Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is a common wood product often used around the home. However, those new to woodworking may wonder what the wood is because it is cumbersome.
Aside from this, there may be some home improvement projects where the sort of wood isn’t suitable, and there are tales that it isn’t a healthy wood to use around the home.
In this guide, we show you all the pros and cons of using medium-density fiberboard, so you can make up your mind whether to use it, or stick to other wood products, or real wood that is more suited to the task.
What Does MDF Stand For?
The MDF acronym stands for Medium Density Fiberboard. MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) is an engineered wood product consisting of wood fibers obtained from the breakdown of hard and softwood using a defibrator.
They then bond the resulting fibers together with wax and adhesive resins.
Medium-density fiberboard manufacturing then converts the resulting wood mixture into panels by applying high temperature and pressure. The final smooth surface of the wood panel comes with no wood grain and shares many characteristics with another manufactured wood particleboard.
MDF, however, is a somewhat stronger building material than this, yet it does have its drawbacks.
MDF vs. Particle Board
When you are doing jobs around the home, you want to find the most cost-effective wood for the task.
While some are similar, they are not appropriate for certain things. In a similar way in the manufacturing process, the particle board uses high temperature and pressure to compress and glue together sawdust and woodchips rather than the fibers in medium-density fiberboard (MDF) manufacturing.
Particle board is much easier to cut, and often used as a lower end building material as it isn’t as appealing to look at. Such a kind of board is also much cheaper than MDF wood is.
Around the home, you can find these particleboards used in any areas where you don’t need a nice finish, or they are out of sight.
Because of this, you often see them used in areas where they are laid flat (bending can easily break them) such as substrates, underlays, inside kitchen cabinets, and many more.
MDF boards are generally found in the home for cabinet doors, shelving, wood furniture, and molding.
No matter where you see MDF medium density fiberboard in use, it does need to be finished with a wood veneer, or a good quality laminate. MDF can also be primed and painted, and you already have the surface smoothness without any further preparation.
MDF vs. Plywood
MDF is generally cheaper than plywood, although you can find many types of plywood made for specific purposes. Marine ply is a standout one for use around wet environments or boats.
MDF isn’t water-resistant, yet they are now developing moisture-resistant MDF. Like particleboards, you can find low-cost plywood in construction for regions; it won’t be seen.
More expensive boards come with grained finished and will be used with wood stains in the same manner as real wood. However, a significant downside with plywood is that it is nearly impossible to obtain smooth edges as you can on MDF.
Pros and Cons of Using MDF
In the same way as any wood, there are some good things about it, and some bad things. It does depend on what your task is and what you want the wood to do.
Before you think MDF is a cheaper alternative to other woods with an excellent finish, be sure to check out all the ups and downs in this section.
- MDF is affordable to everyone
- MDF recycles waste materials
- MDF can be resistant to some insects (termites) because of the manufacturing chemicals
- It can be painted or stained
- MDF has no grain or knots and can be drilled and cut without damaging tools
- Dust produced during cutting MDF is harmful to breathing.
- MDF contains VOC and contains urea-formaldehyde, which can cause lung and eye irritation. (So do plywoods)
- MDF is comparably weaker than other natural woods.
- MDF in furniture doesn’t last for extended periods.
- MDF can crack or split when placed under stress.
- MDF absorbs water and swells quicker faster than wood.
- Screwing or nailing MDF isn’t easy effective and can lead to damage.
Considerations When to Choose MDF
MDF is cheaper than plywood, and above, you can see they use the same chemicals for manufacturing. The high-density woods can release this toxic compound into the air for up to 15-years.
However, you can come up with many great design ideas using fiberboard MDF.
As long as you understand its limitations, you can use it in many applications where you need a good finish with little preparation.
You can paint it with oil and water paints or stains to achieve the desired finish. You will find the paints adhere well because of the structure created from the manufacture of the panels.
One other downside is that although it is easy to cut, and you won’t damage your tools, it can be hard to cut unless you use power tools.
It may give the appearance of wood, yet there is a considerable amount of the resins and glues used to make each of the panels.
One other downside to MDF is if you think it is a good choice for a particular project, and along the way, it is damaged. Such a break, crack, or nick exposes the insides of the wood, and it can be impossible to repair.
In many cases, this means pulling out that particular section of MDF and replacing it or building a new one as its replacement.
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