Particleboard and MDF are used for everything, from the kitchen countertops in homes to bookshelves. However, unless you’re a do-it-yourselfer or a cabinetmaker, you may not know which one is underneath the surface because paint, tile, wood veneers or laminates often cover both materials. Particleboard and MDF are used for similar applications, but they have different weight and durability properties.
Like MDF, particleboard is a high-density, engineered wood panel product. It is made from wood chips and resins that are pressed together to produce composite wood byproduct panels. Large wood chips are used to form the core, and fine-particle wood chips are used on the top, exterior surface. As a result, the final product has a smooth exterior texture, uniform strength and dimensional stability. There are also variations with a melamine sheet coating, which are referred to as whiteboard and popular for use in shelves. Another popular variation is MR (moisture resistant) particleboard, which is often used in areas with moist and humid climates. Particleboard is popular as a base or substrate material for building cabinetry and countertops in kitchens and bathrooms that have a veneer or laminate surface. Standard particleboard thicknesses range from 1/2-inch to 1-1/3 inches.
MDF is an acronym for medium density fiberboard. MDF is made from fine wood dust, mixed with a binder then heat-pressed into wood boards and panels. Boards sold “as-is” without a finish are called “paint-grade” MDF boards while boards with a smooth finish have a veneer layer on the top surface, which can be made of a thin panel of oak, maple or some other type of wood. The wood veneer layer is heat-pressed onto the top surface of the MDF board. These boards are used for a wide scope of applications, from walls and floors, to furniture and cabinetry. MDF board is very strong and durable. Standard thicknesses range from 1/10-inch to 1-1/4 inches. The density of the core of MDF board is expressed as the weight of a 1 cubic foot block of material. A 48# MDF sheet, for example, weighs 96 pounds.
MDF and particleboard are both engineered, composite wood products, as opposed to being made of pure, solid wood. They are both made by using heat and pressure to produce panels of wood-based materials. The processes used to make MDF and particleboard are similar in that the wood byproducts are adhered together to form a tightly bonded material. They also share similar applications for a wide scope of uses, from shelving to walls and furniture.
Particleboard is made of larger pieces of wood chips and byproducts than MDF. It has a smoother surface than “raw” MDF because finer wood particles are used to create the top layer. MDF, on the other hand, is stronger than particleboard because its composite makeup has more fine-grained wood chips and byproducts. As a result, MDF is sturdier and stronger than particleboard, more moisture-resistant and less prone to warping or bowing.
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