Hardboard vs. Plywood: What is The Difference?
Hardboard and Plywood are two popular engineered wood products used in construction and DIY projects.
Both materials are made from wood, but they have different properties that make them suitable for various applications.
Here is a comparison of hardboard and Plywood to help you decide which one to use for your next project.
What is Plywood?
Plywood is a manufactured wood product made by gluing layers of wood veneer and wood chips into cross-pattern designs.
The grains of each layer runs in opposite directions, making Plywood very strong and resistant to splitting and warping.
It’s available in different thicknesses, grades, and sizes. The most common Plywood used is 3/4 to 1 1/8-inch-thick with a sanded smooth finish on both sides.
Plywood is a robust and versatile material used for everything from floors and walls to roofs and cabinets. It’s also easy to work with and can be cut, drilled, and shaped to fit any project.
Types of Ply
The term “ply” refers to the number of layers in the plywood used to create boards of different thicknesses. Some projects only require one or two sheets of ply, while others may need several layers.
Each layer is known as a wood veneer, while the thickness of the plywood board is called plywood grade.
The plywood grades range from A to D, with A being the thinnest and D the thickest. The most common types of ply are:
- 3-ply- This type consists of three layers of wood veneer and is one of the most versatile types of Plywood. It can be used for everything from floors to walls and is available in different thicknesses.
- 5-ply- Consists of five layers of wood veneer and is used for roofing and furniture making.
- 7-ply- Has seven layers of wood veneer and is mainly used for boat building.
- 9-ply- Compose of nine layers of wood veneer and is the strongest type of Plywood, often used for industrial applications.
Types of Plywood
There are several common types of Plywood:
It’s made from hardwoods such as oak, birch, and maple. Hardwood plywood is strong and durable and primarily suitable for floors, walls, and roofs.
Made from softwoods such as pine, redwood, and cedar, softwood plywood is used to make exterior frame sheathing, sub-flooring, and roof sheathing. It can also be used to create things like sheds, temporary flooring, shelving, doghouses, and more.
This is a type of hardwood plywood that has been sanded smooth on both sides. It’s typically used on visible surfaces for cabinets, shelves, and furniture.
Project plywood panels
These are ready-to-use, pre-cut sanded plywood panels that come in various sizes and thicknesses. They’re ideal for DIY projects, crafts, and repairs.
Also referred to as whiteboard plywood, is a type of hardwood plywood with a smooth, white surface on one side. It’s often used for making whiteboards, bulletin boards, and chalkboards.
Structural Plywood or plywood sheathing
This plywood is used for permanent structural purposes. It’s pretty strong and inexpensive but unfinished. Therefore, it’s not suitable for places where it will show.
What is Hardboard?
Hardboard, also known as high-density fiberboard (HDF), is a manufactured wood product that is made by compressing wood fibers together using heat and pressure. It’s denser and harder than plywood, but not as strong.
Hardboard comes in different thicknesses and sizes, but the most common is 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. In addition, they come with either a smooth or a textured finish.
Hardboard is a good choice for projects requiring hard, flat surfaces such as countertops, shelves, and doors. It’s also easy to work with and can be cut, drilled, and shaped to fit any project.
Types of Hardboard
There are several types of hardboard, including:
Standard grade hardboard
This is the most common type of hardboard. It’s a medium brown panel, smooth on one side and rough mesh texture on the other. It comes in thicknesses ranging from 2 to 12 mm.
Standard grade can be used for wall and ceiling paneling, floors, door panels, cupboards, etc.
This type of hardboard is white on both sides and has a smooth finish. As the name suggests, it’s easy to paint and is often used for making signs, bulletin boards, and other projects where a smooth, white surface is desired.
Tempered hardboard is the hardest and heaviest type of hardboard.
It’s made by heat-treating the ground-up wood fibers and held together with resins, making it more resistant to wear and tear. It’s particularly suitable for industrial applications such as flooring, wall paneling, and countertops.
The Difference between Plywood and Hardboard
There are significant differences between hardboard and Plywood that you should keep in mind when choosing which one to use for your next project. These are:
Plywood is made by layering wood veneer sheets and bonding them with resins. Hardboard, on the other hand, is made of wood fibers that are compressed and bonded together with resins.
People tend to like Plywood since it has a fairly natural wood appearance. However, it doesn’t have a grainy texture, so it may not look attractive, especially in the lower grades. On the other hand, a hardboard doesn’t resemble natural wood but has a smooth, consistent surface that looks good in any grade.
Hardboard is much heavier than Plywood. Hardboard is made of wood fibers, which makes them much denser and heavier. On the other hand, Plywood is made of wood veneers that are much thinner and lighter.
#4. Strength and Durability
Although you might think otherwise because of the names of these two manufactured boards, Plywood is stronger and more durable than hardboard.
That’s because Plywood is made of multiple layers of wood veneer, while hardboard is only made of a single layer of compressed wood fibers.
Plywood is more expensive than hardboard. The cost of Plywood depends on the number of layers, the wood’s quality, and the sheet’s size. Hardboard is cheaper because it’s made of one layer of wood fibers.
