What Is MDF Wood? the Best & Most Complete Starters Guide

If you are into woodworking, then you probably heard about MDF wood. MDF, or medium-density fiberboard, is a popular material used in woodworking, cabinetry, and furniture making.

This piece of writing takes a closer look into MDF wood, discussing its merits and drawbacks, maintenance instructions, as well as the best methods for storing it.

So, what is MDF wood? MDF is an engineered wood product made by breaking down hardwood or softwood residuals into wood fibers, often combined with wax and resin binder and formed into panels under high temperature and pressure.

The result is a strong and uniform panel that is resistant to warping and cracking. MDF wood is popular because it is affordable, versatile, and easy to work with. However, it also has some drawbacks, such as low moisture resistance and the emission of formaldehyde gas.

If you wish to become knowledgeable on MDF wood and how it can be applied in your workshop, this piece is essential reading. Here, I will grant you with the foundational knowledge of MDF wood and the necessary steps for cleaning and upkeep. So, don your safety goggles and dive right in!

Pro Tip

MDF is one of the wooden boards that I earlier discussed in my article 6 Types of Wood Boards – Best Guide for Woodwork Beginners. Be sure to check out this article to discover the other 5 most used wooden boards so you get the knowledge to know perfectly which one to use for your projects.

Disclosure: At zero cost to you, I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. I earn from qualifying purchases as an Amazon associate. Products featured are selected based on quality, performance, and reputation, regardless of affiliate relationships.

Properties and Characteristics of MDF – a Quick Overview

MDF has several properties and characteristics that make it a popular choice in the construction and furniture-making industries. One of the main advantages of MDF is its uniform density, which makes it easy to machine and shape without the risk of voids or knots.

What Is MDF Wood - Properties and Characteristics of MDF

MDF also has a smooth surface that is ideal for painting and finishing, as it does not have any visible grain patterns or knots that can interfere with the finish. MDF is a cost-effective option compared to other types of wood and manufactured wood, making it an attractive choice for many projects.

However, MDF also has some limitations. One of the main disadvantages of MDF is its susceptibility to moisture damage. MDF, unlike solid wood, isn’t waterproof and can become swollen or distorted if subjected to moisture. Thus, it is not suitable for outdoor uses.

PropertyDescription
MaterialWood fibers and resin
Density600-800 kg/m³
StrengthMedium
DurabilityLow
Moisture ResistanceLow (except for the green MDF)
Fire ResistanceLow (except for the red MDF)
Formaldehyde EmissionHigh
CostInexpensive

Pro Tip

Do not confuse MDF with HDF! Although they are similar, they have important differences you should be aware of. You can discover that in my article MDF vs HDF: A Clear Comparison of all their Difference

How is MDF Wood Made?

Manufacturing MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) involves a complex process that utilizes different materials and strategies. Here is a glimpse into the construction of MDF:

Overview of MDF Wood Manufacturing Process

The manufacturing process of MDF involves the conversion of wood fibers into a consistent density board. The process begins with the collection of wood chips, sawdust, and other wood waste materials that are then broken down into wood fibers using a defibrator machine. The wood fibers are mixed with a binding resin and other ingredients like wax, paraffin, and pigments to create an even blend.

The homogenous mixture is then spread on a forming line where it is formed into a mat. The mat is then subjected to heat and pressure in a hot press to create a high-density board. After the pressing stage, the board of MDF is trimmed, sanded, and cut to the desired size and thickness.

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Raw Materials Used in MDF Production

MDF is fabricated using wood debris such as sawdust, chips, and shavings. These wood waste materials are typically obtained from sawmills, furniture manufacturers, and construction sites. The wood fibers are then mixed with a resin binder and other additives to create the MDF mixture.

Types of Resins Used in MDF Production

Synthetic resins, specifically urea-formaldehyde (UF) and phenol-formaldehyde (PF) are employed in the fabrication of MDF. UF resin is the more generally utilized choice since it is comparatively inexpensive and simple to work with. Nevertheless, UF resins are not as durable as PF residue and can give off formaldehyde gas, which is classified as a carcinogen.

Pressing and Drying of MDF

The MDF mixture is pressed using a hot press machine to create a high-density fiberboard. The hot press applies heat and pressure to the mixture, causing it to fuse and form a solid board. The pressure and temperature applied during pressing affect the density and thickness of the resulting MDF sheet.

