Wood-based boards such as chipboard, hardboard, plywood, MDF are economical replacements for timber, and can easily be cut to make worktops, flooring, shelves etc. Boards are also available that have been treated to make them moisture resistant for use in areas of high humidity.
A core of softwood strips up to 25mm (1in) thick are laid edge to edge and then sandwiched between two sheets of hardwood veneer. Generally used in building shelves, doors and cupboards.
Chipboard is most often used for flooring. It consists of wood particles glued together under heat and pressure. This process produces a very rigid board with a relatively smooth surface. Some sheets of chipboard can have a tongue-and-groove system for making neat joints. Chipboard can vary in thickness. It does not have the most attractive finish and is often painted. Always use oil-based paint as water-based paint can make chipboard swell.
Chipboard treated to improve its resistance to moisture and coloured green to distinguish it from ordinary chipboard.
Chipboard with a melamine (plastic) or decorative wood veneer is used in building shelves.
Medium Density Fireboard – or MDF – is a widely used DIY material made up of compressed wood fibres that are glued together. It is easy to cut and extremely versatile. Uses include the making of cupboards, shelves and boxing-in.
MDF produces a fine dust when cut, so it is important to wear a disposable dust mask when cutting it to size or shape.
A moisture-resistant MDF used in areas with high moisture levels or where splashes and spillages of water occur e.g. bathrooms and kitchens. Generally this type of board is coloured green to aid identification.
Fibreboard is a lightweight version of MDF that can be used instead of plasterboard on a ceiling.
Often used for flooring, hardboard is compressed fibreboard that is much thinner. The standard variety of hardboard has a smooth side and a rough side. Hardboard is available in different grades and with different finishes. For example, there is a flooring grade hardboard and a hardboard with a plastic surface that is used in kitchen units.
Plywood is manufactured by gluing a number of thin layers of softwood or hardwood (or a combination of both) together. The grain of each layer runs in alternate directions to give the board its strength. Plywood is named after the number of layers used in its manufacture. For example 3-ply has three layers and 5-ply has five layers. Multi-ply has many layers and is used in heavyweight construction.
Most wood-based board can be cut with a panel saw, although it is easier to cut thicker plywoods and blockboards with a power saw.
Using a panel saw
If the board has a melamine veneer, mark the side that will be visible and cut the board with this side facing you, as the melamine veneer will chip on the underside of the board with cutting. To minimise the damage to the veneer, first use a craft knife or a fine-tooth saw to cut into the coating.
Using a power saw
If you are using a power saw, you need to adopt the exact opposite approach to that when using a panel saw. Mark the board on the side that will not be on show and cut the board with this side facing upwards. Because the blade of a power saw cuts as it rises any slight damage to the melamine will be on the underside.