Is Particle Board a Good Material For Shelves?

After I reviewed many corner shelves, I notice that many of them made of material called particle board. Despite the fact that particle board looks perfectly same as solid wood from the outside, I have found something I never knew.

We all know that particle board is a type of engineered wood which is cheaper and less durable than solid wood. However, the important question is “Is particle board sufficient?”. Since we don’t need an undestroyable corner shelf, we just need a shelf that has enough endurance.

We should begin this discussion with inner properties of the particle board. Particle board emerges from the issue about wood waste. Since wood processing produces a lot of small unusable pieces of wood, people invented the way to use them. They did chunk these chips together into board and glued them with resin. The result is wood alternative which we call ‘particle board’. Since particle board does not have wood pattern, it is usually applied with wood veneer.


Schematic structure of particle board, MDF and plywood. From the image we could see that particle board and MDF are similar while plywood is completely different material.

When I did find the information about particle board, I have found related materials. Two of them are MDF (medium-density fiberboard) and hardboard. Both of them, along with particle board are members of fiberboard materials. All of them are technically the same, small pieces of wood pack together. The only difference is pressure applied to make the board. Hence the density, strength, water resistance, and price go up from particle board to hard board, respectively.

Another related material is plywood. Since plywood is thin layers of solid wood glued together, thus it is nor amazing that plywood is more expensive than fiberboard. However, there is a precaution that many plywood use MDF or hardboard as its core. Therefore, read some reviews of the product before you conclude something. Even it mentions that the material is plywood.

When it comes to the comparison, it is obvious that solid wood is better than any engineered wood in most aspect. There is no point to include solid wood in this discussion. Even so, between particle board, MDF, and plywood, there must be point-by-point comparison.

For termite-resistance, all of them are vulnerable. The type of wood doesn’t matter, only addition of termite-killing reagent such as boron will help. Thus, about this issue, all materials in discussion is on par.

In catching fire, plywood and particle board are the easiest. Hardboard is more resistant but still assailable. MDF looks the best since it has high content of resin while has little air trapped inside.

About weight, all of fiberboard family are heavier than plywood. Even the particle board which is the lightest one. The weight is a crucial property when the shelves are mounted to the wall. Plywood shelves are much easier to lift.

On the topic of water-resistance, particle board and MDF are very readily to protrude. They don’t even have to be soaked. Just the moisture can make them bulge outward. Hardboard and plywood are usually far more resistant to the water.

The last, and the most important aspect is the strength. Particle board is easy to break. It will get scratches from any hard objects, which cannot be fixed easily. It cannot hold much weight before it collapses since there are a lot of void space inside. MDF is better in this. It will not collapse easily but it still breaks on hard impact. Hardboard and plywood are far stronger than those two. They normally do not break without intention. Corner shelves constructed with hardboard or plywood should be able to support more than 100 lbs if mounted properly to the wall.

Summary

For the wooden corner shelves, if we exclude solid wood, plywood is the best. You may consider hardboard or MDF for lower price. And leave the particle board with a lightweight, low-price job.