Before You Build - Should You Use Baltic Birch Plywood or MDF?

Close up of child's hand in a dolls house
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There is a lot of discussion about what type of material is better for dolls houses or other scale buildings, should you use MDF (medium density fiberboard) or Birch / Aircraft Plywood? What are the differences for dolls house or miniature scale buildings? Each material has strengths and weaknesses that may affect how your scale building survives or even the techniques you use to build and finish it.

Medium Density Fiberboard - MDF

MDF is Medium Density Fiberboard (not particleboard). It is a durable wood product with an even density throughout. It makes it easy to cut precise edges and shapes. On a dolls house, this allows detail like a pre-cut exterior siding finish which requires no cutting and gluing of additional pieces of wood siding. MDF requires power tools to cut well; it creates very fine dust. It is very resistant to water penetration, although it will dent and split more readily than plywood. MDF is usually found at thicknesses of 1/4 inch up. 3/8 in. MDF is the most common thickness for dolls houses and similar structures. Lines for Electrical Wiring can be easily "cut" in MDF with common grout cleaning tool or grout saw

    Baltic Birch Plywood

    Baltic Birch Plywood is a plywood with a very fine wood grain available in several different ply numbers and thicknesses. The more plies (layers) there are, the more stable the board is.

    Baltic Birch plywood has a finer grain than does most other plywood. Its method of construction means there are no holes or voids in between the layers. It can be found in thicknesses from 1/8 inch up. Baltic Birch plywood does have a wood grain, but it is a very fine and flat surface which takes paint well.

    Baltic Birch Plywood can be used at a thickness of 1/4 inch to construct dolls houses and other miniature buildings. It is often found sold as 'aircraft plywood' in hobby and model stores.

      Pros and Cons to Using MDF for Dollhouses and Other Miniature Structures

      MDF has a very even surface. Unfortunately, it does dent and chip. It is also much heavier than a similar thickness of plywood. Large doll houses or other structures made of MDF will be very heavy. MDF does not take nails or screws easily. Joins are best glued and dowelled. MDF is very hard to attach brads its, so electrical systems which use brads and pins may be difficult to attach. MDF can be milled, so doll houses with exterior trims such as siding, may have this texture milled into the MDF, making initial finishing much simpler but future exterior changes or additions will be difficult or impossible. As MDF absorbs water, it is best primed to prevent 'fuzzies' from occurring on a painted MDF surface. ​How to Prime MDF For a Better Paint Finish

        Pros and Cons to Using Baltic Birch Plywood for Dolls Houses & Other Structures

        Baltic Birch Plywood is considerably lighter than MDF of a similar size. It is stronger for it's thickness than MDF.

        Plywood easily accepts screws, nails, and brads. Using electrical tapewire systems in plywood structures is easier than in those made of MDF. To construct dolls houses which need a finished interior, you need plywood which is good on both sides, or you must cover the worst side with siding or some other finish.