What Is the Difference Between Particleboard and Fiberboard?

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While particleboard and fiberboard have similar traits and purposes, they're not quite the same. They're made of slightly different types of wood particle materials and likewise have slightly different benefits. Of the two, particleboard may be a good choice if cost is the key factor, while fiberboard is the better choice when durability is more important.

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Particleboard

  • Made from leftovers of wood-product manufacturing.
  • Mixed with resins and waxes and pressed into sheets.
  • Often laminated for a finished look.
  • May contain formaldehyde.
  • Relatively lightweight and inexpensive.
  • Not designed for heavy loads.
  • Permanently damaged when bare edges are exposed to water.
  • Tends to chip and snap easily.
  • Feels rougher and lighter than a sheet of fiberboard.

Fiberboard

  • Made from leftovers of wood-product manufacturing.
  • Mixed with resins and waxes and pressed into sheets.
  • May contain formaldehyde.
  • Stronger, heavier, and denser than particleboard.
  • Easy to paint and cut, but doesn't hold stain well.
  • Bare MDF may deteriorate when exposed to water.
  • Less likely to chip than particleboard.
  • Smoother look and feel than particleboard.

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Particleboard Key Traits

Particleboard is made from the leftovers of the wood-product manufacturing industry as well as from logs that aren't good enough to use for boards and solid wood materials. These chips, shavings, and sawdustlike particles are sorted by size, with coarser materials in the middle and finer materials on the outside.

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Mixed with resins and waxes, the wood byproducts are compressed into large sheets and then hardened and sanded to a uniform thickness. They're often laminated with some sort of veneer or coating to give them a finished look. If you've ever looked at the back edge of a shelf on an inexpensive bookcase, noting that it looks like hardened random bits of wood and sawdust, that shelf is most likely particleboard.

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Formaldehyde is one of the chemicals used in making particleboard, although some companies have switched to greener alternatives. Formaldehyde is a potentially toxic chemical that may off-gas or emit fumes for a while. If you've ever brought new furniture home and thought it smelled of chemicals, there's a good chance formaldehyde is somewhere within the new piece, especially if it contains particleboard, plywood, or medium-density fiberboard (MDF).

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Particleboard is relatively lightweight and inexpensive compared to wood, but it doesn't hold heavy loads, so it's not ideal for large shelves, for instance. If water reaches the exposed edges of particleboard, the material may swell up like a sponge, causing permanent damage. This material is best for flat pieces, as bending it usually makes it snap. It also chips or snaps fairly easily if not sandwiched between some form of laminate sheeting.

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Fiberboard Basic Traits

Fiberboard is made in a similar manner as particleboard except the wood fibers are intact. Similar resins and waxes hold the compressed material in board form, and like particleboard, fiberboard may contain formaldehyde. Fiberboard is a bit stronger than particleboard and usually heavier and denser. It's easy to paint and to cut, but it dulls blades relatively fast. It also doesn't hold stain well. Bare MDF may deteriorate if exposed to water.

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MDF is less likely to chip than particleboard, making it the more useful of the two products if complex shapes are required. On the other hand, its hefty weight makes it less suitable for oversize cabinets. It's even denser than wood, so it is best to use a fence or a guide when cutting it.

When it comes to looks, fiberboard's wood content is fine, small pieces for a sandlike or dustlike compressed and hardened material. Particleboard's pieces are a bit larger and coarser and not uniform in size. Of the two, particleboard feels rougher and lighter than a similar sheet of fiberboard.

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