11 Best and Cheap Alternatives to Plywood + Pros & Cons

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Plywood is a good option for basic construction projects due to its strength and durability. But sometimes, it might feel a bit heavy on the pocket, especially when there are more affordable and even superior options available.

If you’re looking for cheap alternatives to plywood, I’ve curated a list of economical options for you. Keep reading to discover the best options for your next project!

About Plywood

Plywood is a processed wood product. Unlike natural timbers, processed wood products are fabricated in factories and composed of wood particles and fibers. Meanwhile, natural lumber is a wood piece directly cut from a tree log.

Baltic birch plywood thickness and layersB

Typically, plywood sheets are comprised of various wood veneers or plies glued together to form hard panels. The standard plywood panels consist of a minimum of three veneers glued together at 90 degrees angle. 

Advantages of Plywood

High Strength and Dimensional Stability

Plywood sheets have higher stability and uniform strength due to their plies attached at 90 degrees angle. With this, plywood sheets rarely change their shape and split when exposed to different environmental conditions or temperature variations.

Resistance to High Impacts

The plywood layers undergo a cross-laminating process, which gives the plies higher weight capacity, structural integrity, weight capacity, and tensile strength. Consequently, plywood can hold twice the standard load rating.

Chemical and High-Water Resistance

Plywood layers are treated for chemical and water resistance during the plies production. As a result, the sheets are highly resistant to chemicals, water, and moisture.

plywood layers

Flexibility and bendability

Plywood is more suitable for paneling, decorative items, and curved formwork since it is more bendable and flexible than solid wood. 

Plywood Disadvantages

Not Durable Enough

Plywood is not as durable as solid wood. High-quality plywood boards can only last a maximum of 25 years compared to hardwood which can last a lifetime. Also, the harsh weather conditions significantly shorten the longevity of plywood. 

Expensive Engineered Wood

Plywood is significantly more expensive compared to other processed wood products. Therefore, consider it as an alternative to solid wood, as there are cheaper options that are more durable than plywood.

11 Affordable Plywood Alternatives to Try

1. EKO Ply (Recycled Plastic Sheets)

EKO Ply (Recycled Plastic Sheets)

If you’re like me who prioritizes eco-friendly options, EKO ply is a great choice as a sustainable alternative to plywood. It’s made of purely recycled materials, such as post-consumer and post-industrial plastics.  

Also, EKO ply sheets are highly resistant to chemicals, rot, and natural corrosion, making them more suitable for exterior applications. 



2. Reinforced Polyurethane Boards

Reinforced Polyurethane Boards

It is a lightweight plastic veneer that is stronger and more durable than plywood. It is also moisture and chemical resistant, so it can last longer. Some reinforced polyurethane boards are made of fiberglass, which makes them more durable and can hold a heavier weight. 



3. Particleboards

Particle board texture

Particleboards are thin layers of wood glued together utilizing formaldehyde resin. This procedure makes them stronger and more durable. Also, they have smooth and shiny surfaces, making them suitable for non-painted products.



4. MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard)

MDF board

This processed wood product is popular among woodworkers next to plywood sheets. It’s made of waste wood broken down into tiny particles and fine wood fibers glued together to form a sturdy board.  

MDF has more excellent dimensional stability than plywood and other solid woods. Unlike plywood, MDF doesn’t contract or expand when exposed to different weather conditions. Also, it’s environmentally friendly and easy to maintain.



5. HDF (High-Density Fiberboard)

HDF (High-Density Fiberboard)

HDF is an upgraded version of MDF. It undergoes the same procedure as MDF and shares the same properties except for density. 

HDF has a density of 800-900 kilograms per cubic meter, relatively denser than MDF, which has a density of 600 to 800 kilograms per cubic meter. This makes HDF more durable and stronger. However, fireboards with higher density are thinner and weaker compared to plywood. 



6. OSB (Oriented Strand Board)

OSB (Oriented Strand Board)

One of my go-to budget-friendly alternatives to plywood is OSB. It’s manufactured by pressing and binding various sizes of scrap wood using wax and resin, forming the board into hard panels. 

What’s impressive about OSB is its resilience. It’s not only more robust but also fares better with temperature fluctuations, retaining its rigidity and shape. Plus, when it comes to water and moisture resistance, it often outperforms plywood.



7. Fiber Cement Boards

Fiber Cement Board

It is also known as fiber cement, a composite material consisting of cement, cellulose fiber, sand, and water. 

Typically, it is used for residential structure sidings due to its durability and longevity. Also, fiber cement is highly rot and moisture-resistant, making it more suitable for exterior applications. Generally, it is the most climate resistant among composite products.



8. GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic)

GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic)

GRP is another composite material consisting of glass fibers and plastic or polymer. Fine glass fibers are fabricated to produce GRP, forming a flexible textile. 

It also integrates aluminum oxide aggregates, making its surface as hard as diamond and highly scratch resistant. Compared to plywood, a 1/8-inch GRP can be as hard as a 3/4-inch plywood.



9. Baltic Birch Plywood

baltic birch plywood

Generally, Baltic birch plywood is a pure hardwood and made of an all-plywood core compared to standard plywood, which is made of solid wood or MDF core. 

Overall, Baltic birch plywood is more durable and stronger than standard plywood. 

See Also: High-Quality Plywood for Cabinetry



10. HDPE King Starboard

HDPE King Starboard

HDPE is a preferred plywood alternative by most woodworkers, especially for marine applications and for constructions in humid areas. It is known for its durable and strong composite material, which is highly moisture and water-resistant. 

If you are looking for HDPE that is proven to resist impact and withstand harsh weather conditions, I highly recommend going for King Starboard.



11. Masonite


Masonite is a hardboard manufactured by pressure-molding and steam-cooking wood fibers. It is popularly used for flooring, partitioning, paneling, and insulation. It’s easy to use and available in various sizes.




What is the cheapest alternative to plywood?

The cheapest alternative to plywood is particle board, which is made of condensed wood particles.  It’s strong, shiny, and smooth, making it suitable for projects that need an excellent finish. 

What is the cheapest type of plywood?

The cheapest type of plywood is D-grade plywood, while the most expensive is A-grade plywood. This grading is based on the visibility of defects on the plywood surface. The greater the defects, the cheapest it costs.

Are MDF and plywood both strong?

No, plywood is stronger than MDF. Plywood gets its strength from its natural wood core, while MDF depends on its strength from the adhesive and glue that hold the wood fibers, making it significantly weaker than plywood. 

What is the waterproof alternative to plywood?

The waterproof alternative to plywood is birch plywood, but it should only be submerged in water for a short period of time. You may also consider fiberboards like HDF, which is highly water resistant.

What is a good roofing plywood alternative?

The best roofing plywood alternative is the cellulose fiberboard due to its lightweight, strong, and water-resistant composition.

What do you call thin wood?

The thin wood layers are called plies or veneers [1]. They are sliced or peeled from a tree log with a 1/8-inch thickness or lease, then glued together to form a flat panel. 

Veneer provides a cost-effective and attractive way to achieve the appearance of solid wood while utilizing the material more efficiently.

What’s the best plywood alternative for exterior use?

The best plywood alternative for exterior use is the Oriented Strand Board due to its higher density and stronger components.


You may have considered plywood the best option for your project, but its expensive price made you think twice. But now that you know the cheap alternatives to plywood, you can buy better wood material within your budget. 

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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