The origins of wood-based panels date back to antiquity. As long ago as the Egyptian era there was evidence of cross-grain veneer layering as a construction technique. However, it was not until the industrial revolution in the 1850s that this became widely recognisable as the plywood product we know today. Plywood was originally developed to provide panels with dimensional stability and good strength properties both along and across the panel. Straight, well-grown timber is required for plywood manufacture.
The first commercial fibreboards combining fibres of wood with high temperature and pressure without additional binders which were similar to hardboard were produced in 1898, but it was not until 1924 before the hardboard that is more recognisable today was developed.
Although there are references to patents for a softboard product going back to 1914 these did not enter mainstream use (initially for thermal and acoustic applications) until the 1950s. Subsequently variants emerged to broaden their use, particularly within construction.
Particleboards were developed commercially in the 1950s to provide utility panel materials with uniform properties at economic prices, using primarily chipped forest roundwood, thinnings and sawmill waste. Other plant materials such as flax are used in some regions of the world. There have been many developments since in manufacturing technology and, from the original utility products, the industry has developed a whole family of panel products with specific properties targeted at a wide variety of end uses. They are ubiquitous today and can be found both in the homes as well as in numerous high-profile, prestige projects.
Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF) which combines wood fibres with a synthetic binder, first entered commercial production in the USA in 1966. The first European MDF was manufactured in 1973. With unique machining and finishing attributes and being available in a wide range of thicknesses, MDF has cut across markets once dominated by hardboards and also some solid wood markets.
OSB was developed in the mid-1970s to utilise smaller logs that are not suitable for plywood production. OSB production in Europe started in 1985. Made of strands normally about 75mm long, OSB is often in three layers, with the strands in the surface layer oriented roughly in line with the length of the panel. This gives the panel higher mechanical properties in that direction. OSB was developed from the earlier waferboard or flake-board, which had random particle orientation.