Why Use Plywood For Your DIY Closet
Published in 4.24.2018
As a DIY-enthusiast you can’t wait to roll up your sleeves and get to work on your new closet.
Your excitement is well justified.
Building things yourself has many benefits:
- It’s an excellent outlet for your creativity.
- It will improve your construction skills.
- It will give you a feeling of lasting accomplishment.
But before you start, you want to get a basic understanding of the materials you'll be working with.
You realize that your choice of building materials will determine how smooth your project will go, and how strong the finished product will be.
The first thing you may be wondering is what kind of wood you should use to build your closet.
Two of the most popular kinds of wood are Plywood and MDF.
What is Plywood?
Plywood is a wood product made by combining 3 layers of veneer (another name for solid wood sheets).
These veneers are called "PLYS," and when they’re glued together, they are called "Plywood."
What is MDF?
MDF stands for “Medium Density Fiberboard.”
MDF is also an engineered wood product, but it’s not made from veneers.
MDF is made by feeding woodchips into a machine called a "defibrator ". The defibrator grinds the woodchips into thousands of tiny pieces that are called "fibers".
The fibers are compressed together by a combination of intense heat and extreme pressure.
Which kind of wood should I use for my closet?
Many manufacturers and designers recommend Plywood - over MDF - for two reasons:
- It’s more DIY-friendly.
- It’s better for a wood closet.
Why is Plywood more DIY-friendly than MDF?
It holds screws in place.
Plywood is very firm. Therefore you can put screws inside without damaging the wood.
MDF, on the other hand, is very delicate. That makes it very difficult to put screws inside without damaging the wood.
When you put screws into MDF, it tears into the fibers. Very often that causes the fibers to split, or even crack off completely.
That’s why many manufacturers suggest not putting screws in MDF until you first drill pilot holes into the wood. That ensures that the screws never come into direct contact with the MDF.
Plywood is more portable.
Plywood is lightweight.
MDF is heavy.
For a direct comparison:
Suppose you were working with a panel that had a diameter of 4x8, and a thickness of ¾ of an inch.
If it were made out of Softwood Plywood, it would weigh 60 pounds.
If it were made out of MDF, it would weigh 95 pounds.
That’s a difference of 35 pounds!
When you do a project, it’s very helpful to work with something you can carry yourself.It’s safe to work with anywhere.
MDF cannot be cut or sanded in a place that does not have proper ventilation.
The reason is that working with MDF causes dust particles to be released into the air.
MDF dust particles are much more harmful than regular dust particles because they are coated with a toxic chemical called formaldehyde.
The EPA warns that prolonged exposure to formaldehyde can lead to serious respiratory problems.
In addition, the US Department of Health classifies formaldehyde as a carcinogen.
According to Mount Sinai Hospital, MDF is such a hazard, that if possible you should avoid working with it altogether.
It’s safe to work with
Plywood can be cut or sanded by anybody, no matter how they’re dressed.
MDF cannot be safely cut or sanded by someone who is not wearing special protective gear.
According to Mount Sinai Hospital, if you absolutely must work with MDF, you have to make sure to wear a respirator (that’s government-approved, for dust and formaldehyde protection).
The risks of MDF exposure are very real, as illustrated by a report that appeared in the September 1997 issue of The Guardian.
According to the newspaper, sicknesses caused by MDF were becoming more and more widespread.
As an example: For many years, England did not have a big problem with MDF exposure.
The factories were able to manufacture MDF products without too much harm to the workers.
However, this was changing.
MDF was now making so many workers sick, that it was slowing down the production of MDF–based products.
It got so bad, that the trade unions lobbied the British Government to ban MDF!!
It can be cut with a regular saw
Plywood can be cut with a basic handsaw.
MDF cannot be cut with a basic handsaw unless it comes with special attachments.
If you try cutting MDF with a regular handsaw, it will dull your blade.
The only way to cut MDF - without ruining your blade - is to tip the edge of your saw with a carbide or diamond attachment. Carbide and diamonds are two of the strongest materials on earth. They are used when no other blade can cut without being ruined.
That’s why the drills that blast through rock—to build tunnels —are tipped with Carbide or Diamonds.
Why is Plywood better for a closet, than MDF?
It's more durable
Plywood is strong enough to withstand a lot of wear and tear.
MDF is much weaker; it cannot withstand too much wear and tear.
In fact, Plywood is so durable, that it was used extensively in WWII, to protect the British fighter planes from enemy fire.
It’s more stable
Plywood is well balanced.
That allows it to retain its original shape, over an extended period of time.
MDF is not as well balanced; sooner or later, it will begin to warp.
