Chipboard vs Plywood: Strength, Weight, Price & Uses

Plywood is a term used to describe all types of wood for residential construction projects, but, despite the different types available, it’s not the same as chipboard. Both chipboard and plywood use different materials and undergo a variable construction process. This impacts the core density, loadbearing capacity, appearance, moisture resistance, and overall finish. 

Choosing the best material depends on what you’re building, the purpose you need it to serve, where it’s going, and how you want to finish it. Your budget should come into play when deciding which material to use, but it’s important to remember that chipboard will never perform as well as plywood for certain projects, and vice versa with plywood.

Keep reading to learn the benefits of chipboard vs plywood in terms of strength, weight, price, and its primary uses to help you decide which one you need. 

What is Chipboard?

Chipboard (also known as particle board) is a type of reconstituted wood made from chips, sawdust, and shavings that have been compressed together using resin, before being formed into lightweight boards. It’s one of the cheapest, most widely available wooden boards you can use for all manners of construction, including flooring, workbenches, cabinets, wall bases, and countertops

Generally, chipboard isn’t suitable for exterior construction because it doesn’t do well with moisture. It can only be used outdoors if it won’t be exposed to moisture permanently. For example, if it’s being used for the interior walls, flooring, or workbenches in a shed. It can be protected with an acrylic sealant to make it more suitable for exterior use, but it still won’t be the best material to use for all weather.

What is Plywood?

Plywood is a type of wooden board made from multiple milled wood plies that have been compressed together with an adhesive. It’s strong, affordable, lightweight, and naturally weatherproof. Plywood uses include all construction projects that require strong materials, like subfloors, wall supports, roofing, cabinets, shelving, furniture, and wall panels.

The adhesive used to bond the plies together directly impacts how weatherproof plywood is. Normal, cheaper plywood can withstand some moisture, but won’t do well with permanent exposure to water or humidity. Plywood with damp-proof glue is fully waterproof and can be used for interior or exterior construction. 

What’s the Difference? Chipboard vs Plywood Overview

Both products are strong and affordable, but the main differences between chipboard vs plywood are their overall functionality and primary uses.

What’s It Made Of?Compressed chips, sawdust, and wood shavingsMultiple compressed boards of thin, milled wood veneers
Is It Strong?Not as strong as plywoodStronger than chipboard
Is It Waterproof?No, but can withstand a small degree of moistureYes, especially when treated or when using a fully waterproof plywood type
Can It Be Used Outside?NoYes, but only when treated or if using Exterior or high exposure plywood
Is It Expensive?No, but chipboard is slightly cheaper than plywoodNo, plywood costs only slightly more than chipboard
Is It Heavy?No, it’s very lightweight but is heavier than most plywoodNo, but it’s often lighter than chipboard
Are There Different Types?NoYes, there are different types, variable weights, and a range of thickness options

When Should I Use Plywood Over Chipboard?

Plywood is best used for residential construction projects that require a strong, moisture-resistant build. Plywood comes in variable grades, styles, and exposure levels. Because plywood is more waterproof than chipboard, it’s better for areas of the home with high humidity, like kitchens and bathrooms. Certain plywood types can be used for heavy moisture exposure in the home and exterior (all weather) use. 

When considering plywood vs chipboard, it’s best to use plywood over chipboard when building:

When Should I Use Chipboard Over Plywood

Chipboard is affordable and can be used for almost any non-load-bearing construction. Being made from recycled wood shavings bonded together with resin, it isn’t as strong or damp-proof as plywood. Its design also isn’t considered uniform (with its mismatched woodchip patterns), so it requires finishing and painting to look nice. However, the benefit of its makeup is that it creates a high core density, making it ideal for projects that require acoustic resonance.

Because of its versatility, low price tag, and sturdy material, chipboard is better used over plywood for:

  • Wall bases
  • Countertops
  • Flooring protection
  • Underlayment
  • Workbenches
  • Speaker cabinets
  • Shed interiors
  • Headboards
  • Interior cupboards
  • Structural sheathing
  • Beam webs or centers

Pros & Cons of Chipboard vs Plywood

Both chipboard vs plywood have a similar number of pros and cons. Choosing the best material for your projects depends entirely on what you need from your build.

