Medium Density Overlay (MDO) Plywood for Jig Building and General Use

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Review by Jerry posted 10-12-2009 08:31 PM 86640 views 14 times favorited 39 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Medium Density Overlay (MDO) Plywood for Jig Building and General Use No-picture-s No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

As an alternative to the less than ideal MDF, a cabinetmaker friend of mine recently turned me onto “MDO”, aka “Signboard”. It is made up of phenolic resin coated paper laminated between layers of ply (11 layers of wood in 3/4”) and twice again as many of the phenolic- resin impregnated paper. Its what roadsigns are made of, its waterproof, flat , flat, flat and did I mention waterproof?

You wont find it in Home Depot or Lowes, I have looked. I have had success at many of the local lumberyards catering to contractors and other construction “Professionals:. The nice thing about this material for jig building is that it is relatively void free like marine ply and the paper exterior is very smooth. It is not quite as hard or slippery as phenolic ply but I think availability and price is much better than the hard to find fully phenolic plywood. My local lumber yard carry’s it in 3/8’ths, 1/2” and 3/4”. A 4/8 sheet of 3/4” MDO up here is $65.00.

I really like MDO for projects that call for plywood of any kind and have been using it exclusively when I can. As a side note, I hate MDF and have never been impressed with it for anything other than creating a noxious dust storm and blown out screw holes. I never understood it popularity but there are those who argue that its great…

Here is a link to the exact product I have been buying; Follow blue hi-lighted text for mfgr’s website.

The MDO I have been using lately is so pleasant to work with, cuts and machines wonderfully, accepts primer and paint like a magnet and has the added bonus of being moisture resistant even after being cut. Its about half the price of marine plywood. I have actually been thinking about building a 20’ Dory out of the stuff.

If you haven’t tried it for anything yet give it a shot. I bet you will be as impressed with its qualities as I am.


Here are some notes from the MDO/”Lusterboard” manufacturers website

MDO Plywood – The Paintable General Purpose Panel

Characteristics: An EXTERIOR type plywood with a weather-resistant resin overlay bonded to the wood by heat and pressure. This process fuses the molecules of the overlay with the fibres of the wood to form a bond as strong as the wood itself. MDO has all the advantages of regular plywood as well as additional properties. The overlay, which has 28% resin content, resists water, weather, wear and degradation. It has texture that paint can grip with remarkable tenacity. Paint finishes on MDO are up to three times more durable than the same finish applied to ordinary plywood.Ideal for Painted Signs: In many instances, overlaid MDO plywood has proven a more durable sign material than metal. MDO plywood is resistant to the elements with no danger of rust or corrosion.


MDO is saturated with Phenolic Resins, just not as much in the paper layer as the true phenolic ply.

MDO (Medium Density Overlay)

MDO is made with a high-quality paper saturated with phenolic resin solids and overlaid on exterior-grade plywood panels.

The selected hardwood veneer beneath the overlay is free of patches, providing a smooth surface with minimal grain show through.

MDO plywood is manufactured with waterproof resins that meet or exceed all veneer-grade, adhesion, and construction requirements.

It is stronger, more rigid, and less subject to creep than composition products. Innerplies and backs are all ÒCÓ grade or better.

MDO plywood can be sawn, nailed, routed, shaped and drilled.

The overlay is bonded to a hardwood substrate for a smooth, paintable surface and may be specified on one or two sides. “

I am so glad I found this product, it really gives jigs, cabinets and other projects that you will otherwise paint an easy to work with, fairly economical, durable and weatherproof material option that I did not have on my radar before now. Try it, I am betting you have a use for it and did not even know it!


-- "The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives should be a Store, Not a Govt. Agency"

View Jerry's profile


80 posts in 3964 days

39 comments so far

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 4696 days

#1 posted 10-12-2009 09:53 PM

FYI – Our local Menard’s carries MDO.

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View Dan M's profile

Dan M

121 posts in 4755 days

#2 posted 10-12-2009 09:57 PM

Been using it for years – love the stuff .. also pick it up at my local Menards

-- Dan M, SW Suburbs, Chicago IL

View Jim's profile


80 posts in 4888 days

#3 posted 10-12-2009 10:07 PM

Thanks for the review. I’ll give it a try. Been wondering about it and this will help motivate me!

-- Jim,

View AaronK's profile


1511 posts in 4275 days

#4 posted 10-12-2009 10:08 PM

no noxious dust?

