Sheet material

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Sheet Woods


  • Usually 3mm thick
  • Not fully rigid
  • Used to line damaged wood floors before carpeting
  • Also available with a semi-gloss white finish
  • Most popular as cupboard backs and drawer bottoms in cheap furniture
  • Vulernable to water damage
  • Hardboard is occasionally called HDF, high density fibreboard, or masonite, a US trade name.


  • Hardboard with a matrix of prepunched holes.
  • Used for vending displays, long metal hooks go in the holes and products are hung on these.



  • aka Particleboard
  • Low cost sheet material
  • Made from wood chips & sawdust glued together.
  • Very widely used
  • Dimensionally stable, as long as kept dry
  • Very vulnerable to water
  • Much weaker than real wood
  • Comes in differing strength & finish grades
  • Occasionally called LDF, low density fibreboard
  • Made from mostly recycled wood.

Types of Chipboard

Low Density

  • Weak
  • A bit flaky
  • Cheap


  • Aka high density
  • Stronger
  • Used for flooring, worktops & speaker cabinets
  • Often tongue & grooved for improved alignment & smoke resistance

Moisture Resistant

Flame Retardant

Veneered chipboard


  • Plastic impregnated paper coated chipboard
  • Tough fairly durable surface
  • Easy to clean
  • Available in white, brown wood patterns, and sometimes other plain colours
  • Veneer is very prone to chipping when cut
  • Veneer tends to chip over time, making it look tatty
  • Veneer chipping is mostly unrepairable
  • Veneered chipboard is the most popular furniture material today.

Wood Veneered

  • The great majority of wood effect chipboard is melamine veneered
  • Real wood veneered chipboard is also seen sometimes (also called "furniture board").


  • 2 sheets of veneer with wood strips glued between
  • Used for furniture panels


  • Oriented strand board
  • aka Sterling board
  • Similar properties to plywood
  • A cheaper alternative to ply
  • Waterproof
  • Some OSB contains biocidal zinc borate to prevent mould & bacterial growth.

OSB vs ply

OSB vs ply


  • 'Medium Density Fibreboard'
  • Fine wood fibres glued together
  • Uniform, can be tooled in any direction
  • Free from knots & other defects
  • Vulnerable to water
  • Often criticised for being an aesthetically inferior finish to real wood
  • Made from wood, scrap wood, recycled paper, bamboo, forest thinnings & sawmill off-cuts
  • Some concerns have been expressed about formaldehyde outgassing, which can possibly cause eye or lung irritation during working. But this is no more or less true than with chipboard or hardboard.
  • Green MDF is moisture resistant
  • Red MDF is fire retardant


  • Strips of pine glued side by side to make sheet wood
  • Each strip is in alternating grain direction
  • Eliminates nearly all potential for warping & cupping
  • Finished to furniture standard
  • Used for pine furniture construction, shelves, etc



  • Sheets of wood veneer glued together
  • Each sheet has grain laid at 90 degrees to its neighbours
  • Excellent strength in both directions.
  • Available in various grades: - Marine, WBP, fair faced, beech, underlay, etc
  • Various thicknesses from 4mm to 2"
  • Flexible 4mm ply also available
  • Small sizes, such as 1/64" 1/32" & 1/16" ply are available from model shops
  • Custom sizes may be made from veneers
  • Not one of the cheaper sheet materials

Types of Ply


This is a very expensive and high quality product. It is made with waterproof resins that will withstand prolonged immersion in water. The board is also guaranteed to have no gaps or "voids" in it, with no knots in any of the laminations. It is strong, durable, won't de-laminate, and can be finished to a high standard.

Water & Boil Proof (WBP)

This is what most people usually mean when they say "marine ply". It is a high quality ply suitable for outdoor applications. As its name suggests it will remain waterproof, and won't blister or de-laminate even if soaked and then left to dry in the sun. Unlike marine ply it may have small voids, and is not suited to constant immersion, but is cheaper. Finish is usually nice and uniform (if a little plain) with no visible knots in the outer surfaces.

Shuttering ply

This is also WBP but it does not look as nice or "finished". This is because it is usually made from spiral cut laminations, and so will have knots and other marks visible in all the laminations. Its intended use is for building shuttering to temporarily enclose poured concrete work. It is strong and waterproof, but quite a bit cheaper than standard finished WBP ply. Shuttering ply tends to be somewhat absorbent at first, and is hence harder to decorate. The grain and texture of the surface will also tend to show through any finish.


