wood, plastic, and binders. Particleboard, OSB, and MDF are all types of composite boards.
10. Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT)
CLT or cross-laminated lumber is a special type of engineered wood that is prefabricated by taking many layers of kiln-dried wood and gluing them together. There can be three, five, seven, or nine alternating layers.
This type of engineered wood has great dimensional stability, a good strength-to-weight ratio, and good fire resistance too. CLT is most often used for sustainable walling, flooring, and roofing.
Glulam stands for glued laminated lumber, and this is a structural type of engineered wood that is made by bonding together wood laminations with moisture-resistant adhesives. It most often comes in the form of beams and is often used for structural applications.
It is generally considered to be more stable than traditional timber.
12. Parallel Strand Lumber (PSL)
When it comes to engineered wood beam options, PSL or parallel strand lumber is generally considered the best, and yes, the most expensive too. It is considered the best option when looking at LVL, LSL, and glulam.
As you can tell by the name, parallel strands of lumber are glued together to make high-strength beams.
What Is the Best Type of Engineered Wood?
As you can see, between the 12 different types of engineered wood that exist, there are many different uses that this type of product has. Now, because there are so many different types, it’s hard for us to say which type is the best. The reason for this is because no single type is the best across the board.
As you can see from our descriptions, each of these types of engineered wood has specific pros and cons that you need to consider, and therefore each one has a specific use that it excels at. What you need to do is to refer to our descriptions above to figure out which one is best for what job.
However, with being said one of the most versatile and most widely used types of engineered wood that you are going to find is plywood. Still, the simple fact of the matter is that there are dozens of different types of plywood, each one of which has its own specific use. At the end of the day, the right type of plywood can be used for most jobs that any of these twelve types of engineered wood can be used for.
As you can see, there are many different types of engineered wood out there. They all have their pros and cons, and which one you use depends on what your needs are. So, before you choose any of these types of engineered wood, or real wood, make sure to consider all of the crucial factors.
Not all types of wood are ideal for all applications!