MDF vs. Veneer: Which to Choose?

MDF vs. Veneer: Which to Choose?

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MDF or medium-density fiberboard, and veneer, are both terms that you might have heard used in the construction industry or when performing your own home repairs. MDF and veneer are both technically types of wood, although they are very different things.

Today, we want to figure out what these materials are, what makes them different, and what they’re both best used for.

MDF and Veneer: The Basics

Before we start talking about similarities and differences, let’s first figure out exactly what MDF and veneer are.

What Is MDF?

MDF stands for medium-density fiberboard and is a specific type of engineered wood. Here, either softwood or hardwood, or a combination of both, are taken, and then turned into fibers using a special machine. Essentially, this is what most people would call sawdust.

These fibers or sawdust are then taken and mixed with both a resin binder and wax. This is then poured into a form, and using great amounts of heat and pressure, is formed into a solid panel.

Medium-density fiberboard is a commonly used building material for indoor purposes, mainly for cabinetry, shelving, and a variety of low-end furniture products.

What Is Veneer?

Veneer, on the other hand, is in fact solid wood, although just an extremely thin sheet of it. Veneers may come in very long and thin strips or in full sheets. These wooden veneers will usually be made out of high-quality hardwood, and are therefore fairly expensive.

Wooden veneers are generally used as covers for lower-end types of engineered wood. For instance, high-end wooden veneers may be used to cover the exterior layer of medium-density fiberboard, plywood, and other such engineered wood materials.

Yes, you may find MDF with a layer of veneers on the outside. On that note, plywood is also made out of veneers, although in this case, it is thin strips of it layered on top of each other in a perpendicular manner. Veneer may at times also be used for crown molding.

Similarities of MDF and Veneer

Now that we know what MDF and veneer are, let’s figure out what makes them similar.

1. They Are Technically Wood

One similarity here is that both MDF and veneer are technically types of wood. Although, MDF is of course engineered wood, whereas veneer is technically solid wood, albeit an extremely thin layer of it.

2. They’re Not Mutually Exclusive

The other thing that you need to realize here is that these two materials are not mutually exclusive. You might be able to find MDF that is covered in a thin layer of veneer for added protection and for a much better appearance.

Differences Between MDF and Veneer

Now that we know what the similarities here are, let’s figure out what makes MDF and veneer different from each other.

1. Composition

One big difference is the composition. MDF is engineered wood that is made out of wood fibers, wax, and resin. Wooden veneers on the other hand are actually solid pieces of wood.

2. Thickness

Wooden veneers are generally just a few millimeters thick and are just very thin sheets. MDF on the other hand can be anywhere between ¼” and 1” thick.

3. Durability

Although veneers are made out of real wood, due to their extreme thinness, they’re not nearly as durable as a thick piece of MDF. Although, a piece of MDF covered in wooden veneers will last much longer than just a piece of MDF alone.

4. Water Resistance

MDF is really not waterproof in the least, and it’s really not very water resistant either. Wooden veneers made out of high-quality wood on the other hand are going to be fairly resistant to water, although also not waterproof.

5. Appearance

MDF might be quite smooth, but it looks quite plain and just not very nice. For this reason, many people do go with veneers for aesthetic purposes, as they do look like real wood.

6. Cost

You can expect to spend about four times more on veneer than on MDF.

7. Uses

You can use MDF to build furniture, although it will not be particularly high quality. Veneers, on the other hand, are generally just used to cover other materials, such as MDF.

MDF vs. Veneer: Which Should You Use?

If you want to cover some plywood, or any other type of engineered wood with something that is durable and good looking, and will also add a protective layer to the outside, then veneer is fine.

However, you can’t actually build something out of veneer, so in that scenario, you will have to use MDF. If you are building cabinets, shelves, small desks, or anything else of the sort, then MDF will definitely be your material of choice.

Summary

Now that you know what both of these materials are and what they are used for, you can make an informed decision between the two in terms of which one to use for your next project.