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Commercial plywood vs. MDF

By Abhijit Phadke

Commercial plywood and MDF are two of the most popular materials for making furniture and home decor these days. This article compares these two types of engineered woods.

Commercial plywood (MR grade) MDF
This is a MR grade plywood. MR means Moisture resistant, meaning that his type of plywood can resist moisture and humidity to a certain extent but it cannot be called 'waterproof'. MDF stands for Medium Density Fibreboards. These types of boards are denser and stronger than Particle boards. These are available in Interior as well as exterior grade (better moisture-resistance).
It is a Interior grade plywood meant for indoor use. Interior grade MDF is meant for indoor use. While the exterior grade can be used outdoors.
Most common use is for making custom-built furniture for homes and offices. Commonly used for making ready made furniture, that is sold in furniture shops.
Commercial plywood is usually not laminated at the time of manufacture. Hence decorative laminates (such as Sunmica, Formica or other brands) are separately purchased and glued over the plywood surfaces. In most of the cases, MDF boards are prelaminated at the time of their manufacture. This involves a short-cycle lamination process in which a decorative laminate is pressed and blended over the top and bottom surfaces of the board.
Plywood is made by glueing layers of veneers (plies) over another. These veneers are obtained from tree logs which are rotated about their longitudinal axis, while a cutter peels of the layers from the log. The veneers are then placed over one another and hot-pressed together to form a strong bond. MDF is made from very fine particles or wood called wood fibres. Glue is mixed with these particles and the mixture is compressed under high pressure and temperature to make boards.
UF (Urea formaldehyde) adhesive is usually used to glue the layers of plies together. The adhesive used is the same. Urea formaldehyde based resin is mixed with the wood fibres to make the boards.
The quality of commercial MR grade plywood in India, is specified in Indian Standard document no. IS:303 The Indian quality standards for MDF boards are specified in Indian Standard document IS:12406 (for plain boards), IS:14587 (for pre-laminated boards)