Pros of Chipboard

When comparing chipboard vs plywood, chipboard is:

  • Cheaper
  • Lighter
  • Denser (in terms of its core)
  • Smoother than most low-grade plywood
  • A natural insect-repellent 
  • Made from recycled materials, making it a less resource-intensive woodworking product to manufacture

Cons of Chipboard

However, chipboard isn’t suitable for all projects over plywood because it:

  • Is not waterproof and can warp, bend, expand, and break when wet
  • Doesn’t hold nails and screws well
  • Isn’t as strong as plywood
  • Can discolor and turn grey when exposed to moisture
  • Is tricky to paint and requires multiple coats due to the way it soaks up moisture 
  • Is slightly heavier than plywood

Pros of Plywood

On the flip side, comparing plywood vs chipboard, plywood:

  • Withstands moisture better
  • Securely grips screws and nails without causing breakage
  • Is stronger, more rigid, and holds more weight overall
  • Comes in different weights, thicknesses, types, and grades
  • Is often slightly lighter than chipboard, depending on the weight

Cons of Plywood

But the downsides of plywood are that it:

  • Can be more expensive
  • Doesn’t hold acoustics as well
  • Can have knots in the wood (only found in low-grade plywood), which can make cutting and drilling harder
  • Has a higher environmental impact during construction, making it less environmentally friendly

Is Plywood Stronger Than Chipboard?

Plywood is overall stronger than chipboard. When plywood is constructed, multiple layers of thin veneers are tightly compressed and glued together. This gives it a higher weight capacity compared with chipboard. 

Chipboard is strong and can be used for projects that require some load. However, since it’s made from sawdust, chips, and shavings glued together or bonded with resin, it has a high core density and low weight-bearing capacity. 

Which Weighs More: Chipboard vs Plywood?

Plywood sheets are considerably lighter than chipboard. This is owed to its low core density, compared with chipboard, which has a high density. Being lighter, plywood is easier to carry and maneuver than chipboard. 

But, just because it’s lighter, it doesn’t mean it isn’t stronger. Plywood has a higher strength-to-weight ratio, meaning an individual sheet is stronger than a single chipboard panel of the same weight. 

However, plywood is only as strong as its support. The sheets need to be properly supported to avoid sagging and bowing. The heavier the plywood, the stronger the supporting structure needs to be.

Which is Cheaper: Chipboard vs Plywood?

Chipboard is significantly cheaper than plywood. Being made from recycled scrap materials (including sawdust, woodchips, and shavings), the manufacturing process is cheaper than the sourcing and bonding of more expensive surface veneer sheets used in plywood. 

Chipboard comes in variable thickness and weight, which will vary in price, but doesn’t have higher quality grades, like plywood does. High-grade plywood is smooth, strong, and offers a clean finish to cabinets or shelves. 

Plywood is still considered affordable, but, naturally, the higher grade of plywood you choose, the more expensive it will be, especially when compared with chipboard.

Which is Better for Flooring?

Plywood is better for flooring, including subfloors, than chipboard. Chipboard doesn’t withstand heavy loads as well as plywood and can bode, bend, and warp under too much pressure. Plywood is stronger and withstands moisture better, so it won’t be easily damaged from spilled water or household leaks. 

Which is Better for Roofing?

Plywood is better for roofing compared with particle board (also known as chipboard). It can withstand a heavier load and resists moisture better, rather than drawing it in, like chipboard does. It’s also lighter, which makes construction, maneuvering, and hoisting easier.

Which is Better for Cabinets?

Both chipboard and plywood can be used for cabinets. Which material is best for your project depends on what you’re building, how much work you want to do to achieve a nice finish, and where your cabinets will be situated.

It’s better to construct bathroom and kitchen cabinets with plywood because the panels can withstand humidity better. Heavy load-bearing cabinets are also better made from plywood. 

Both materials can be finished nicely, but it depends on how much work you’d like to do. Chipboard is smooth, sleek, and can be painted, stained, or lacquered to achieve a nice finish, but it requires some effort. Plywood is significantly easier to finish, especially if you’re using a high grade.

Conclusion: Chipboard vs Plywood, Which is Best?

Ultimately, which is better, chipboard vs plywood, depends on your woodworking project. Chipboard is cheap, light, and better for various low-budget projects around the house. Plywood is significantly stronger, and it can be reinforced, treated, or stained to suit any residential construction project. It can be used indoors or outdoors and is easy to finish nicely.

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