Fiberboard (MDF) and plywood are building materials. Plywood is easily identified by the wood grain seen on its surface whereas fiberboard has a smooth finish with no wood grain. Although sometimes confused, the two are very different products but can offer similar benefits in some applications.
Fiberboard is made of wood fibres pressed together with resin or glue using a high-heat process that forms a hard board. It is then covered with a veneer to give it a smooth finish. Plywood is manufactured by gluing together thin layers of hardwood. The layers are glued so that the grain direction of each layer is perpendicular to the previous layer, which ensures strength and provides stability when exposed to moisture. Plywood is made from solid pieces of wood, unlike fiberboard, which is made from fibres. In plywood manufacturing there is some waste; fiberboard manufacturing produces no waste.
Plywood is often used as wall and roof sheathing and as underlay for floors because it provides an ideal surface that remains flat to give an even surface for resilient flooring, carpeting and shingles that won't crack or warp. Fiberboard is preferred over plywood when making furniture and cabinets because it is easier to cut and join pieces together. It is also used as sheathing for walls and roofs and has good insulating and soundproofing qualities. Fiberboard is used as door cores and in office partitions.
Plywood is readily available in panels that are 4-feet wide and 8-feet long. Thicknesses range from 3/8 inch to 1 inch. Fiberboard is available in 4-foot widths as well but can be purchased up to 10-feet long. Thicknesses readily available are typically 1/2 or 3/4 inches.
Plywood and fiberboard are both available in different grades. Plywood grades are divided based on the defects in the wood. A-grade plywood has a sanded surface free of knots. Very few defects exist, and those that are present are corrected with filler. A-grade is smooth and can be painted. B-grade is also smooth but has more repaired defects than A-grade, and it may have knots up to an inch in size. C-grade plywood has several defects that have been corrected and knots up to 1 1/2 inch in size. It may have discolourations and some sanding defects. This grade of plywood may also have unsanded veneers that have been visibly patched together. D-grade plywood is very rough. Defects haven't been corrected, and knots can be up to 2 1/2 inches in size. This grade is not sanded and may show discolourations. It is typically used indoors as subfloor or wall sheathing.
Fiberboard is graded as low, medium or high density. Low-density fiberboard is lightweight and suitable for interior applications because it is susceptible to moisture damage. Medium-density boards have more moisture resistance and can be used in both interior and exterior applications but aren't as hard as high-density boards. High-density boards are very durable and moisture resistant.
Plywood is typically stronger than fiberboard. It is water resistant and usable in exterior or interior applications. Fiberboard is not always water resistant but is tough enough to withstand impact without denting or cracking, and fiberboard is easier to work with than plywood because there are no knots or defects to impede cutting or drilling. Fiberboard is also easily painted.
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