After pressing, the MDF is dried to remove any moisture that may have been absorbed during pressing. The drying process is typically done in a kiln or dryer to ensure the board is uniformly dried to prevent warping, cracking, and other defects.

Types of MDF Wood

MDF comes in different types that are specifically engineered to suit different applications. Here are the most common types of MDF wood:

Raw MDF

What Is MDF Wood - Raw MDF
Raw MDF

Raw MDF is the most basic form of MDF wood. This substance typically exhibits a light brown hue and boasts a surface that is both smooth and consistent. Raw MDF is ideal for painting or laminating, making it a popular choice for DIY projects, cabinetry, and furniture making.

Veneered MDF

What Is MDF Wood - Veneered MDF
Veneered MDF

Veneered MDF is a type of MDF wood that is covered with a thin layer of wood veneer. The wood veneer lends a rustic, natural finish to furniture and interior design projects, making it an ideal material to utilize. Veneered MDF is available in different wood species and can be stained or painted to achieve the desired finish.

Moisture Resistant MDF

What Is MDF Wood - Moisture Resistant MDF
Moisture Resistant MDF

MR MDF, also referred to as Moisture Resistant MDF, has been engineered particularly to tolerate high levels of humidity and moisture. This type of MDF is made with moisture-proof resins and is perfect for places with a high risk of moisture accumulation, e.g. kitchens or bathrooms. This type has a green color.

Fire Retardant MDF

What Is MDF Wood - Fire Retardant MDF
Fire Retardant MDF

Fire Retardant MDF is an optimal choice for locations such as hospitals, schools, and public buildings that are in need of greater fire prevention. This type of MDF wood has been treated with special compounds to provide varied levels of fire resistance depending on the amount required.

It is important to be aware of the different varieties of MDF wood before settling on a specific kind for your project. Make sure to evaluate the purpose and environmental conditions of your venture, so that you can wisely select the right type of MDF wood. This type has a red color.

Type of MDFFeaturesUses
Raw MDFLight brown hue, smooth and consistent surfaceIdeal for painting or laminating, DIY projects, cabinetry, and furniture making
Veneered MDFCovered with a thin layer of wood veneer, natural finishIdeal for furniture and interior design projects, available in different wood species, can be stained or painted
Moisture Resistant MDF (MR MDF)Made with moisture-proof resins, able to tolerate high levels of humidity and moisture. Green colorSuitable for areas with high risk of moisture accumulation such as kitchens or bathrooms
Fire Retardant MDFTreated with special compounds to provide varied levels of fire resistance. Red colorOptimal choice for locations such as hospitals, schools, and public buildings that require greater fire prevention

Pros and Cons of MDF Wood

MDF has both advantages and disadvantages. Gaining insight into the advantages and disadvantages of this manufactured wood is critical prior to choosing it for your assignment. Additionally, the environmental impact of MDF production should also be considered.

Advantages of MDF Wood

  • Affordability: MDF is an appealing choice for both DIYers and professionals, as it is less costly than solid wood.
  • Uniformity: MDF is uniform in thickness and density, which makes it an ideal material for applications that require precise measurements and consistency.
  • Ease of use: MDF is easy to work with since it doesn’t have natural defects like knots or grain patterns. Standard woodworking tools can be utilized to cut, drill, and shape it.
  • Smooth surface: MDF’s silken finish makes it an ideal selection for cabinets, shelves, and other pieces of furniture as it is easy to paint, veneer, or laminate.
  • Eco-friendly: MDF, constructed from repurposed wood fibers, renders it an eco-friendly option when compared to solid timber.

MDF wood Disadvantages

  • Durability: MDF, while not as resilient as solid wood, is vulnerable to scrapes, indentations, and water harm.
  • Formaldehyde content: MDF contains formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen. However, most manufacturers now produce low formaldehyde-emitting MDF or no-added formaldehyde MDF to reduce the health risk.
  • Weight: MDF is heavier than other engineered wood products, which may be an issue when working with larger pieces.
  • Not suitable for outdoor use: MDF is not suitable for outdoor use or in humid conditions because it can be easily damaged by moisture.
  • By sawing this type of plywood you produce a lot of dust. Make sure you have a decent dust extraction on your track saw, table saw, or whatever saw you use. You also protect yourself by wearing the necessary PPE.

