MDF, also known as medium density fiberboard, is an extremely common material that is used for a variety of building purposes. With that being said, MDF usually comes in a few specific shapes and sizes, which means that you may very well need to cut it down to size. Now the problem here is that MDF is not the easiest of the engineered wood materials to cut.
No, it’s not quite as difficult as cutting plywood, but with that being said, its composition does mean that it is susceptible to tearing out, resulting in very rough and uneven cuts. What we are here to do today is to provide you with a step-by-step tutorial on how to cut MDF by hand, as well as what some of the best power tools for cutting medium-density fiberboard are.
How to Cut MDF by Hand
If you just need to cut one or a few pieces of medium-density fiberboard, then you may as well do so by hand. Let’s jump into the step-by-step process. If you need to cut quite a few pieces, jump to the next section.
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
Of course, besides your workpieces, you are also going to need a handsaw such as a foxtail saw, as well as a ruler, a marking utensil, a T square, a work table, and some clamps. As you will find out, the clamps are actually used to hold the ruler next to the marked line, not to hold the workpiece down to the table. If you are sawing in your garage, you may want to lay down some tarps as well.
Step 2: Set Up The Area
If you are working inside, set up some tarps to catch the sawdust as it falls down, or else you will end up with a heck of a mess. Once you have done this, set up your work table or your sawhorses so that you can put the MDF on top of it. Put the workpiece on the sawhorses or the work table and make sure that it is well supported, keeping in mind that this area where you are going to be making the cut does of course need to be free.
Step 3: Measure and Mark
With your work area now set up, what you need to do is to figure out where exactly you want to make your cut. Once you have figured out where you want to make the cut, use a T square, a ruler, your marking utensil, and any other such necessary measuring tools in order to figure out where the exact line will be. Once you have figured this out, use your pencil or marking utensil to mark the line.
Step 4: Clamp the Line
OK, so this is a step that you won’t see in many other applications, but with that being said it is very necessary because cutting MDF in a straight line is actually harder than it sounds. To ensure that your cut ends up being perfectly straight, you want to use a ruler or anything else that is perfectly straight and clamp it right next to the line that you drew in the previous step. Use some basic clamps to clamp it down right by the line. That straight edge clamp beside the marked line will help to guide your saw so you don’t veer off course. You might end up hitting the ruler or whatever straight edge you use for this task, so use something that is expendable.
Step 5: Score the Cut
To make sure that the teeth of the saw have a good place to dig into and so that you don’t saw beside the line, it is a good idea to use something like a utility knife to score the cut, or in other words, just make a very small cut along the line that you plan to cut. It’s not unlike drilling a pilot hole for a screw.
Step 6: Make the Cut
What you want to do now is to take your saw and hold it so that it is almost vertical, but not quite vertical. Take the saw and start sawing the line from either side. Start on one side, and then once you get about a third of the way into the MDF, repeat the process on the other side.
Once you have sawed into the wood from either side until you have reached about 1/3 of the way in, making sure that the saw is being held more or less vertically, you can then reposition the saw so that it is more horizontal, and will therefore allow you to cut more of the material at once.
Keep in mind that once a good bit of the wood has been sawed through, you want to hold up the other end of it, so that the piece being sawed off does not break and fall. If it breaks, it could snap somewhere other than on your line, which would effectively ruin the MDF and force you to start over. Keeping this in mind, simply finish the cut.
4 Best Power Tools for Cutting MDF
What is important to note here is that there are tons of different power saws that you can use for cutting MDF, but with that said, what really matters here is the blade that you use. MDF contains a whole lot of glue and that can make it somewhat tough to cut, so you do need an extremely sharp and durable blade. The official recommendation here is to use a carbide-tipped blade as it will make quick work out of the glue heavy medium-density fiberboard.
1. Miter Saw
If you only need to make cross cuts or miter cuts, then a miter saw will do just fine. Just remember that you need a carbide-tipped blade. Keep in mind that for wider pieces of MDF you will want a sliding miter saw. The issue here is of course that miter saws can only make crosscuts and cannot really handle rip cuts, or in other words, they can cut the width of a board, but not really the length. It will also not be able to cut large MDF boards.
2. Circular Saw
Another tool that you can use is a basic circular saw fitted with a carbide-tipped blade. This is very similar to sawing it by hand with a foxtail saw, but instead of using your own muscles you are using the power of the saw. Keep in mind that a circular saw is of course a handheld saw, not a table saw. The good thing about this one is that it can cut MDF boards of any size.
Although a jigsaw is definitely not ideal for making any kind of straight cut, it is the saw of choice to use if you need to make any curves or patterns in the MDF. In fact, if you make curves or patterns, this is one of the only types of saws that you can use.
4. Table Saw
If you want a saw that sits on its own base instead of a handheld version like a circular saw, and if you need something that can make very long rip cuts as well as crosscuts and then the only real option to go with is a good old table saw.
Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks
Lastly, here are a few things to keep in mind before you get started with the task:
- Never use old or dull blades when cutting medium-density fiberboard because you will end up with the worst-looking cut ever.
- Also, never use a normal blade when cutting MDF because you really do want the sharpness of a carbide-tipped blade.
- Cutting MDF can be quite messy, so having a shop-vac or even a dust vacuum system on hand can be very handy.
- This stuff creates a whole lot of dust when cutting it, so it might be a good idea to wear a facial mask and a pair of goggles.
Although cutting medium-density fiberboard is not the easiest task in the world, it’s definitely not the hardest either. As long as you have the right tools and follow the correct procedures, you should not have any problems accomplishing this task.