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Particle board vs Plywood

By Abhijit Phadke

Particle boards and Plywood sheets two different types of engineered wood products used in the making of wooden furniture. While plywood sheets have been around for a very long time now, the particle boards are a relatively new type that has taken the market by storm. The major points of comparison between particle boards and plywood are listed below.

Difference in Composition

Particle Boards and Plywood employ very different methods of manufacturing, and hence have fundamental differences in their composition.

Particle boards (sometimes also called as chipboards), are made by glueing together very small chips of wood (particles of wood) and sawdust using phenolic resins, and then pressing the mixture firmly under the presence of heat, to form flat boards that can be used for making furniture.

On the other hand plywood is made by glueing together several layers of veneers (rotary-cut sheets of wood) over one another, in an alternating grain pattern to form the thicker plywood sheets used in furniture-making as well as other structural applications. The veneers are obtained by rotating logs obtained from tree trunks around their longitudinal axis while a cutter peels of layers of wood from the log. Each individual veneer thus obtained is called a ply and an odd number of such plies (for example 3-ply, 5-ply, 13-ply etc.) are then glued over one another using phenolic resins (phenol formaldehyde is used as the adhesive) to make the plywood sheet.

Individual plies of a plywood sheet
Here's a damaged piece of plywood in which the individual layers of ply (veneers) are seen coming apart. Notice how the tear lines alternate in each successive layer of ply.

Strength comparison

Plywood is much stronger than particle boards. The individual layers of plies (veneers) are arranged with alternating grain pattern as shown in the image above. Such an arrangement makes the plywood very strong. Secondly plywood is usually made using good quality hardwood and hence it is much denser, heavier and stronger than the Particle boards that are made by glueing together wood particles. The Particle boards being weaker are usually never used in applications where the boards will be subjected to heavy loads.

Ease of working

Working with plywood is simpler than working with particle boards, since the traditional methods of using nails as well as screws works well with it. On the other hand particle boards are not strong enough to hold nails, and hence are joined together using screws only. Also working with particle boards using traditional wood working tools is quite difficult, and hence it is usually a difficult task to find carpenters who would be willing to make customized particle board furniture for customers.

Difference in lamination

Particle boards are usually laminated (a layer of decorative laminate sheet is glued to the surface) at the time of their manufacture. Such boards are called pre-laminated particle boards. On the other hand, plywood usually does not come pre-laminated from the manufacturer and hence decorative laminates need to be separately purchased, cut to size, and glued to the plywood while making the furniture.

Ready made vs custom built furniture

Particle board furniture is generally mass produced and sold as ready-to-buy pieces of furniture. Plywood furniture is usually custom-made by carpenters as per the requirements of the customers.

Difference in quality

Particle boards are prone to getting damaged because of exposure to moisture and humidity. Plywood on the other hand is manufactured in several grades ranging from MR (Moisture resistant) commercial plywood to MR (Marine Grade) plywood that is used in boat-building.

Difference in durability

Furniture made from plywood lasts for many long years (around 15 to 20), whereas with particle boards the life of the furniture can be as low as 2 to 3 years, depending on how its used and handled.

Cost comparison

Since plywood is the stronger and better material in terms of quality it is also much costlier than particle boards. The most attractive prospect of particle boards for customers is probably that its so cheap compared to plywood or solid wood.