There are always options to choose from when finishing an interior. We will be looking at MDF and drywall – when and where each one would be an ideal option.
Though they can be used in similar situations, the two differ in components and in methods of installation and finishing. They are also quite different in terms of cost and practicality, depending on the task at hand.
MDF and Drywall: The Basics
Before jumping into the differences, let’s start by taking a look at what each of the materials is.
What Is MDF?
Medium-density fiberboard or MDF is a manufactured wood product commonly used for furniture and construction projects. It is composed of finely separated hardwood or softwood fibers, resin glue, and paraffin wax.
It has a higher density than particle board due to the fine particles and high glue content. It is also known for its durable, smooth surface and overall flexibility. Unlike plywood, it has no knots, grain, or uneven textures. It can be ideal for quickly producing a fine finish.
What Is Drywall?
Drywall is one of the most popular interior finishing materials used in construction. It is known for its ease of installation and fine finish.
It is made of fine aggregates, or sedimentary rock called gypsum. For this reason, drywall is sometimes called gypsum board. This gypsum is combined with fine glass fibers and injected with air to create a lightweight easy-to-manage building material.
It is sandwiched between two layers of recycled paper wrapping. The front paper surface is typically white. Once primed, it provides an ideal surface for most plasters or paints.
Similarities of MDF and Drywall
While MDF and drywall are two very different materials, they do share some similarities:
- Both MDF and drywall are made up of fine particles held together with a bonding agent and have smooth finishes.
- Both materials come in common sizes found in building and hardware stores (such as 4×8 sheets). They are also available in similar thicknesses commonly used for construction.
- MDF and drywall can both provide good sound insulation.
- MDF has a non-textured, easy-to-finish surface. Though the surface of drywall is paper and quite absorbent, it is also very easily plastered or painted to a fine finish.
Differences Between MDF and Drywall
With the similarities out of the way, let’s take a look at the main differences.
MDF and drywall differ quite a bit in cost.
A sheet of MDF may cost an average of two and a half times as much as drywall of the same size.
Because of density, there is quite a difference in weight.
MDF is a dense product due to its fine fibers and high resin content. Drywall has a high air content. The air-filled, crystallized gypsum reduces weight making it easier to move and install.
The strength of MDF is higher than that of drywall. It is a more rigid material and may be used with less support when needed.
Drywall is not recommended to be used without proper support due to its light, brittle material makeup.
Workability and Mess
Drywall can be scored with a blade and broken. Therefore, cutting drywall does not require power tools, and dust is minimal.
MDF, on the other hand, is quite dense and typically cut with a circular saw, table saw, or jig saw -depending on the immediate need. Because it contains such light fibers and a dense resin, it creates a cloud of fine dust while cutting.
Resistance to Water
Drywall is slightly more resistant to water, though it holds moister for a longer period once it gets wet. MDF is not very water-resistant, and it swells rapidly once exposed to moisture.
MDF vs. Drywall: Which Should You Use?
So, taking all of the above into account, which of the two should you be using for the project? Find out below.
For general ceiling or wall finishing, it’s hard to beat the convenience and effectiveness of drywall – especially when you have sound framing and large spaces to cover. The overall cost is lower, and installation is generally straightforward and convenient.
Because of its porous paper surface, drywall bonds well with plaster and primer, making it easy to join seams and sand to a fine finish.
Interior finishing of considerable size will have a lot of seams to fill and float. Drywall has a tapered edge which allows for joining tape and plaster. MDF does not have this feature, and filling the joints will be much more challenging, and it can be hard to achieve a smooth, even surface.
MDF may be preferred in sections where more structural integrity is needed, such as custom spaces where stud-framing isn’t present. It takes and holds screws quite well.
Additionally, edges can be chamfered, shaped, or sanded to create a finished edge which cannot be achieved with drywall without special edging techniques.
As an example, MDF may work well for built-in home features such as bookcases, benches, closets, etc. It may also work well for some ceiling treatments. MDF joints and corners are easy to caulk. Nail and screw-holes can be filled, and the surface can be quickly prepped for painting.
While these two materials have some similarities in functionality and installation, they are very different in material composition, cost, and practicality depending on the project.
One important thing to remember while working with both materials is safety. As previously mentioned, cutting MDF can produce a lot of dust which contains a formaldehyde resin that is harmful to the respiratory system.
Be sure to wear safety masks and goggles when cutting MDF and take precautions when cutting and sanding drywall as well. It is always best to cut both materials in open, fresh air conditions when it’s possible.
One key difference between the two materials is the framing requirements. With thicker pieces of MDF on smaller projects, it can be quite rigid and structurally sound once joined together. Drywall will be as rigid as the framing it is attached to and requires more framing to be sound.
The insulation properties are similar in terms of sound and temperature, even though MDF is denser than drywall.
Much of the debate over which material to use will come down to cost, convenience, and the look you want to achieve with the finished product.
How Does Drywall Compare with Other Materials?
You might also be interested in seeing how drywall compares with: