Hardboard is a type of man-made composite wood. There are many ‘fake wood’ options, of which hardboard is one. These wood alternatives are made from the shavings or chips of real wood, but not cut directly from a tree, which gives them the identity of ‘fake wood’ or ‘composite wood’ or 'manmade wood’.
Hardboard is created by compressing composite boards with fibers. It has many uses, but it’s best to understand how it differs from other composites before selecting it for your next DIY project.
What Is Hardboard, Exactly?
Hardboard is a combination of wood particles and glue. What makes it unique is the process by which it’s made. A pile of sawdust or small wood pieces are pressed together under intense pressure and heat and bound with glue. The size of the initial material dictates the final density of the product and there are different types of hardboard.
Types of Hardboard
Hardboard comes in different finishes. Each one offers a different finish and density.
Tempered hardboard is the strongest of the options. The process starts by breaking down the already-small wood particles using steam. This basically cooks it into consistently small pieces that are then pressed back together into sheets. Because the pieces are so small, the end result is very dense.
High-Density Fiberboard (HDF)
Because of its high density, this hardboard is commonly used in construction applications. Sheets are used in stairways, cabinets, and furniture for this reason. Very thin ⅛’-¼” sheets are used for cabinet backs and drawer bottoms. It’s close to solid wood in strength, yet a whole lot more affordable. Plus it holds up well to many applications including pegboards and skate ramps.
What Hardboard Is Not
Medium-Density Fiberboard (MDF) is sometimes lumped into the hardboard category, but it doesn’t really fit the definition. For starters, HDF is much stronger than MDF. There is also an LDF (low-density) which is more like a particle board (discussed below). MDF is less dense than the HDF version, but it’s thick (typically ¾”) and rigid. MDF is commonly used in cabinetry and shelving.
There are other types of composite materials that are often confused with hardboard. Particle board, often used in speakers, is one example. However, particleboard is soft and lacks durability. In fact, anyone who’s tried to drive a screw into a particle board can attest to the fact that it just falls apart. Cheap-quality furniture made with particle board is the reason composite woods have acquired a bad name.
Plywood is another fiber board, but it is made by creating layers of veneer and wood chips into sheets. Plywood is a reliably strong material that has been used in many industries for a long time as an alternative to ‘real’ wood. In fact, many cabinets are made using a base of plywood.
How They Compare
Particleboard is the cheapest material both in cost and quality. Plywood is a much better product for nearly every application. MDF is stronger and more flexible than lower-quality plywood but not necessarily better than high-quality plywood options.
Weight is also a significant factor when deciding which material to use because MDF is much lighter than plywood. MDF is also easy to work with and shape, making it a common choice for moldings and trims.
Hardboard is a superior product to all of those listed above in the sense that it is easy to handle in thin sheets, provides outstanding durability, is exceptionally strong, and, with a bit of primer, hardboard is very paintable.
Within the construction industry, hardboard is versatile, available in a variety of colors, and can come unfinished, primed, or prefinished.
Hardboard is also considered to be an environmentally-friendly option since it does not rely on virgin lumber and essentially recycles wood waste materials. Plus, it’s a less expensive option than many other materials including metal and ‘real’ wood.
Unlike other pressboards, hardboard also provides a real wood-grain look with a texture that resembles the real thing too.
Finally, hardboard is moisture resistant, rust-resistant, resilient against temperature fluctuations, and is bug and dent resistant, adding to its appeal for indoor or outdoor use.