Particle board is cheaper, denser and more uniform than conventional wood and plywood and is substituted for them when cost is more important than strength and appearance. However, particleboard can be made more attractive by painting or the use of wood veneers onto surfaces that will be visible. Though it is denser than conventional wood, it is the lightest and weakest type of fiberboard, except for insulation board. Medium-density fibreboard and hardboard, also called high-density fiberboard, are stronger and denser than particleboard. Different grades of particleboard have different densities, with higher density connoting greater strength and greater resistance to failure of screw fasteners.
A major disadvantage of particleboard is that it is very prone to expansion and discoloration due to moisture, particularly when it is not covered with paint or another sealer. Therefore, it is rarely used outdoors or in places where there are high levels of moisture, with the exception of some bathrooms, kitchens and laundries, where it is commonly used as an underlayment - in its moisture resistant variant - beneath a continuous sheet of vinyl flooring.
The advantages of using particleboard over veneer core plywood is it is more stable, (unless it gets wet), much cheaper to buy, and somewhat more convenient to use.
Particleboard originated in Germany. It was first produced in 1887, when Hubbard made so-called "artificial wood" from wood flour and an adhesive based on albumin, which was consolidated under high temperature and pressure.
Although the use of two or three layers of wood veneer is ancient, modern 4' x 8' sheets of plywood with 5-11 core layers of veneer were invented in the early 20th century, and began to become common by the Second World War. During the war, phenolic resin was more readily accessible than top grade wood veneer in Germany, and Luftwaffe pilot and inventor Max Himmelheber played a role in making the first sheets of particleboard, which were little more than pourings of floor sweepings, wood chips, and ground up off-cuts and glue. The first commercial piece was produced during World War II at a factory in Bremen, Germany. For its production, waste material was used - such as planer shavings, offcuts or sawdust - hammer-milled into chips and bound together with a phenolic resin. Hammer-milling involves smashing material into smaller and smaller pieces until they can pass through a screen. Most other early particleboard manufacturers used similar processes, though often with slightly different resins.