It’s more waterproof
Plywood can sustain a considerable amount of water damage when used indoors. However, for outdoor use, you'll have to waterproof the plywood for maximum protection. MDF cannot sustain even a small amount of water damage.
If the problem is not dealt with immediately, the damage will be irreversible and the MDF will have to be thrown out.
For this to happen to a board, it would be nothing more than a nuisance.
When you’re dealing with a closet. it would become a nightmare.
Imagine the following scenario:
Someone accidentally spills a bottle of coke, on the bottom shelf of your MDF closet.
You’ll clean up the spill, and assume that the problem is solved.
In reality, the problem is just beginning. As soon as the soda spills; it gets absorbed into the wood. Since MDF is very brittle, it gets saturated very quickly.
This exposes the MDF fibers, to the moisture of the air, in the room.
As soon as the fibers are exposed to the air they begin to crumble, and it will eventually disintegrate, completely.
Your shelf will come tumbling down, along with the rest of your closet.
The third type of wood many people use is Particle Board.
What is Particle Board?
Particle Board is essentially the same thing as MDF, with one important difference:
MDF is made out of fibers; Particle Board is made out of wood particles (woodchips, wood-shavings, or even sawdust).
Because it’s made out of wood particles —and not fibers — it’s not as dense as MDF (and is therefore weaker).
Which kind of wood should I use for my Closet?
Many manufacturer and designers, recommend Plywood -over Particle Board –for two reasons:
- It’s more DIY-friendly.
- It’s better for a closet.
Why is Plywood more DIY-friendly than Particle Board?
It’s more versatile
Plywood is flexible.
You can twist and curve into many shapes, without causing the wood to break.
Particle Board is not flexible.
If you bend it too many times, it will split and crack.
It’s quicker to paint
Plywood can be painted in a relatively short amount of time.
That’s because you can apply Latex (a water-based paint), directly on the surface of the wood.
However, you can’t apply Latex on the surface of the Particle Board, without pre-treating it with a primer.
The reason is that Particle Board is extremely sensitive to moisture.
If it comes into contact with moisture it can swell up, to twice its original size.
If the water damage is not dealt with immediately, the wood will begin to crumble, and eventually, disintegrate.
That’s where the primer comes in.
Primer is a substance that is similar to paint, but it’s much thicker and it’s always oil -based.
The primer acts as a layer of protection, which ensures that Latex never comes into direct contact with the wood.
Once the primer dries, you can apply the Latex paint to the Particle Board. (3
This method of painting is a massive waste of time, because:
You have to spend however long it takes to apply the primer.
You have to wait 6-8 hours for the primer to be dry to the touch.
You have to wait another 16-24 hours for the primer to completely penetrate the board before you can apply the Latex coating.
Why is Plywood better for a closet than Particle Board?
It’s more sturdy
Plywood is firm.
Therefore, it can support a heavy load.
Particle Board is very flimsy.
If it’s forced to carry too much weight, it can collapse.
This can make the difference between your closet staying up and falling down.
It’s a higher quality material
Plywood is a higher quality material. Therefore, even if the laminate peels off, it will not affect the overall strength of the wood.
Particle Board is a lower quality material. As soon as the laminate peels off, the wood will fall apart.
It’s more weatherproof
Plywood performs well in many poor conditions, including:
- Very high moisture
- Very low humidity
- Extreme heat
Particle board does not perform well in poor conditions:
- Very high moisture can cause it to swell.
- Very low humidity can cause it to shrink.
- Extreme heat can cause it to weaken.
It lasts much longer
Plywood furniture lasts for a very long time.
Particle board furniture does not last very long.
For a direct comparison —consider this:
Well–built Plywood furniture will last for 15-20 years.
Particle Board furniture — that’s built just as well —will only last 2-4 years.
A plywood sheet is the best choice for your DIY projects,
because it’s lightweight, safe, and flexible.
A Plywood closet is the best place to keep your wardrobe,
because it’s durable, it’s strong, and it will last a very long time.
Written By: Yaakov Moskowitz
1) <https://www.theguardian.com/uk/1997/sep/21/antonybarnett.theobserver /> Retrieved on April 11, 2018
2) Deziel, Chris. "What Type of Blade Cuts Medium-Density Fiberboard (MDF)?" Home Guides | SF Gate, http://homeguides.sfgate.com/type-blade-cuts-mediumdensity-fiberboard-mdf-99476.html. Accessed April 04, 2018.
3) Adams, Kathy. "Tips on Painting over Particleboard." Home Guides | SF Gate, http://homeguides.sfgate.com/tips-painting-over-particleboard-84851.html. Accessed 04 April 2018.