Interior grade of ply - Unlike WBP this will not take well to getting wet. A couple of exposures to moisture is usually all it takes to have the surface start to bubble, and the laminations start to come apart. It is cheaper than WBP and much better looking than shuttering ply, it will also decorate and finish well.

Fair faced

This is a whole category of veneered and finished plys suitable for furniture making. Strong and dimensionally stable, the outer layers of veneer are usually cut from a more attractive hardwood, that will look to all intents and purposes like a solid hardwood when assembled and finished. Depending on the veneer chosen, these can be expensive (although still cheaper than solid hardwood). Note that similar MDF cored products are also available.


Underlay ply contains no voids, giving it maximum resistance to point loads.

Underlay ply is used to provide a tough gap-free surface for tiling, carpeting, lino etc, and to take up slight differences in floor height, eg where lino abuts carpet. It comes in sizes from 1/8" to 3/8".

Underlay ply is not waterproof. It should only be installed on completely dried floors. 2 days in its final location are recommended to acclimatize before laying.


Flexible ply with the grain of all layers running in the same direction. Used for making curved furniture.


  • Hardwood on chipboard generally, with or without a balancing underside layer of wood for greater stability.
  • Used for flooring


  • Structural insulated wood panels
  • 2x OSB outer layers with insulation fill.

Sheet plastics

Opaque sheet has high price & lacklustre performance for most DIY purposes. Translucence is what makes plastic sheet more useful.


  • Clear sheet used to replace glass
  • Perspex is a well known trade name
  • Tends to crack when cut or drilled
  • Can be glued with acetone or acrylic dissolved in acetone


  • One of the toughest plastics
  • Clear or tinted
  • Flat sheet, Twinwall & Triplewall available
  • Multiwall sheets contain air spaces giving insulation


  • Used for cills, bargeboards, soffits, cladding
  • White is the most popular colour

Corrugated PVC

  • Roofing sheet
  • White, translucent or tinted
  • Different corrugation sizes & shapes available

Sheet Metals


  • Expanded Metal Lath
  • Sometimes loosely called 'gauze'
  • Used to support and reinforce render & plaster
  • Galvanised
  • Stainless steel also available, at several times the price

Stainless Steel

  • Extremely durable
  • Used as a kitchen splashback
  • SS sheet is too expensive for other uses in any significant amount


  • Cut with bolt croppers or angle grinder.
  • Available in 6mm to 16mm diameter

See also:

Other Sheet Materials


  • Very popular walling sheet
  • Cheap
  • Not as strong as wood sheets
  • Cut with handsaw or knife
  • 2 sheets of paper with gypsum inbetween
  • 9.5mm and 12mm are the most common sizes
  • 12mm is significantly more robust
  • Available with various edge profiles:
  • Flexible PB is also available for curved surfaces.
  • 2 layers gives better soundproofing and longer fire resistance
  • Smaller sheets are used for ceilngs due to the fairly heavy weight of 4x8 sheets.


  • Used as plasterboard
  • Typically 1" thick
  • Construction as plasterboard, but using clay based plaster
  • Much heavier than plasterboard
  • Better sound absorption
  • Not very popular

Fibre Cement

  • New fibre cement sheet is normally glass fibre reinforced cement. Other fibres may be used.
  • Old fibre cement sheet (until 1986) was normally asbestos fibre reinforced
  • Both have similar properties, except for the health issues surrounding asbestos
  • Totally weatherproof
  • Waterproof
  • Very robust
  • Fireproof
  • Long lasting
  • Ruins drill bits & saw blades
  • Not cheap
  • Possible to make non-compressed fibre cement sheet at home
  • Used for soffits, bargeboards, furniture, garages, bunkers, heatproofing, fireproofing, and sometimes found in place of plasterboard.
  • Breakage on outbuildings is largely due to the very thin elements used.
  • Old asbestos cutters are not suitable for use on new fibre cement sheet


Sag can be an issue with sheet materials, especially the lower strength ones like chipboard.

The Sagulator calculates short and long term sag, given the dimensions, loading and material type.

See Also

Insulation sheet materials

Wood-plastic composite

Using Chip Board

More on Plywoods

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