MDF vs Particle Board: Which is Cheaper or Better?

In today’s article, I’m going to compare Medium-density fiberboard, usually abbreviated as MDF vs particle board to establish which is cheaper. Furthermore, we’ll establish which is better to use in your next home or professional projects such as furniture, cabinetry, flooring, speaker boxes, underlayment, and as a substrate for countertops.

Whether you’re a woodworking beginner, expert, or an intermediate user like me, you’ll find this post extremely helpful.

We’re going to look at the composition of both MDF and particleboard to establish the differences. We’ll also discuss other distinguishing factors such as their specific uses, strength, durability, eco-friendliness, finish, nail, and screw holding capacity.

If this sounds interesting to you then let’s get to it:

What You Need to Know About MDF vs Particle Board

an image showing the difference between MDF vs particle board
Mdf vs particleboard

Composition

You can tell the difference in composition between medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and particle board by looking at the roughness or smoothness of the board.

For instance, MDF has a smooth finish as it is made of very small wood fibers, almost like flour that is of the same size. While particleboard consists of larger, coarser wood shavings and chips. This is the main reason why particle boards do not have a smooth surface.

However, both MDF and Particle boards have some composition similarities in that they are created using scraps of other lumber products, which makes them environmentally friendly.

The only drawback is that the glues and binders of the two composite wood often contain formaldehyde which is slowly emitted from the entire panel as a gas – a major health concern. At the end of this post, I’ll highlight some common strategies that can limit your exposure.

Use

If you’re looking for a cheap plywood alternative to use in making stuff such as furniture, cabinetry, flooring, and even speaker boxes then you should go for medium-density fiberboard (MDF) due to its smooth finish, machinability, strength, and consistency.

Furthermore, thin MDF is handy for making patterns. It’s specifically a better material than plywood for patterns because its edges are smoother, but it’s not strong enough to make long, thin patterns. Aside from making beautiful patterns, you can use MDF as a base for parquet floors, a base material for covering strips, fittings, and fixtures.

Let’s just say, MDF is very versatile and you can use it in numerous ways at home.

Particleboards, on the other hand, few main uses such as furniture, underlayment, and as a substrate for countertops. However, there’s one more property that makes particle board quite remarkable. And that is its thermal and soundproof properties.

Strength

When it comes to the strength of holding items both MDF vs particle board shelves are notorious for drooping, even from their weight, unless they have additional support. They may appear flat and strong to you but they’re not stiff.

This means if you’re looking for something stronger, there are better alternatives than these two. A good example is plywood. If you must use either particle board or MDF to make things such as shelves, consider the following general rule:

Shelves that are 10 inches deep should be no more than 24 inches long.

However, between MDF and Particleboard – the latter is often stronger and rarely warps or bows.

Durability

If you’re like most people, durability is one of the factors you consider before you buy or make anything. Because let’s face it, no one likes buying or making something that will break within weeks. If this sounds like you, you may need to reconsider buying either particle board or MDF altogether.

Although Particle board won’t bow or warp like plywood, it can swell and become unstable when exposed to water.

Generally, humidity or wet conditions will wreak havoc on both MDF and particleboard making them less durable. This is because fibers in both composite planks of wood soak up water and expand like a sponge. However, when the material dries out, it doesn’t shrink back. Instead, tiny cracks develop, weakening the wood. If this piece is moved, the bottom edge will crumble.

So, if we’re to rate these woods, particle boards have low durability and a shorter lifespan than medium-density fiberboard (MDF) while plywood is more durable than MDF. The main advantage of particle board over solid wood or plywood is that its cost is very low in the short run.

Nail and Screw Holding Capacity

Particle board has the highest screw and nail-holding capacity while MDF doesn’t take nails and screws easily. During nailing, the fraction may appear around it. To prevent this problem while screwing up MDF, you should use pilot holes.

Finish

You’ve already read how the composition of both MDF and Particle board determines their overall finish. While the surfaces of the two composite wood are usually smoother than that of plywood, MDF takes a much crisper edge than particleboard. This is because MDF does not have knots or kinks which disturbs the smooth surface.

Besides, you can paint or stain the MDF and this will give it a look just the same as real wood. So, it can easily replace the place of wood furniture.

Particleboard, on the other hand, tends to chip out when routed. If you want sharply defined edges with particleboard, glue on a solid wood strip.

Weight

Projects made from MDF and particleboard can weigh a lot. According to Popular Woodworking, a full sheet of ¾ inch MDF is 97 lbs. A sheet of particleboard typically weighs 85 lbs. A sheet of veneer-core birch plywood, by comparison, comes in at 60 lbs.

Extra weight means joints in moveable furniture have to be extra strong.

However, given ideal conditions, Particle boards can be very light in weight especially in comparison to MDF. Thus furniture made from these boards is relatively easy to transport and move around the house.

Cost

Both MDF and Particle boards have a very low cost in the short run. This makes economic sense to most people on a budget as they are cheaper at cost and inexpensive. So, they are within everyone’s reach to purchase.

Of the two, the Particle board is most often the cheapest.

Eco-friendliness

When it comes to the eco-friendliness of these two composite wood, there’s an upside and downside. Let’s start with the upside.

Both MDF and Particle boards are created using scraps of other lumber products, which makes them environmentally friendly. They’re by-products of a recycling process that advocates saving of trees – which is friendly to the ecosystem.

On the downside, Formaldehyde and dust are significant concerns with composite wood. Formaldehyde is used in the glues and binders of composite wood and is slowly emitted from the entire panel as a gas.

Fortunately, over the last few years, many manufacturers have reduced formaldehyde, but still, some people have allergic reactions to even small amounts. The other major problem when it comes to working with composite wood for a home project is the emission of giant clouds of very fine wood and binder dust.

MDF is the biggest culprit when it comes to the production and emission of dust particles. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to take the necessary precaution before your next woodworking project. Moreso, when working with any composite wood.

Safety Precautions to Limit Your Exposure to Formaldehyde and Dust

There are three things you can do about formaldehyde emissions:

  1. Buy low-formaldehyde panels such as Woody-Wall.
  2. Air out composite panels in your garage or shed for a few weeks.
  3. Seal in the formaldehyde by coating all the surfaces of your project with paint, varnish, or a laminate.

There are three additional things you can do about dust emissions:

  1. Don’t use blunt blades and bits.
  2. Wear safety glasses to protect your eyes.
  3. Wear a face mask to prevent you from inhaling the dust particles.

Overall Verdict

Now, back to our question, MDF vs Particle board – which is cheaper or better to use?

In terms of the cost, particle board is hands down cheaper than MDF. But if you compare these two with the real wood, both are only cheaper in the short run.

So, between the two composite wood which is better?

The short answer, it depends:

What is better will be determined with your intended use.

Given all the advantages and disadvantages, when you compare particle board vs MDF vs plywood, the winner is plywood. But this does not mean that you turn your head away from MDF or particle board.

As we mentioned, composite woods too have their set of uses and advantages. If those work for you, then you should go for it. Think long-term and weigh the pros and cons of both the materials before making a decision.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and found it helpful. If you did, consider giving it a share!

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