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Other Sheet Goods

Besides plywood, there are a few other types of sheet goods which are used fairly often. However, they are not nearly as strong as plywood.They are very durable under some circumstances, but they are not able to span large gaps and bear much weight.

1. MEDIUM-DENSITY FIBERBOARD (MDF)

MDF is one of the most common plywood alternatives. It is made by mixing ground up wood fibers and sawdust with glue and then pressing this paste into a sheet. Sometimes the outside is covered with a thin layer of melamine, so it doesn't need to be finished after assembly. The major benefit of this material is the perfection of the finished surface. Since it's completely fabricated, you don’t have to worry about any knots or imperfections in your piece. However, there's no wood grain, which can be a problem if you want to stain your finished project. MDF is very easy to cut and paint. However, it is not able to bear a lot of stress, so you may end up with cracks or splits if you don't predrill holes or support the weight properly.

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2. HARD BOARD

Hardboard is very similar to MDF with the major difference being that it is harder and thinner. It is made in the same way as MDF but is much more tightly compacted. It's commonly used as a backing on cabinets and bookcases. I used a thin, coated hardboard, similar to a whiteboard, to cover over the wood paneling of my workshop. Now I can write notes about the type of wood stored on my lumber rack or cut lists for my latest project!.

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3. PARTICLEBOARD

Particleboard is the cheapest plywood alternative. This is because it is often recycled material. It is made from small wood splinters which are scraps from the large plants and sawmills which fabricate other wood products. Particleboard may be cheaper than plywood, but it is the least durable of all the materials we have discussed. This is the stuff IKEA furniture is made of. It's easy to break and will swell if it gets wet. The only time I'll use particleboard is for shop projects like this cordless drill storage rack. It's not pretty to look at, but it used up some pieces the previous owner left behind!

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4. OSB - ORIENTED-STRAND BOARD

OSB is a product somewhat like particleboard, but it is made from large thin chips and slivers rather than little splinters. Since the pieces it's made of are more robust, the material itself is also stronger than particleboard. However, it also has many similar problems. Also, watch out! It gives the nastiest splinters out of any wood product around. Make sure you are wearing gloves when carrying and handling this stuff. I used OSB for my storage shelves because they were going in our shed and didn't need to look pretty. It's a cheap option for covering a large area, but I would go with something nicer if you're making something you'll see all the time.

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