View blackcherry's profile


3344 posts in 4634 days

#5 posted 10-12-2009 10:49 PM

Great review and fine Jerry, I’m sure this is going to go over big….Blkcherry

View Routerisstillmyname's profile


763 posts in 4320 days

#6 posted 10-13-2009 01:35 AM

I’m sold. Join the I hate MDF club.
Any links?

-- Router è ancora il mio nome.

View bobthebuilder647's profile


128 posts in 4063 days

#7 posted 10-13-2009 02:05 AM

This stuff sounds good.
I have never used MDF.
I use a lot of partical board, but it certenly is not moisture proof.

-- Rick, Pa. Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

View araldite's profile


188 posts in 4215 days

#8 posted 10-13-2009 04:11 AM

Good tip. I’ve never heard of MDO. I hate MDF. I actually roll my tools out of my garage and do all my cutting outside on my driveway because the dust drives me nuts and it takes days to filter it out of my shop. I think I must be allergic to MDF. I’m going to look for MDO in my area.

-- Failure is the road to success if you learn to learn from your mistakes - Vince, Greenville, SC

View WindwoodTrader's profile


14 posts in 3989 days

#9 posted 10-13-2009 04:57 PM

I found out about MDO on the Norm Abrams New Yankee Workshop about 15 years ago and have used it for several jig projects. One major use that I found really worthwhile is to re-surface the WORKMATE top that is nothing but particleboard that swells when it gets wet. MDO won’t swell.

Another great use is to re-surface the radial arm table. You can customize radial arms to your need- Same as with the Workmate stuff. One more is to build a poor man’s version of the great FESTOOL project table.

MDO is available in 1” but really expensive. If I need more than 3/4” I will sandwich 3/4” or 1/2” onto a 5/8 exterior grade A/B or A/C and if appearance is important veneer the edges with laminate- Works great! If you have money just sandwich two MDO panels together.

-- John

View SteveMI's profile


1158 posts in 4105 days

#10 posted 10-13-2009 06:41 PM

I found out about MDO couple months ago. My info was that it originated from the needs of concrete forms where it had to be water resistant and resusable from job to job.

I bought a 1/2” full sheet for $30 locally and have been using it with great success. Cuts great, real flat, glues well and paints well.

Planning to use it for some shop cabinets.

Wonder why it isn’t used more for the panels of kitchen cabinets that are hidden?


View a1Jim's profile


118104 posts in 4388 days

#11 posted 10-13-2009 09:21 PM

I’ve used it for years I agree it’s a great product


View MattinCincy's profile


128 posts in 3964 days

#12 posted 10-14-2009 01:35 AM

There’s a Menards about 45 minutes from me so I’ll be heading there this weekend to get a sheet – can’t wait to try it on a few table saw jigs I need to make.


-- Wag more, bark less.

View Jerry's profile


80 posts in 3964 days

#13 posted 10-14-2009 02:08 AM

Hi Guys,

Great, I am glad to hear few negatives about the product. I tested some glue joints (lap) and dado to destruction yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to see that the “Paper” layer did not delaminate from the “Skin” of the ply. The “Paper” layers appear to be almost melted into the wood under great pressure and heat. Basically when you glue it, its stuck for the long haul!


-- "The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives should be a Store, Not a Govt. Agency"

View FunnelStudio's profile


30 posts in 4129 days

#14 posted 10-14-2009 04:31 AM

This stuff is really rad. You can also get it pre-primed, which results in a super smooth surface depending on how it’s been handled.

-- -Shaun M. Baer,

View Dusty56's profile


11859 posts in 4499 days

#15 posted 10-14-2009 05:42 AM

Excerpts from MDO manufacturer …”The surface is laminated with a resin impregnated fiber. The resin creates a very weather resistant barrier that when primed and painted, provides one of the best water and UV resistant surfaces. We emphasize that it still must be primed and painted according to industry standards. Never allow it to get wet before being painted.

Edge Sealing

The most vulnerable portions of overlaid plywood are the edges. Because they absorb water which can lead to finish and surface deterioration, the edges require the most effective protection. Two coats of edge sealer must be applied for adequate protection against moisture penetration.

Although I agree that MDO is a great product , in over 20 years of handling it , I have never seen paper layered between the core plys as you indicate in your post above. The fiber resin is in the “overlay” which is the paper on the outside of the plywood , hence the name Medium Density Overlay....I don’t know who your supplier is , but the 11plys is outstanding to me as most of mine has been 7-9 ply 3/4” , here in the NorthEast.
I realize that there are several manufacturers out there with their own recipes that meet the APA codes . I just want others to know that they might not end up with the 11 ply brand when they go shopping for jig material, etc.. : ) Thank you .

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

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