If you are looking to build anything out of wood, there are many types to choose from. You’ve got solid lumber, plywood, particle board, and MDF. The last of those is quite a popular building material, one with many advantages and a few drawbacks too.
So, what is MDF and what are its pros and cons?
What Is MDF?
MDF stands for medium-density fiberboard. This is a manufactured or engineered wood product, which means that although it is not solid lumber cut straight from a tree, the base of it is wood. Medium-density fiberboard is made by taking hardwood and softwood residuals and scraps that are no longer needed and breaking them down into wood fiber or wood pulp.
Special machines are used to pulverize the wood until you have what essentially amounts to specialized sawdust. That so-called sawdust is then mixed with a resin binder and wax, it is put into molds, and then using hydraulic power and heat, is pressed into various sizes and shapes.
On an interesting side note, MDF is denser than plywood. MDF is most often used as a building material in both commercial and residential applications.
Advantages of MDF
MDF is a fairly popular building material, and there are quite a few reasons for it, so let’s find out why you might choose to use this material in your next project.
1. It Is Relatively Dense and Strong
One advantage that you get with MDF is that it has decent strength.
Now, MDF is not as strong as plywood, and it doesn’t come anywhere close to real lumber either, but that said, it is undoubtedly much stronger and denser than particle board. Although MDF is not the best choice in terms of strength or weight capacity, it can handle more punishment and weight than particle board.
2. It Is Smooth and Flat
Another advantage that you get with MDF is that it looks nice.
For one, it does kind of look like real wood, which is nice in terms of aesthetics. Moreover, it can be used for surface applications that will be visible after construction. Due to its smoothness and flatness, it is also easy to sand and paint. In fact, those are just two of the ways to make MDF look good. Being so easy to finish makes MDF ideal for many surface applications.
The fact that thus stuff actually looks quite nice on its own is a major selling point.
3. It Is Easy to Saw and Manipulate
Because MDF is made out of wood fibers, it is very easy to saw and to work with. You can easily use a circular saw on MDF without causing tear-out, huge splinters, and even cracking the board. In terms of being able to saw through it without causing damage, it’s much better than plywood.
The ease at which MDF can be sawed and manipulated makes it a great building material.
4. It Is Cost-Effective
Yet another benefit that you get with MDF is quite simply that it is cost-effective.
MDF is cheaper to purchase than plywood, and much less expensive than solid lumber. If you are looking for a decent and cost-effective building material, medium-density fiberboard is definitely an option to consider. On that same note, if you need large quantities of it, MDF is also much easier to find.
For more information, read my detailed article about how much MDF costs.
5. It Is Fairly Eco-friendly
The next advantage that you get, or that the world gets, by using MDF is that it is relatively eco-friendly. The reason for this is because medium-density fiberboard is made out of old wood, out of scraps and reclaimed wood, not out of fresh lumber.
Of course, when you build something out of solid wood or plywood, you are using fresh lumber. This is not very eco-friendly. Using MDF means that you are chopping down less trees, and that’s something that every person and animal on this planet benefits from.
6. It Is Easy to Customize
MDF is really easy to customize into a variety of shapes, which is because it is so easy to saw and work with. There are many manufacturing options for MDF. That said, it is not recommended to plane MDF.
7. It Does Not Warp Much
The other thing that stands out about MDF is that it does not easily warp or bend due to limited moisture. This lack of flexibility can be seen as both a positive and a negative. Whatever the case, MDF should not change shape over time unless you bend it on purpose using the right technique.
Disadvantages of MDF
Just like MDF has several advantages, so does it have a variety of drawbacks that need to be talked about.
1. It’s Heavy
One of the main disadvantages of MDF is that it is relatively heavy. The weight of MDF makes it a challenge to transport and to work with. This is not something that you can easily hold with a single hand.
2. It Has Limited Weight-Bearing Capacity
Although MDF is stronger and denser than particle board, it doesn’t come close to plywood, and especially not to solid lumber. MDF just cannot support a lot of weight, and therefore it should not be used for any weight-bearing applications.
3. It Is Not Water Resistant
One thing that MDF is not is water resistant.
MDF easily absorbs water, which causes it to swell and to become larger, and even worse, over time, that water can actually cause MDF to quite literally disintegrate. Any application that involves moisture is not ideal for MDF.
4. It Doesn’t Hold Screws Well
Because MDF is made out of wood fibers, very small grains, it does not hold nails and screws in very well. Nails and screws can quite easily come loose after insertion.
5. It Requires Care When Handling
MDF is also not overly impact resistant. If you lean it up against a wall and it falls, chances are that it will break.
How Does MDF Compare to Other Types of Wood?
For a more detailed comparison of particle board with other types of wood, check the articles below:
- HDF (Hardboard)
- Particle Board
- Solid Wood
The bottom line here is that MDF is fine for basic uses, for applications such as cabinetry, just as long as it doesn’t have to deal with moisture or hold up much weight. From here on, you might want to learn about the different uses of MDF.