What is MDF board used for

MDF wood is a highly adaptable material that lends itself to multiple applications. Here are some of the most typical uses of MDF timber:

Furniture Making

MDF wood is commonly used in furniture making, particularly for pieces that have smooth, flat surfaces. It is simple to cut and form into various formations, plus it can be decorated or sealed with a wood overlay to give it a more natural aesthetic. Bookshelves, desks, and tables are common MDF wood furniture that you can find in mass-production furniture stores.

Cabinet Making

MDF wood is a popular choice for making kitchen cabinets because it is strong and durable. It can be cut and routed into intricate shapes, making it ideal for creating cabinet doors and frames. MDF wood can also be painted or laminated with a wood veneer to match any style or decor.

Flooring

MDF wood is sometimes used as an underlayment for flooring, particularly in areas where moisture may be an issue. It provides a smooth and stable base for the flooring material and can help to reduce noise.

Interior Design

MDF wood is often used in interior design applications, such as wall paneling or wainscoting. Give it a more organic aesthetic by painting or laminating a veneer of wood over it; furthermore, installation is simple and straightforward.

Art and Craft Projects

MDF wood is a popular material for art and craft projects because it is affordable and easy to work with. One can easily cut it into various shapes and sizes and artfully paint or adorn it with a myriad of designs. MDF wood is often used for creating picture frames, decorative boxes, and other small craft items.

MDF wood price

MDF wood has quickly become a favorite amongst builders, carpenters and do-it-yourselfers due to its cost-effectiveness and versatility when compared to solid wood. Prices of MDF can fluctuate depending on its thickness, size, and quality; typically being less expensive than hardwood or plywood – making it an economical solution for those trying to stay within budget.

Although, keep in mind that prices are subject to the supplier and region so it would beneficial to research and compare options before committing to a purchase.

MDF board sizes

MDF panels are generally accessible in dimensions of 2440 x 1220mm (8ft x 4ft) and 3050 x 1220mm (10ft x 4ft), with different thicknesses ranging from 2mm to 25mm. Moreover, some producers fabricate MDF boards in greater sizes such as 3660 x 1830mm (12ft x 6ft) and 3050 x 1525mm (10ft x 5ft).

Finishing MDF Wood

MDF wood is a popular material for its versatility and affordability, and finishing MDF can help enhance its appearance and durability. Here are some tips for finishing MDF wood:

Preparing MDF for Finishing

Before finishing MDF, it is important to properly prepare the surface. MDF has a porous surface that can absorb moisture and cause the fibers to swell, leading to rough patches and discoloration. Sanding the surface with fine-grit sandpaper and applying a coat of wood conditioner can help prevent this.

Types of Finishes for MDF

MDF wood can be beautified in different ways, like painting, staining, and varnishing. MDF can also be covered with veneers, laminates, or other decorative coatings to achieve a specific look.

Painting and Staining MDF

Priming or sealing MDF prior to painting or staining is essential for ensuring that the finish adheres to the board’s surface. Water-based finishes are generally recommended for MDF, as they do not contain solvents that can cause the fibers to swell. For a smooth finish, spraying or rolling with a foam roller is the most suitable method when painting.

Sealing and Priming MDF

Sealing and priming MDF can help protect the surface and ensure that the finish adheres properly. A coat of shellac or primer can help seal the surface and prevent the fibers from swelling. A sanding sealer can also be used to fill any gaps or holes in the surface before applying the final finish.

Overall, finishing MDF wood requires some preparation and attention to detail, but can result in a durable and attractive surface for a variety of applications.
Related article: 4 Types of wood finishes. What to use when and how? A clear guide.

Tips for Working with MDF Wood

MDF wood is a versatile material that can be used for various projects. No matter your level of expertise in woodworking–from master craftsman to passionate hobbyist–it is critical to possess an understanding of how to effectively utilize MDF to produce optimal results. To assist you in working with MDF, here are a few pointers:

Cutting and Sawing MDF

What Is MDF Wood - Cutting and Sawing MDF

MDF boasts the advantage of being able to be effortlessly cut and formed with traditional woodworking equipment. However, MDF is denser than other types of wood, which can make cutting and sawing a bit more challenging. To achieve clean and precise cuts, it’s best to use sharp blades and tools.

