Design & DIY

Weekly Hack: Engineered wood ID guide

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They aren’t always the prettiest of building materials, but they are inexpensive. A quick guide to a few cottage-useful wood structural panels, and other engineered wood sheets.

Plywood Layers of “plies” (wood veneers) glued together. Rarely shrinks, doesn’t easily warp, and is split-resistant. Some varieties work for outdoor projects (exterior-rated plywoods are bonded with waterproof glue). Fir plywood is strongest, and finishes well; it’s good for interiors. Spruce and poplar are better for subfloors, sheathing, and underlays.

Oriented strand board (OSB) Almost as strong as plywood, but made of very thin slices or wafers of wood instead of plywood’s (somewhat) thicker slabs of veneer. Though OSB can do the same jobs as plywood, it’s not as simple to sand and finish. Untreated, it looks a little like a bunch of large wood chips mashed together.

Particle board Weak compared to plywood and OSB. Particle board comes in thin sheets made of sawdust or shavings, with an outer skin of veneer. It works for shelving and cabinets, but don’t use it in a structural capacity—it’s not sturdy enough.

Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) Particle board’s stronger, denser, more expensive cousin. MDF is made from broken-down softwood or hardwood fibres that are tightly bonded at high heat. Because of how it’s produced, MDF has smooth surfaces with no voids between layers, unlike particle board.


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