What is MDF Wood? All About Medium Density Fiberboard

building a shelf with MDF board

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Only a few understand what MDF wood is or how to put it to good use. If you’ve never heard of medium-density fiberboard or MDF before, don’t worry; we’ll explain what it is, the issues it can cause, and the many ways it can benefit your next 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.

Composition

An MDF sheet is made of raw wood shavings. After the real wood fibers have been dehydrated, it is combined with resin to make panels. Intense heat and pressure cause the panels to contract and become rigid in a hard shell.

MDF

Availability

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. Sheet sizes range from 4′ x 8′ to 5′ x 12′.

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

Our woodworking experts recommend working outside or in a well-ventilated area of your home. In addition, you may want to take precautions by using a respirator.

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.

FAQ

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.

Conclusion

If you are still confused about what MDF wood is, just remember that it is a cost-effective, long-lasting, and versatile building material. However, you should learn how to use it properly and the most common mistakes you must avoid.

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen and women. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson
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