Plywood vs Melamine: The Key Differences

Difference Between Plywood vs Melmaine

We make efforts to maintain a wide range of different wood panel products here at Cabinet Timbers, mainly to ensure that Melbourne cabinet makers, carpenters and other woodworking enthusiasts can maintain access to high-quality wood composite materials. But of all the products we do have on offer in our range, two stand apart as some of the most popular (and versatile) materials: plywood vs melamine.

Despite both of these materials in the being so widely used, very few people are actually aware of their key differences. In fact, you likely have plywood or melamine shelving and cabinets in the kitchen, laundry, or bathroom spaces in your home. So how can you tell these materials apart, how can you care for them, and most importantly, which materials are best suited to which application. All great questions held within the plywood vs melamine debate.

To alleviate some of this mystery, our team at Cabinet Timbers is here to settle the great debate of plywood vs melamine once and for all, namely by outlining the key differences between these two materials and their own unique benefits and disadvantages.

Article Contents between plywood vs melamine:


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What exactly is plywood?

Let’s look at plywood panels first. Constructed using quality timber veneers, plywood is a great lightweight alternative to working with raw timber. Plywood has been used in a wide array of industries and applications, ranging from construction to interior design and the production of homewares or furniture, and even in hobby crafting. The natural wood aesthetic of plywood makes it a suitable material for creating everything from interior timber wall cladding and ceilings to shelving, cabinetry and even timber flat-pack furniture.

what is the difference with plywood

Benefits of working with plywood

Plywood is highly regarded as one of the most versatile modern building materials, being used for a wide range of different purposes across interior design and external architectural elements. Plywood is also available in a range of different dimensions, thicknesses, and plywood grades, making it easy to find plywood panels that are uniquely suited to your woodworking project. Whether you’re looking for structural plywood to build a home or marine-grade plywood to build a boat, you will be able to find a very particular type of plywood panel to complete those projects to a high standard.

The unique process of making plywood by slicing treated timber with rotary lathes, allows for the preservation of natural wood grains, making plywood a great material for anybody looking to retain the aesthetics of natural wood in their final creations. The cross-grain arrangement of plywood layers also ensures that plywood maintains a consistently strong and durable construction that truly rivals other types of wood composite materials like lower-density particle board.

So to recap, some of the key benefits of plywood include:

  • Stronger than other wood composite materials
  • Available in a range of different thicknesses and plywood grades
  • Suitable for interior and exterior applications
  • Maintains a natural wood finish

Disadvantages of working with plywood

Of course, understanding what plywood is also means engaging with its limitations. A lot of the key disadvantages of working with plywood actually revolve around the material’s high-density construction. 

For starters, as plywood is more rigid than raw timber and denser than other wood composite materials, it can be difficult to cut. Knowing how to cut plywood effectively is vital for getting the most out of your plywood materials, as improper cutting techniques can lead to splintering, cracking, or splitting of your plywood panels. 

This is also why plywood can be difficult to paint, with lower-grade plywoods typically requiring substantial sanding and wood filler prior to the application of paint or primer. Once again, using the correct method for painting plywood is vital for ensuring minimal product waste in any given project.

Finally, plywood can also actually be more expensive than other wood composite materials, including melamine. Simply put, the higher the plywood grade, the more you can expect to pay for your plywood products.

In summary, some of the more common disadvantages of plywood include:

  • Typically more rigid and inflexible than other wood materials 
  • Can be difficult to cut without splintering/cracking
  • Painting can be time-intensive
  • Can be more expensive than other wood materials

What exactly is melamine?

For those looking for a more contemporary or monochromatic look, there’s the option of working with melamine sheets. Like plywood, melamine is renowned for its durability and versatility, being commonly used for cabinet making, shelving, and other interior applications across not only domestic settings but also in commercial and industrial environments. Unlike plywood, melamine isn’t constructed using veneers but actually by adhering ultra-thin coating of melamine resin to both sides of either particle board or MDF board.

what is the difference with melamine

Benefits of working with melamine

Being constructed with particle board or MDF ensures that melamine sheets stay affordable alongside being durable and versatile. However, the cost-efficiency of working with melamine isn’t even the most prominent benefit for many home builders or shopfitters. Melamine also happens to boast highly presentable faces that are available in a range of different colours and texture finishes – including matte or glossy scratch-resistant finishes that are designed for both presentability and hard-wearing durability. You can find melamine boards in neutral colourways like black, white, and grey, and even in luxury wood-look colourways like beech and maple. The expansive range of melamine board options allows this particular wood composite material to be a favourite amongst interior designers working across both domestic/residential and commercial office or retail spaces.

The application of a melamine coating also provides flame retardant qualities, with decorative melamine possessing a lower flame spread rate than plywood and other wood composite materials. Melamine coatings also provide a superior moisture resistance in comparison to other wood composite materials, which is precisely why some of the most common uses of decorative melamine include the construction of kitchen, bathroom, and laundry spaces.

And thanks to its MDF or particle board core, melamine sheets are also far easier to cut than plywood panels. So long as you use the right equipment to prevent chipping of your MDF or particle board core, you can cut melamine independently with minimal risks of damage to your wood products.

To recap, some of the key benefits of melamine include:

  • Possesses hard-wearing, high-durability scratch- and stain-resistant surfaces
  • Maintains a highly presentable finish
  • Can be cheaper than plywood 
  • Possesses a lower flame spread rate and improved moisture resistance
  • Particle board or MDF core makes it easier to cut than plywood
  • Suitable for a wide range of applications

Disadvantages of working with melamine

It’s important to note that the same melamine resin that makes melamine wood composite materials so hardy and durable, has also been known to emit Volatile Organic Compounds (or VOCs) which can impact your home’s air quality. Although phenolic and melamine resins emit much less formaldehyde than urea resin, some people naturally have a preference to avoid using melamine boards in their home out of concern for the impact these materials may hold.

Then there are the structural limitations of melamine as a building material in contrast to plywood. Unlike plywood, melamine is naturally less rigid and can actually warp or bend under heavy loads over time. This makes melamine unsuitable for constructing shelving in heavy duty environments. 

Alongside this, melamine sheets can also actually be heavier than plywood or even standard MDF and particle board panels, which makes melamine trickier to install than other wood composite materials. 

So, some of the primary disadvantages of melamine sheets are as follows:

  • Can emit VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) into interior spaces
  • Can warp or bend under heavier loads
  • Can be heavier than other wood composite materials and thus difficult to install

Plywood vs Melamine: What’s the best material for your next project?

So let’s settle the score: plywood vs melamine – who walks out on top? Naturally, the answer is that it depends on your woodworking project. Melamine sheets can be a highly suitable material for constructing cabinetry and shelving in interior spaces, alongside providing durable and functional cupboards and other design elements in kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms.

Similarly, plywood is also suitable for a range of different applications, with the availability of different thicknesses, timber species, and plywood grades providing woodworkers with extensive options for producing natural timber-look furniture, flooring, ceiling, cladding, and more – all without the weight of raw timber. 

And if you’re still uncertain on which side you are in the plywood vs melamine debate, whether it is the right fit for your construction, cabinet-making or furniture production project, then you can speak with our experts here at Cabinet Timbers for more information on any of the particular melamine or plywood products we have on offer across our wide collection.

Want to read more about comparing different materials besides plywood vs melamine? Then, have a look at our comparative blogs to make an informed decision:

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