What is MDF Wood? All About Medium Density Fiberboard

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Not everyone’s familiar with MDF wood, and that’s okay! If you’re wondering what medium-density fiberboard or MDF is, you’re in the right place. Let’s dive into what it is, some challenges it might present, and how it can be a game-changer for your upcoming carpentry projects.

Overview of MDF Wood

Unlike particle board and solid wood or plywood, MDF is a composite material made from sawdust and wood glue that has been pressed or glued and applied with heat. 

Medium-density fiberboard is suitable for uses such as shelving, storage cabinets, and cabinet doors because it is inexpensive and durable. It is excellent for paint jobs because of its smooth edges and surface, and if you rout MDF, it will produce sharp profiles without exposed edges.


An MDF sheet is composed of raw wood shavings. Once the real wood fibers have been dehydrated, they are combined with resin to create the panels. The application of intense heat and pressure causes the panels to compact and form a rigid, hard shell.



MDF sheets come in various thicknesses and colors, but the most common sheet goods are tan or dark brown hues. 

MDF panels are sold at home centers in either 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch thicknesses, which are also used for residential homes and commercial buildings’ insulation. Sheet sizes range from 4′ x 8′ to 5′ x 12′.

(To know more details, here’s a starter guide to insulation boards.)

What are the Advantages of Using MDF?

What are the Disadvantages of Using MDF?

Safety Concerns About MDF Wood

Are there health issues associated with MDF?

Urea-formaldehyde, found in most MDF, can cause cancer. This fiberboard continues to off-gas until it is completely sealed.

building a furniture with MDF board

When working with wood, it’s always preferable to work outside or in a breezy spot in the house. And trust me, wearing a respirator can be a real game-changer for safety!

Does MDF furniture have veneer to make it look like real wood?

Popular these days is veneered MDF furniture that gives the impression of being made from exotic woods. Veneered MDF has a 0.5mm coating on the front edge and back edge.

Tips for Using MDF (Top Dos and Don’ts)

1. Use MDF Boards for trim and wainscoting.

Trim can be made by slicing the MDF panel into strips and then using a router and a table to shape the edges. 

2. Sand and prime before painting.

Unlike plywood and solid wood, MDF edges are smooth but woolly, like peach skin. So sanding is important before a paint job.

sanding MDF board

3. Do not drop it.

Even though MDF’s exterior is tougher than plywood and most woods, the material’s interior is quite pliable. Like particleboard[1], it requires more caution in handling.

4. Don’t hammer. Use a trim nailer instead.

Using a hammer can break the material. Moreover, even if the nail is driven straight in, it will cause fibers to rise, so use a trim nailer instead.

5. Don’t get it wet.

MDF will absorb twice as much water and expand to four times its original size.  However, there are now “moisture resistant MDF” available.

6. Buy half instead of full sheets.

MDF weighs around 100 pounds, so consider purchasing half sheets or 4 x 4 sheets if you don’t want to carry heavy loads around. 

cutting MDF board with a table saw

7. Don’t drive without drilling first.

MDF has a soft core that easily splits when a screw is driven into it. If there’s no pilot hole, the screw head might break off before it sinks. 

8. Wear a mask when working with MDF

Dust lingers in the air for hours, and sticks to everything, so a dust mask with a snug fit is required during construction to avoid health risks.

Read Next: Guide to Common Boards


Is MDF as good as wood?

MDF is as good as wood and performs much better in most areas because it is a high-quality composite material and remains stable in all weather conditions. It is also more affordable and often environmentally friendly.

Is MDF fake wood?

MDF is not fake wood because it is made of real hardwood or softwood residuals and wax/glue. Therefore, they are called engineered wood composite instead of fake wood. And although they are only made of solid lumber residuals, they are very dense and sturdy.


If you’re still scratching your head about MDF wood, think of it as a wallet-friendly, durable, and adaptable building material. But, like anything, it’s essential to know the ins and outs to use it right and dodge those common pitfalls.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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