Both Plywood and Hardboard come in different sizes, thicknesses, and grades designed for various applications. However, hardboard does come in very small pieces, large pieces, and everything in between.
Plywood is more flexible than hardboard because it’s made of multiple layers of wood veneer, unlike hardboard, which is made of one layer of wood fibers.
Since hardboard can’t flex without breaking, it’s not used in applications that require bends or curves.
On the other hand, Plywood is often used in applications that require bends or curves, such as making gutters and skateboard ramps.
#8. Insect Resistance
One advantage of hardboard over Plywood is that it is more resistant to insects. That’s because Plywood tends to have many knots and holes in them, which insects can use as entry points.
And once insects get into Plywood, they can cause much damage. Hardboard, however, is less likely to have knots and holes, making it more difficult for insects to penetrate.
#9. Moisture Resistance
Another difference between Plywood and hardboard is that Plywood is more moisture resistant. But that doesn’t mean a hardboard can’t be moisture resistant or waterproof.
It just needs a little more work. You can make hardboard moisture resistant by painting or coating it with a waterproof sealant. Plywood, even the lower grades, tends to be water-resistant because of the way they’re made.
#10. Environmental Impact
The environmental impact of Plywood and hardboard is another significant consideration.
Hardboard is considered environmentally friendly because it’s made from wood fiber, a waste product of the lumber industry.
On the other hand, Plywood is made from whole logs, which means more trees are cut down to manufacture it.
Plywood is easier to work with than hardboard since it’s lighter, more flexible, and can be cut with saws, routers, and other power tools.
Hardboard is harder to work with because it’s heavier and less flexible. It can also be challenging to cut with power tools because it tends to chip and splinter.
For these reasons, the hardboard is normally cut with handsaws or jigsaws.
#12. Screw Holding Capacity
Plywood has a better screw holding capacity than hardboard. That’s because the multiple layers of Plywood make it stronger and more durable.
Conversely, a hardboard is less likely to hold screws because it’s made of one layer of wood fibers.
#13. Size and Thickness
Another difference between the two engineered wood types is that plywood comes in a wide range of sizes and thicknesses, while hardboard is only available in a few standard sizes.
Plywood is typically used for:
- Making custom-built furniture for homes and offices
- Marine Plywood is normally used for making ships and boats
- Making concrete shuttering panels, floors, cabinets, walls, and roofs
- Building exterior walls
Hardboard is the most preferred choice when long pieces of wood are required for making furniture because it’s stiffer and does not bend or sags like Plywood. Therefore, it can be used for:
- Making long bookshelves, benches, tables, and more
- Making Displays
- Building extended wall panels
- Making exterior and interior doors
Plywood vs. Hardboard: Which is better?
So, which one should you choose for your project? Plywood or hardboard? Well, the choice depends on how you’re going to use it.
For instance, if you want wood for exterior surfaces, then Plywood is the better choice because it’s more moisture resistant.
But, on the other hand, a hardboard might be a better option for your interior surfaces because it’s more appealing, easy to paint, and even pre-colored.
Tips on How to Cut, Drill, and Paint Both Types of Wood
When working with either Plywood or hardboard, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Use clamps to secure the wood while you’re working with it. That’ll prevent it from moving around and make it easier to cut and drill.
- Use a sharp saw blade when cutting. A dull blade will make it difficult to get a clean cut and can damage the wood.
- Drill slowly and use a smaller drill bit for pilot holes. That’ll help prevent the wood from splitting.
- Use a primer before painting. That’ll help the paint adhere better and give you a smooth finish.
- If you’re working with a hardboard, be aware that it can splinter easily. Use a handsaw or jigsaw to cut and a wood file or sandpaper to smooth any rough edges.
Pros and Cons of Plywood
Here’s a quick overview of the pros and cons of Plywood:
- It’s a strong material, hence less susceptible to damages
- Has high dimensional stability with minimized expansion and shrinkage
- Very durable because of the cross-laminated construction
- Eco-friendly as it is engineered from wood waste
- Less susceptible to water damage and does not soak up moisture easily
- Easy to paint and stain and thus ideal for projects that need sizeable stained wood surfaces.
- Highly versatile and can be used for different applications
- Can be cut, drilled, and shaped easily
- The manufacturing process is energy-intensive
- It takes longer to dry compared to a hardboard
- More expensive than a hardboard
- Not as smooth and consistent as a hardboard
Pros and Cons of Hardboard
Here’s a quick overview of the pros and cons of hardboard:
- It has a very smooth and consistent surface
- It comes in a wide range of colors, sizes, and thicknesses
- It’s insect resistant
- Low cost compared to Plywood
- Highly versatile and can be used for different applications
- The hardboard itself is not waterproof
- Not as strong as Plywood
- It has no natural wood aesthetic
- Less durable than Plywood
- Difficult to cut with power tools because it tends to chip and splinter
Plywood and hardboard are two popular types of wood that can be used for different applications.
However, both have pros and cons that you should consider before choosing one for your project. Plywood is a stronger and more durable option, while hardboard is a cheaper and more versatile choice.