To evade breathing in the dust of MDF, it is essential to equip oneself with appropriate protective gear such as goggles and a dust mask.

Joining and Fastening MDF

MDF can be joined and fastened in a variety of ways, including using glue, screws, and (brad)nails. When joining MDF panels together, it’s important to use clamps to keep the panels in place while the glue dries. To avoid splitting, pre-drilling holes is recommended when fastening with screws or nails.

Sanding and Finishing MDF

MDF has a smooth and consistent surface, making it ideal for painting and finishing. Sanding the surface is essential before applying any finish in order to eradicate any unevenness or blemishes. It’s also important to use a quality primer to seal the surface and ensure that the finish adheres properly.

Safety Tips When Working with MDF

MDF contains urea-formaldehyde, which can release fumes that are harmful when inhaled. For optimal safety, one should always work in a well-aerated space and don protective equipment, such as a face guard and hand coverings. When cutting or sanding MDF, it’s important to use a dust collection system to avoid inhaling MDF dust.

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MDF Compared with Other Wood Boards

Differences Between MDF Wood and Solid Wood

What Is MDF Wood - Differences Between MDF Wood and Solid Wood (walnut wood)
Differences Between MDF Wood and Solid Wood (walnut wood)

MDF, a synthetic timber product, is comprised of wood fibers, resin, and wax. It is created by breaking down wood into fibers and then combining those fibers with resin and wax. In contrast, solid wood is crafted from one complete piece of natural timber.

One of the main differences between MDF and solid wood is their composition. Working with MDF, which is denser and heavier than solid wood, can prove to be a challenge. However, it is also more uniform in texture and doesn’t have the knots or other imperfections that are commonly found in solid wood.

MDF is usually a less expensive choice when compared to solid wood, making it a good pick for people who have a limited budget. Despite the higher initial cost, in the end, investing in solid wood furniture may be more profitable due to its lasting value and potential for resale.

Advantages and Disadvantages of MDF over Solid Wood

MDF is a superior option for furniture, cabinetry, and other woodworking projects because it is much more dependable and resistant to warping or breaking. Additionally, its uniform texture makes it easier to manipulate and finish.

For those seeking an economical option, MDF is a perfect choice. It is typically much less expensive than solid wood, making it a financially sound decision.

However, MDF does have its disadvantages. It is not as strong as solid wood and can be more prone to damage from impacts or moisture. Although it lacks the majestic beauty and comforting ambiance of genuine wood, it could be a downside to those seeking a more rural or natural aesthetic.

Overall, the choice between MDF and solid wood will depend on the specific project and the individual’s preferences and priorities. MDF is a versatile and affordable option that is well-suited for many woodworking applications, but solid wood may be a better choice for those who prioritize natural beauty and long-term value.

MDF Wood vs Particle board

What Is MDF Wood - MDF Wood vs Particle board
MDF Wood vs Particle board

Particle board, like OSB (Oriented strand board) is made of wood particles, often waste products from sawmills, that is mixed with a resin binder and compressed under high pressure and heat. The resulting board is relatively weak and has a rough surface texture.

MDF, on the contrary, are constructed from wood fibers bound together with a resin adhesive, and then subjected to high pressure and temperature. This produces a material much denser and evener compared to particleboard.

Advantages and Disadvantages of MDF over Particleboard

One advantage of MDF over particleboard is its strength and durability. MDF is denser and more uniform in texture, making it less likely to warp or split. This material is much less likely to broaden or shrink in response to changes in temperature and moisture.

MDF is also smoother and more consistent in texture than particleboard, which can be important for some applications such as painting or laminating.

However, particleboard is often less expensive than MDF, and its rough surface texture can be an advantage for some applications such as shelves or cabinet backs where a smooth finish is not necessary.

Ultimately, the choice between MDF and particleboard will depend on the specific application and budget constraints. It is prudent to weigh out the pros and cons before arriving at a verdict.

MDF Wood vs Plywood

What Is MDF Wood - MDF Wood vs Plywood
MDF Wood vs Plywood

MDF and plywood have different compositions and characteristics, which makes them suitable for different types of projects.

MDF is made from wood fibers that have been mixed with resin and then pressed into panels under high pressure and temperature. This process creates a smooth, consistent surface that is free from knots and other imperfections. In contrast, plywood is constructed using thin sheets of wood veneer that are layered and adhered to one another in alternating directions. This gives it a more natural look wood grain appearance and makes it stronger than MDF.

