Pros and Cons of MDF

Among cabinet-makers and woodworkers, the debate over using fibreboard (MDF), particle board, plywood and solid wood is fierce!  Since I'm not an expert I can only debate the pros and cons but can't tell you which is best (if there is such a thing).

All these products come in varying grades that impact the quality of the product and what it should or could be used for.

Fibreboard comes in low, medium and high density.  The most common for building is the medium density.

Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF)

I’m using MDF to build my built-in bookcases.  So far it’s working out well.  Even so, I might have used more expensive material if I could have afforded it.

MDF comes in sheets and is made of hard and softwood residuals (like sawdust) and glues pressed together to form a  panel more dense than plywood or particle board.  It can be used similarly to plywood in building cabinets, shelves, and other furniture.
These 4x8 foot sheets of MDF are actually 49 x 97 inches.

In an effort to be more environmentally conscious, MDF manufacturers are beginning to use less toxic glues and renewable materials such as recycled paper, bamboo, and  straw.

Here is a list of the pros and cons of working with MDF.  The decision of what material you use when building is yours and must factor in what you can afford, what you are building and the quality/grade of the materials available.


Pros

  • Cheaper(3/4" MDF is ~$32 a sheet, hardwood plywood is ~ $49) 

  • Straighter, with fewer warps and uniform throughout
  • Comes in a wide variety of thicknesses (1/4", 1/2", 5/8", 3/4", 1") 

  • Easier for beginners because it cuts and sands very easily.  It also takes paint  and holds screws well 

  • Edges can be exposed (they do not require edge banding like plywood does) 

  • Easy to apply veneers to  

  • BendyMDF can be formed into curved shapes


Cons


  • It’s about 3 times heavier than plywood.
      
    Solutions:  Have the sheet cut at the hardware store.  Get help moving or working with it.  Buy a panel handler, lift and accessories for you saw. 

  • Shelves sag more than hardwood plywood does.
      Solution: edge the front and back of the shelf with hardwood trim.


  • MDF has a tendency to “blow out” or split.

    Solutions:
    • Predrill the entire length of your screw. 
    • Avoid fastening too close the edge (1.5” away is best).  
    • Use Confirmat screws.  These are screws specially designed for use with MDF.  I’m using these to build my bookcases, and they are working very well – I like them.  They require a special stepped drill bit, and a kit with screws and drill bit can be purchased from McFeelys.  
    • Use European style hinges with a cup in the door allowing the screws to hold the MDF without worry of fatigue.
 
Confirmat screw and stepped drill bit


  • Formaldehyde

    All pressed wood products contain a small amount of formaldehyde used in the adhesive.  Here in California, strict regulations control the amount of formaldehyde allowed in MDF, PB and hardwood plywood.  And by 2012, these limits will be the strictest in the world.  I personally do not worry much about using MDF, but I do welcome the stricter regulations that will lower the amount of formaldehyde that these products contain.
    Some people are more sensitive to formaldehyde off-gassing and should perhaps avoid it. 
     Solutions:
    • painting the MDF will reduce the level of off-gassing.  
    • To prevent inhaling the fine MDF dust during cutting or sanding always wear a face mask.  
    • Work outside. 
    • Buy low or no formaldehyde MDF (Medex or MediteII)

  • Edges soak up paint
     Solution: Seal MDF edges prior to painting.  Use a good primer.


  • Swells when wet (though not as bad as particleboard will). 
      Solution: buy MDF laminated with a phenolic resin paper (Medex or MediteII)– it is much more moisture resistant.  If working outdoors, bring the MDF into the shed or garage at night.


In future posts I'll discuss:
Hardwood Plywood
Particle Board

Resources
Consumer Product Safety: Formaldehyde
CARB certification for formaldehyde
Fact Sheet on Respiratory Hazards and Pressed-Wood Products
MDF Passivating Primer
Formaldehyde free MDF




New to Pregnant with power tools? Don't miss a post and subscribe here... Bookmark and Share
4 Responses
  1. I will always follow your blog as i have seen you share awesome pic and info on your blog.I just really like working with wood made and am always looking for new techniques of doing it.

    Fiber board | MDF with Veneers


  2. Your work is showing your willingness with work. Keep it and keep share this good work with us because great work is the need of every one.
    cubicle solutions Chicago


  3. Your this article is really good. Your work is really inspiring and informative thanks for share such a nice blog.
    Panel pros inc


  4. Perhaps the most common matter many of us knowledge in Solid wood Completes One on one are generally cell phone calls via men and women who’ve ordered veneered timber indoor entrance doors, just to get the entrance brand says versus a number of varieties of solid wood conclude. Often that they pre warn versus distinct solutions, by way of example Danish Gas, Teak Gas and also other varieties of solid wood gas. Various other periods your manufacturer’s dire warnings deal with an array of solutions which include natural skin oils, varnishes along with waxes. Nevertheless should it genuinely necessarily mean anyone can’t utilize solutions if consequently, does one threat detrimental your solid wood? It’s a unique place, the other worthy of protecting.
    What exactly veneer?
    Veneered timber entrance doors are generally made out of a new worthless as well as reliable timber key. Your key is often particle aboard as well as channel occurrence fibreboard, ALSO CALLED MDF. A new stratum involving excellent solid wood veneer can be that come with your key in the entrance employing highly effective glues along with binding providers. The standard of modern-day veneered entrance doors is often into the key, the solid wood plus the breadth in the veneer.
    for more


Related Posts with Thumbnails