Although plywood is one of the best materials to purchase for basic construction and furniture, due to its durability and sturdiness for such an affordable material, some alternatives have similar characteristics in a similar price range.
Building materials that have similar properties to plywood while also being in the same price range and at times cheaper include the following:
- Polyurethane Board,
- Oriented Strand Board
- EKO Ply,
- Medium Density Fiberboard, and
- High-Density Fiberboard.
While the above materials are not a definitive list of plywood alternatives, they are some of the most common and affordable materials, all of which have specific pros and cons when compared to plywood. Let’s explore them below.
1. Polyurethane Board,
Polyurethane is a polymer, meaning we begin this list with the biggest deviation of plywood alternatives, as polyurethane board is plastic, meaning that it can have both a rough and smooth texture, depending on how the material was made.
As a plastic, one of its physical properties that makes it a superior alternative to plywood is it is water-resistant, its tendency not to attract or hold moisture, and the ease at which adhesives can be applied to it.
A feature polyurethane board shares with plywood is that it is an extremely lightweight material while also surprisingly durable. Furthermore, the inclusion of fiberglass-enforced polyurethane board at a slightly higher price adds significantly to its durability.
The improved durability of fiberglass-enforced polyurethane board makes it perfect for semi structures and smaller permanent structures, provided the structure in question will be under minimal external forces.
The major downside of polyurethane board compared to plywood is its aesthetics, whereby a woody, grainy texture can never be truly replicated. However, some finishing can mitigate this negative aesthetic trait.
2. Orientated Strand Board
Orientated Strand Board (OSB) is manufactured out of scraped wood products which are ordered, processed, and combined with a combination of wax and resin to give it a uniform look and sturdy structure.
OSB can be found in various sizes, strengths, rigidity, and thickness. This makes it a versatile plywood alternative that is resistant to warping and is more water-resistant than plywood.
Furthermore, it is an environmentally sustainable material since it is made from recycled scrap wood and the strips of fast-growing trees.
Finally, OSB is generally cheaper than plywood and the other plywood alternatives on this list.
3. EKO Ply
Following on from the subject of environmentally sustainable plywood alternatives, we have EKO Ply. EKO Ply is made up of 100 percent recycled materials.
Eko Ply is also significantly more durable and stronger than plywood, water-resistant, resistant to rot, and resistant to corrosion.
It is also chemical resistant, meaning the use of adhesiveness, paint, and the like do not cause EKO Ply to warp, deteriorate, or lose its rigidity. This makes EKO Ply an easy to clean, low-maintenance material that is suitable for permanent, outdoor structures.
However, like many plywood alternatives, EKO Ply is not visually appealing on its own, with grey coloration and pockets of various colors veined throughout the material.
Therefore, while it may be fine on its own in areas where you are not concerned about the visual aesthetic of the material being used, all other instances of Eko Ply will need some type of paint, wallpaper, coating, or finishing.
Particleboard is by far the cheapest plywood alternative, given that it is made from recycled wood particles.
Because particle board is the cheapest plywood alternative, it’s not surprising to find that it has some significant disadvantages when compared to plywood and other alternatives on this list:
- It is significantly weaker than plywood while further lacking the rigidity and structural integrity of plywood. This means outside of flooring and some basic furniture, particle boards, should not be used for any form of construction.
- Particleboards have a rough surface that, while aesthetically pleasing on its own, does not take post-processing techniques well. This means any form of paint, finishing, adhesives, or wallpapering should be avoided.
Consequently, while particleboard has a nice sheen and finish, it is one of the least versatile plywood alternatives, both aesthetically and for construction/building purposes.
5. Medium Density Fiberboard
Unlike particleboard which is an engineered wood product made from recycled wood particles, Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) is of superior quality since it is manufactured using wood fibers.
MDF is one of the most popular and widely used alternatives to plywood. Although MDF is typically a bit more expensive than plywood, it has some key advantages.
Firstly, MDF is bound together with environmentally friendly chemicals, that gives MDF added structural security since it does not expand or contract under different weather conditions.
Secondly, MDF responds better to paint and adhesives than plywood; this makes MDF easier to customize, moisture-resistant, and subject to various shapes and sizes.
Finally, although plywood may be more durable than MDF, there are options to purchase MDF that has been finished with wax and resin for added durability, should you be willing to make a small financial sacrifice.
6. High-Density Fiberboard
As the name implies, High-Density Fiberboard (HDF) is essentially the same as MDF. The primary difference is that HDF uses exposed wood fibers that have been tightly compressed, making it stronger and denser than MDF.
HDF is environmentally friendly not only because of the use of recycled material and fast-growing plants, but also because it uses no glue or chemicals in its manufacturing process, instead of relying on a natural binding process with the help of lignin.
Although HDF is probably the most expensive plywood alternative on this list, it is undoubtedly the superior material in terms of strength, durability, structural integrity, adhesive acceptance, and aesthetics.
While plywood is an excellent choice for builders and carpenters on a budget, it is worth exploring alternative materials before committing to plywood or one of its alternatives, given that the costs and characteristics of each material are unique.