Choosing the right type of wood for your countertop is challenging.
You need to weigh up factors such as price, durability, and how prone that wood might be to warping.
But, regardless of which wood type you choose, MDF and Plywood are both commonly used materials for kitchen countertops. But which one of these two manufactured wood types is better?
Related Post: Just What Is Manufactured Wood Anyway?
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All About Plywood Countertops
What Kind Of Plywood Should I Use For Countertops?
Furniture grade birch plywood is the best choice for a countertop.
Furniture grade plywood, (sometimes referred to as cabinet grade), is plywood that comes already prepped with a high quality smooth and ready-to-paint surface.
Let’s compare this plywood to the standard A, B, C, and D graded ply. In which case, furniture-grade plywood is basically A-grade plywood. Which means that it has a smooth, sanded surface with no imperfections or voids.
However, B-grade plywood can be classed as furniture grade too. This plywood is also smooth and sanded. But any visible imperfections have been patched up with a bit of wood filler. And even then, those imperfections are less than 1-inch across.
Related Post: What Is The Best Type Of Plywood For A Painted Cabinet? (Solved!)
Now, Birch plywood is one of the strongest ply’s on the market, as it is made from pure birch hardwood. There are no other hardwood or softwood plies added into its veneered mix.
In addition to that, birch plywood veneers are cut more thinly, allowing manufacturers of this wood to pack in more layers per sheet. These extra veneers are what gives birch plywood its extra stability.
So, Is Birch Plywood Really Good For Countertops?
Yes, it is. But to take things one step further, you should try and only use birch plywood that has been formed using water-resistant wood glue.
Also referred to as Exterior-Graded plywood, this type of ply has been glued together using a waterproofed adhesive. This adhesive is designed to hold veneers together despite rainfall, water submersion, and high humidity environments.
And in an environment like a kitchen, (where humidity and water spills are routine), using exterior graded plywood will be worth the extra cost.
How Do You Waterproof Plywood Countertops?
If you want a waterproof countertop that is water tight, then you are going to have to seal plywood.
That water-resistant glue will do a good job at keeping plywood veneers together. But it won’t do much if those birch wood veneers begin to rot and decay.
Which is why adding a sealing coat of polyurethane or liquid latex is your best bet at waterproofing that ply countertop.
We go into much more detail on how to seal plywood in our article: Beginners Guide To Plywood Sealer (What You Need To Know). Click here to check it out.
So, Should You Use Plywood For Your Countertop?
Well, plywood is stronger and more stable than MDF. It is less likely to swell than MDF. However, if plywood does get wet, it is more likely to warp.
And, it is hard to ignore that inflated cost when it comes to buying good quality Birch plywood sheets.
All About MDF Countertops
Can I Really Use MDF For Kitchen Countertops?
MDF can be used for everything from kitchen countertops to kitchen cabinets. It takes on a coat of paint easily too.
Related Post: A Quick Guide To Fastening MDF (+ The Best Screws For MDF)
But it is the price of this low-cost engineered wood that makes it so popular. It is a cheaper option than plywood (depending on the type of hardwood used to make MDFs composite material).
And Is MDF Long Lasting?
MDF has a lot of issues that shorten its lifespan.
First off, it wickers up water much too easily. And any water damage it does sustain is all but impossible to fix.
That water damage can come about due to water spills, but it can also come from steam, heat and humidity too.
This wood type is also not as strong or as stable as plywood (despite being a much heavier material than ply). And it doesn’t hold screws well either.
When you put that altogether, an MDF countertop will struggle to last beyond 5-7 years, before wear and tear pulls it apart.
So How Do You Waterproof MDF Countertops?
A solvent-based sealer is your best bet. Sealants such as oil-based polyurethane or moisture resistant paint can seal MDF.
A great product that was specifically designed for sealing MDF is Rustins Quick Drying Clear MDF Primer Sealer. This sealant works surprisingly well on MDF, despite being a water-based.
You can check out the latest prices for this product over on Toolstation.com
You only need 1 coat of this primer for it to waterproof MDF. Plus it only takes a couple hours to dry, (and it can be painted over too).
Now, generally, you need to avoid using any water-based sealers on MDF. The water in these types of sealers will get into MDF and cause those wood fiber composites to swell. This will cause MDF to bow rather than warp (like plywood or natural wood). However, the end result (uneven wood) is still the same.
But when you apply Rustins Quick Drying Clear MDF Primer Sealer, onto the smooth surface of MDF, it’s water-content doesn’t pose a problem.
Having said that, it is worth mentioning that this primer sealer is quite thin, so it works best on smooth MDF surfaces. However, if you try and use this sealer to coat over sawed-off MDF, then it won’t be able to properly seal those edges.
Related Post: Why Is My MDF Board Warping? (+ How You Can Fix It)
Does Painting Really Make MDF Waterproof?
If you use a waterproof paint, it will make MDF more water-resistant, but it won’t make it water tight.
You will still need to use a primer sealer underneath the paint if you want to protect MDF from future water damage.
So, Should You Use MDF For Your Countertop?
Well, if you are building a countertop on a budget, then MDF is very affordable. And provided that you seal it correctly, it can handle water spills.
But, there is no getting away from the fact that MDF is a lower quality product than plywood in every way. From its poor ability to hold screws and fasteners, to its lower strength, and more besides.
So although you may save money in the short term, over the long run that kitchen counter is going to need replacing sooner rather than later.
So To Sum Up…
Plywood is a much better product for creating a countertop with. If you use a quality plywood, such as Exterior Grade A-Grade Birch Plywood, you’ll have a material that can really handle the heat in the kitchen.
This is not to take away from MDF. Which, for its price, well-sealed MDF can still provide you with a more than serviceable countertop.
Effect of heat treatment on some physical and mechanical properties of birch plywood | SpringerLink
Comparison of results obtained by static 3- and 4-point bending and flexural vibration tests on solid wood, MDF, and 5-plywood (degruyter.com)