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Building Materials To Use for Your DIY Home Projects

by - Monday, February 08, 2021

Have you ever found yourself standing in the building materials aisle, not knowing which product to use for your next home project? 

One question I often get is "How did you make that"? It starts with choosing the right material. You don't want to make a mistake, use a material that isn't strong enough, doesn't paint well or cuts poorly, and end up wasting your money. We've used lots of different woods and composites over the years and knowing which to use is critical to getting a successful result.


diy building, composite materials, diy home projects


Disclosure: This conversation is sponsored by the Composite Panel Association. Thank you for supporting the brands that make this blog possible!

Building Materials

Let me show you different material options we've used in our own home, where and how we've used them. I've also included some helpful tips to getting the most out of your material. 

Solid Wood:

Wood is a good choice for building or construction projects. It's a strong material that can support weight so consider it for projects that involve framing or building a support. We've used solid wood for framing a wall in our bedroom, providing the supporting structure for a window seat, and to build our L-shaped bench with storage

The framing for the bench was made using 2"x4" pieces of lumber which were then faced in 1/4" plywood. The hinged top was constructed of planks of knotty pine. See here for the full instructions. 

 

Tip: when possible, size your project to fit dimensional lumber to minimize wastage and cost. For example, we designed the longest side of our bench to be 8' so it could be easily built from 8' pieces of lumber.

diy bench seat, l shaped bench, diy outdoor bench

The wood construction ensured that our outdoor bench was solid and would not buckle under the weight of our family of three. Be aware though that wood can easily absorb water if not treated or maintained properly. We painted the bench with exterior paint to make it more moisture resistant and suitable for outdoor weather conditions.

Wood is also the material of choice when you want to stain and show the natural wood grain. Wood contains knots and imperfections; it is not a uniform, smooth material. 

It's suitable for projects such as our whitewash plank walls or details like the stained surround we have on our basement fireplace where you want to add the warmth and texture of wood.

fireplace update, wood wrap fireplace

MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard):

MDF is an engineered wood product. It falls under the category of "composites" which are materials made from two or more different materials that combined are stronger than those individual materials by themselves. Using composites is a sustainable choice; composite manufacturers make use of recycled wood and sawmill waste that otherwise would be landfilled or burned, ensuring the entire tree is put to use and very little is wasted

MDF is typically made of wood fibres that are combined with a resin binder and are joined together under heat and pressure to form panels. MDF panels are smooth, flat, and feature a uniform density which allows for precise cutting and shaping. MDF is also less expensive than solid wood.

In our home, we've used MDF in budget-friendly projects that require a crisp, clean look. One example is the MDF shiplap on the fireplace in the photo above. Another example is the moulding and trimwork featured throughout our home.

mdf moulding, mdf molding, chair rail, traditional moulding
Traditional moulding in the living room

wall panelling mdf, mdf in bathroom
Wall panel treatment in the bathroom

MDF is easy to work with and is a great choice for the novice DIYer. It comes in a variety of sizes and profiles. It allows for clean, straight cuts and detailed finishing. It sands and paints easily.

mdf trim, mdf moulding, return, butt joint

This DIY radiator cover is one of my favourite MDF projects. We decided on MDF for this application as the MDF wouldn't warp or expand with the heat from the radiator. The perforated wood mesh screen is also a hardboard product while the smaller cove moulding is wood.

Tip: MDF is less expensive than wood. Use a combination of MDF and other wood products to keep costs down.

diy radiator cover, mdf radiator cover, radiator cover with cubbies

Particleboard:

Particleboard is manufactured similarly to MDF but is made of an inner core of larger, coarser fibres that provide excellent strength, stability, and screw holding. 

Particleboard's surface layers are fine fibres that provide a smooth finish that readily accept decorative laminates and wood veneers. It's an economical and adaptable solution often used in kitchen cabinets, countertops, shelving, stair treads and flooring underlayment.

kids closet, diy kids closet, organized kids closet

Here's a closet organization system that is made of particleboard with a thermally-fused laminate finish (also known as melamine). We maximized storage by adding in custom touches such as the hanging rods and shelving cut to size. To the left of the unit, we added filler panels made from particleboard and MDF to give the closet a built-in look. 

Hardboard:

Hardboard is also a composite made from wood fibres subjected to heat and pressure to form panels. The panels are lightweight but have a higher density and strength as compared to MDF. It's used in furniture components, wall paneling, moulded door skins, underlayment and perforated boards.

hardboard pegboard, pegboard organization, garage organization

Here you can see the hardboard pegboard we used in our garage, along with the wood frame construction of our workbench. The hardboard provided a cost-effective and decorative DIY organization solution. It's strong enough to hold our hand tools, clamps, and power tools. See more garage organization ideas here.

hardboard panel, diy wainscot, dining room wainscot

Another interesting use of hardboard in our home is for the DIY wainscotting in our dining room. The previous owners had installed moulding in this room. When we took that moulding out, it left the drywall patchy and torn. Rather than spending our time and money repairing the drywall, we instead installed hardboard panels on the bottom half of the wall. 

The hardboard created a nice, new surface that we could paint and to which we could apply additional mouldings. The chair rail hides the fact that the white wainscot and wallpapered walls are not the same depth.

Decorative Surfaces

You can also achieve a whole different look with your building materials by having decorative surfaces applied on top. Overlays or coatings such as laminates, foils or veneers, are commonly applied to panel products such as particleboard, MDF or hardboard. Decorative surfaces are a great way to achieve the colour, texture, and pattern you want at an affordable price.

You'll see decorative surfaces applied to kitchen cabinetry, bathroom vanities, countertops, and home organization systems. Several examples can be found in our basement wet bar

basement kitchen, under counter bar fridge, kitch mist doors

A variety of composite materials have been used here: 
  • the floating shelf features a particleboard core with a realistic woodgrain look veneer
  • the countertop has a particleboard core but is finished with a marble-look laminate
  • and the cabinet doors feature an MDF substrate with 3D laminate applied on top
No doubt you've noticed the growing popularity of 3D Laminate doors. 3D Laminates are resistant to chipping, cracking, and breaking and protect the composite panel from bacteria and moisture which makes them an ideal choice for kitchens and bathrooms. They also offer a variety of the latest trend designs in solid colours, stones, and woodgrains. It's a great way to achieve that moody, English kitchen look without having to paint all your cabinetry!

We purchased these items ready-made, but if you're adventurous, you could certainly DIY your own laminate countertops or apply veneer to shelving.

As you can see, there are lots of options for building materials. I hope you found this information useful and you feel better equipped to select material for your next DIY project!

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