In terms of thickness, MDF is generally available in thicker panels than plywood. MDF typically come in thicknesses between half an inch and one inch, while plywood sheets are generally found in sizes ranging from an eighth of an inch up to two inch.

Advantages and Disadvantages of MDF over Plywood

For budget-minded individuals, MDF is often a cost-effective option compared to plywood. It’s also easy to manipulate for crafting everything from furniture and cabinetry to shelves and more. This makes MDF ideal for budget-minded projects.

Advantageously, MDF is distinguished by its sleek and even face, which enables it to be simply painted or laminated. This makes it an ideal choice for projects that require a flawless finish, such as cabinetry or furniture. In contrast, plywood has a natural wood grain that can make it more difficult to paint or laminate.

However, MDF has some disadvantages compared to plywood. MDF is not as strong as plywood and is more susceptible to moisture damage. Its greater weight than plywood makes it harder to manipulate.

Overall, the choice between MDF and plywood depends on the specific project and its requirements. Plywood, which offers more strength and durability than MDF, maybe the best option for projects necessitating such qualities despite its higher cost and difficulty of use.

Discover the fundamentals of plywood by reading our blog post, Plywood 101: A Comprehensive Guide to the Characteristics of this Adaptable Material.

FeaturesMDF WoodSolid WoodParticle BoardPlywood
CompositionWood fibers, resin, and waxOne complete piece of natural timberWood particles mixed with a resin binderThin sheets of wood veneer layered and adhered to one another
TextureUniform, smoothVaries, naturalRoughNatural wood grain
Strength and DurabilityDenser, more dependable and resistant to warping or breaking than solid wood, but less strong than plywoodStrong and durableWeaker and prone to damage from impacts or moistureStronger and more durable than MDF
Moisture ResistanceMore susceptible to moisture damage than plywoodResistant to moisture damageProne to moisture damageResistant to moisture damage
PriceLess expensive than solid wood and plywoodMore expensive than MDF and particle boardLess expensive than MDF and plywoodMore expensive than MDF and particle board
FinishIdeal for projects that require a flawless finish, such as cabinetry or furnitureMay have knots or other imperfections that make it difficult to paint or laminateRough surface texture can be an advantage for some applicationsNatural wood grain can make it more difficult to paint or laminate

Storing MDF Wood

MDF wood is vulnerable to warping and swelling in response to fluctuations in temperature and humidity, making proper storage paramount for preserving its quality and longevity.

Proper storage of MDF Wood

Adhering to the following tips will assist in properly stowing MDF wood:

  • Keep MDF wood in a cool, dry, and shaded place to avoid exposure to sunlight.
  • Keep your furniture in dry areas, like on main floors, away from areas with high humidity, like basements and attics. Moisture has the potential to cause the wood to warp and swell.
  • Stack MDF sheets horizontally on a flat surface to prevent sagging or warping. For storage ideas, check out my scrap wood cart video here.
  • Use pallets or boards to elevate the MDF off the ground and provide air circulation underneath.
  • These MDF panels are shielded with a plastic cover or tarpaulin to protect them against dust, moisture, and other external influences, preventing warping and swelling of MDF

Warping and swelling are common issues with MDF wood. Here are some tips to prevent these problems:

  • Seal the edges and surfaces of the MDF with a good quality sealer or primer to reduce moisture absorption.
  • Avoid exposing MDF wood to extreme temperature and humidity fluctuations.
  • To regulate humidity levels, a dehumidifier or air conditioning system could be employed in damp surroundings.
  • Do not apply too much moisture or water to the MDF while cleaning it.
  • Avoid exposing MDF wood to direct sunlight or heat sources, as this can cause the wood to warp or shrink.

Conclusion

In summation, MDF wood is a highly adaptable material with a plethora of uses, thus making it the go-to source for those partaking in wooden projects. Despite both pros and cons, proper maintenance and storage can help to sustain its longevity and evade harm.

When crafting with MDF wood, a track saw can be a beneficial tool in increasing precision and creating straight cuts. To understand this power tool’s features and associated advantages to your woodwork, explore our article, “What Is a Track Saw – Easy Starter Guide.” This guide provides all the information you need to use the tool effectively within your projects.

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