Fiberboard vs Particle Board (MDF / LDF) – What Is the Difference?

Fiberboard vs Particle Board

Particle boards and MDF, or medium-density fiberboards, are regularly used in furniture production and household construction because of their advantages when it comes to uniformity, density, and price. In practice, both terms are often used interchangeably which however does not take the differences between these materials into account.

If you wonder what exactly the differences are and which one you should choose, fiberboard or particle board, read on to find out more about their respective characteristics?

Particle Board / Low-Density Fiberboard (LDF)

Used since the 60s, particle boards are made from a hot-pressed composite of waste wood products, that are held together by formaldehyde resin or other types of resins.

This type of material is regularly used in multiple applications, including countertops, cabinets, doors, floors, paneling, and furniture. Where particle board is used in visible areas (e.g. furniture), it is usually covered with a laminate or veneer to improve its appearance.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Particle Board

Particle board is inexpensive but also relatively weak. The main reason for its ubiquity is the low price: It is the cheapest option available for producing furniture or temporary to mid-term construction. If it has been painted, lacquered or veneered, it can even have an attractive look.

Particle boards are rather lightweight and still durable if it is not subject to heavy use or improper treatment. This is why it is a common material for ready-made and home-assembly furniture but also for certain DIY uses.

The downsides, apart from the already mentioned structural weakness, is the fact that particle board tends to expand when exposed to water. This means that it cannot be used outside or in locations where it would be exposed to water or rain. If it is used in damp rooms, such as kitchens, bathrooms or in a garage, it needs a certain water-resistant treatment or coating, e.g. with lacquer or polyurethane.

Medium-density Fiberboard (MDF)

Medium-density fiberboard, or MDF, is also a composite product made with formaldehyde or other resin, wood fibers, and wax. MDF is regularly used as a replacement for plywood.


Examples of MDF boards
(find them on
Amazon).

Advantages and Disadvantages of MDF

This material comes with a much higher density than particle board while it is yet much cheaper than solid wood. It tends to be of high internal consistency and therefore does not split when it is cut.

MDF can also easily be cut, shaped and molded by using all kinds of power tools. This adds to its versatility as light and cheap construction material. In practice, MDF is often painted and lacquered which can be done easily. All in all, MDF’s advantage over LDF is the higher stability and durability of the material.

Because of constituents similar to those of LDF, MDF also expands when it is exposed to moisture. This can lead to cracking or breaking of the material, so it should not be used outside or in damp areas without proper treatment either.

A disadvantage compared to LDF is the weight: medium-density fiberboard is a much heavier material thanks to its higher density. Therefore, it may be generally less convenient to use and might in some cases even be ruled out, e.g. due to static considerations or shipping/transportation constraints.

MDF vs Particleboard (LDF) – Similarities and Differences

If you are looking at MDF vs particle board for use in your next project, you are essentially considering two varieties of the same kind of product: both are commonly categorized as engineered wood.

Particle boards are the cheaper, but a weaker option. MDF, in contrast, has a higher density and is therefore stronger, but also more expensive than LDF.

An example of the differences in strength is the load strength of both materials: when testing load strength of shelving by carrying a weight of 50lbs per square foot, particle boards can only hold a maximum of 13 inches in length, where MDF can hold up to 15 inches.

Both particle boards and fiberboard can generally be used in similar situations and both are common materials for the production of paneling, furniture, and flooring.

However, being a material of higher quality with a flatter, denser finish, fiberboard is generally better suited for musical instruments and speaker components, as well as children’s furniture and toys.

Health and Environmental Concerns

Both MDF and particle boards (LDF) are made using toxic chemicals, primarily formaldehyde. Because of this, neither are environmentally friendly and sanding or cutting it can cause health problems if the resultant dust is breathed in.

If this is a concern, some MDF manufacturers are moving away from formaldehyde-based resins and are using polyurethane instead.

MDF and LDF vs Plywood

Is MDF Stronger than Plywood?

This question is hard to answer as there are several grades of plywood with different strengths available on the market. Generally spoken: MDF is not stronger than Plywood – the latter tends to be of higher stability as it consists of several layers of material.

MDF or Plywood – Which One Should You Choose?

However, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. For instance, plywood tends to splinter when cut, and it is much harder to shape and work on with hand tools and even with power tools. So, in areas certain types of work or adjustments are necessary, MDF might be a better choice if the higher strength of plywood is not necessarily required.

Conversely, plywood holds screws much better, whereas MDF tends not to provide much grip and stability for screws – hanging or fixing heavy objects to MDF walls or board is generally not recommended.

Is particle board stronger than plywood?

No, particle board tends to be weaker than plywood.


Example of Plywood
(find it on Amazon).

Fiberboard vs Particle Board: Conclusion

In terms of strength, durability and general quality perception, MDF is the first choice compared to particle board .

However, because it is so much cheaper, as well as more lightweight, particle board is also commonly used in various kinds of construction projects as well as for the production of furniture and industrial components.

Therefore, choosing between both of them for a DIY project comes down to three criteria: required strength and durability, desired finish and in certain cases the weight of the material itself.

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