I'm looking to install false stair treads and risers on my basement stairs. Generally, we're talking about a kit like this:

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Which is installed with adhesive and finishing nails like this:

enter image description here

The project itself looks fairly straightforward, but I have an issue with product choice.

One product is MDF (IKEA Board) with 3/16 oak laminate on the tread surface, and the usual paper thin layer on the risers.

The other is plywood, with a similar laminate layer.

The price difference is pretty much a wash, so there's no clear advantage either way on that front.

Is there any reason I should choose the MDF over plywood or vice versa?

  • For what it's worth, I have the MDF already. Is it worth the effort of taking it back for the plywood? – Chris Cudmore Sep 17 '12 at 17:39
  • I'd think the MDF risers would get damaged more easily from scuffing. – Niall C. Sep 17 '12 at 18:16
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    @NiallC. But wouldn't that just be damage to the finish layer? In which case, the interior material would be irrelevant. – Chris Cudmore Sep 17 '12 at 18:19
  • ... potentially exposing the layers underneath was where I was going with that half finished comment. – Niall C. Sep 17 '12 at 18:55

I would select the product based on the appearance and durability of the finish laminate alone, with little concern for the substrate material, assuming the substrate is some viable material and not pressed paper pulp or something else obviously inferior.

For identical finish laminates, MDF would be preferable to plywood as it is denser and more dimensionally stable.

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If it is MDF or HDF (as opposed to particleboard) then I would choose the fiberboard over ply.

Any surface wear will impact the finish laminate, regardless of the underlying material. By contrast, MDF/HDF should be more impact resistance, water/mold resistant and uniform in density and composition.

MDF versus Particle

MDF above: more uniform and dense. Particle below, less uniform and dense.

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  • Can you tell by looking? – Chris Cudmore Sep 17 '12 at 18:40
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    @ChrisCudmore you can... I added a picture. However, if you've never worked with MDF/HDF before it could be confusing. – Matthew Sep 17 '12 at 18:42
  • It would also be nice to have a picture of mdf vs hdf. – XTL Dec 10 '12 at 12:20
  • @XTL that's more difficult. HDF looks very similar to MDF, just heavier (because it's more dense) – Matthew Dec 10 '12 at 15:26

Personally, I am not a fan of MDF for any use--but especially in a high-use area such as stairs. My oak plywood stairs have held up great for 30 years in a house with 4 kids, multiple dogs, and grandkids. I think this should speak for itself.

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  • This may be true, but doesn't answer the question as asked. – SiHa May 20 at 15:47

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