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The Ultimate Guide To MDF vs Plywood vs Solid Wood

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What option of the board is the best? What key factors should you consider, and why are they important? Knowing all this means that your new coffee table won’t crack when someone sits on it by mistake. It might even save you some cash, and let’s be honest, who’d pass on that? Whether you are looking for a new coffee table, a couch, or simply learning about the materials, understanding the differences in the material can help you find the answers you need. Here are all the details about the different types of wood boards and which are best suited for you.

What options do you have?

There are various options available with all types of textures, properties, and prices. However, this article focuses on the three main types: MDF, Plywood, and Solid Wood. To choose which one is right for you, you must first understand what each type is, how it’s made, and how they differ?

Therefore, all the qualities are stated in the table:

PriceDurabilityBest Suited For OutdoorsBest Suited For Indoors
MDF Cheapest
Lasts at max up to 10 yearsNot SuitableMost Suitable
Last up to 30SuitableNot Suitable
Solid WoodMost Expensive
Lasts up to 30-40 yearsSuitableSuitable

1. What Each Type Is

1.1 Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF)

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MDF is made with fibers from both hardwood and softwood. These are bound by wax or resins, and the production involves heating and pressing into panels. The fibers are usually obtained from leftover woodwork and are recycled. This option is preferred for its low prices and easy availability.

While there aren’t many types of MDF, it can vary depending on the producer and what the product is made for.

1.2 Plywood

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Plywood is made by gluing together thin layers of wood. The wood is taken from peeler logs, and there is a variety of options with different thicknesses and densities. It has numerous benefits, including its resistance to temperature and its flexibility.

There are different types of plywood, like 3-ply or 5-ply, and the difference lies between the layers. The layers can increase and decrease, and there are options available with some MDF and water-resistant coatings. Plywood has a range which makes it very easy to choose from.

1.3 Solid wood

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It is the simplest option to understand. It consists of different woods with little to no processes performed on them. It is known for its durability and is considered the most robust option.

When buying solid wood, it is necessary to ensure that the type is well-suited for its need. For example, some timbers easily crack, wear off/fade off, or get damaged in certain weather conditions. It is best to discuss it with the provider.

2. Difference

2.1 Price


When comparing the prices, MDF quickly takes the lead. As it is made with recycled material, prices are meager compared to other types.

Plywood costs more as it has multiple layers of actual wood stuck together. The prices increase with the layers and specialties of plywood.

Solid wood is the most expensive due to its natural factor and uniqueness of solid wood. Plywood and MDF cannot replace the beauty of solid wood in the general market, and thus, it costs more. Some furniture, for example, may be worth thousands because of the quality of the wood alone.

2.2 Appearance

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MDF is generally considered less satisfactory in this regard. It has a light brown color range with no patterns and a smooth surface. Its shades and other things such as staining and painting can give it the essence of solid wood.

Plywood looks more like solid wood as its outer layers are made of beautiful timber with natural patterns. It is also usually brown due to the type of exterior wood.

Solid wood ranges between red and brown shades and can have the most texture depth with cuts, slivers, and patterns as it is entirely wood.

It is to be noted that the appearance of the material can be significantly changed with staining, painting, etc., but solid wood is by far the best option.

2.3 Durability

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The durability of the board depends on numerous factors, including:

· Weather conditions

· Load placed on it.

· Humidity

· Production 

2.3.1 Effect Of Weather Conditions

As mentioned before, MDF does not last in harsh weather. It easily sags, and therefore, moisture due to rain, hail, snow, etc., can easily damage it. 

Plywood types can have different reactions. There is a range of exterior plywoods specifically designed for the outdoors. They are both weather and resistant and show little effect but other types of wear and tear. 

Solid wood is not affected much, but the general idea is to take wood from areas of similar weather conditions. For example, redwood is suited for the outdoors.

2.3.2 Load Placed On It

MDF is generally weak and must be reinforced with more layers for heavier loads. It typically supports 35 pounds per square foot. 

Plywood is entirely different. Its flexible and bendable nature allows it to hold much more load and survive longer than MDF. The cheaper types can bear between 5 and 50 pounds, while the 1’’ thickness can have 164 pounds per square foot. 

Solid wood is generally strong. It can hold about 20-40 pounds per linear foot. Some woods are naturally more sturdy than others.

2.3.3 Humidity

MDF is at a disadvantage in high Humidity, and when in contact with damp surfaces, it contracts and expands and does not last. 

As mentioned before, some plywood has weather and water-resistant layers and now even bacteria and pest-free components. The regular type plywood will be damaged in Humidity or high temperatures. 

Solid wood is usually kept between 35-45% humidity. A point to note is that wood expands when high in moisture, and some types will get damaged. Different Humidity might also promote pest issues with solid wood, making it lose strength and durability over time.

2.3.4 Production

A better material production process can significantly make it last much longer. While plywood has some layers for durability and MDF can be reinforced, there are also other methods to protect the boards. Coatings on the panels can make them last in the heat, sunlight, extreme rainy conditions, and others. Different chemicals can be mixed in the material to have a specific effect, such as anti-bacteria. The board must be chosen by need and all the factors mentioned above.

2.4 Easiest To Work With

While this also depends on personal preference, some key factors should be noticed. MDF creates more sawdust and is usually worked on with goggles and respirators. It is easy to cut, and clean cuts can be made with little effort. Painting works excellently with the surface of MDF.

Plywood is excellent for staining like solid wood. It does require more work on the edges. MDF and plywood may give off fumes that people with respiratory issues should be aware of.

3. The Best Option For Outdoors

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The best choice for any outdoor building is plywood or solid wood. MDF does not tolerate moisture and sags as a result. Plywood is mainly preferred for this purpose. It is mainly used for flooring, roofing, and sheds. Special types of plywood even have a protective layer to protect them from weather conditions so that they can last longer. Solid wood is usually suitable for outdoor use because its raw material is natural wood.

4. The Best Option For Indoors

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If used indoors, MDF is the best choice. Because it is more flexible and easy to shape than other woods. And it does not expand or contract under stable conditions indoors. It is also the cheapest.

The main advantage of plywood is that it is moisture resistant. And its stability is increased by the number of layers of wood boards. It is more expensive than the MDF board, and if it is only for indoor use, plywood is not the best choice.

Solid wood furniture is usually used in living rooms in a Chinese style. Solid wood furniture is expensive and some people prefer this style.


To conclude, the choice of wood depends on the scenario and preference. There is no perfect option but certainly great ones. We recommend MDF because of its excellent prices; the final decision should be made to suit your own needs. It is best to check the requirements and choose a durable, quality product.


1. Which Type Is The Heaviest? 

Contrary to popular belief, solid wood is not the heaviest option. MDF is more serious than both solid wood and plywood, and for that reason, it is also not recommended for lightweight furniture or projects. Plywood works great for medium-range projects while carving out shapes and furniture that maintains the natural aspects is a job best suited for solid wood.

2. Which Board Can Be Stained? 

All of them. All the options can be stained and painted. Plywood is better than MDF for staining. Although, solid wood certainly provides flexibility in variety and is most customizable. Solid wood offers a visible difference when stained and can completely change its aesthetic qualities based on the work done. MDF can be dyed, but it still would not give the natural look of solid wood. It is usually painted, which looks great on the smooth surface.

Timothy Pam

Timothy Pam

Hi, I’m Timothy Pam, the CEO of Ruijie Home Furniture, I’ve been running a factory in China that makes Home Furniture for 7 years now, and the purpose of this article is to share with you the knowledge related to Living Room Furniture from a Chinese supplier’s perspective.

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