What Is MDF? (Where to Buy, How to Cut, & More!)
MDF is common in the woodworking, carpentry, and construction industries.
But what exactly is it?
In this post, I’ll answer the question “what is MDF”, some common use cases for this material, and much more. Let’s get started!
In This Article:
Definition of MDF
MDF, also known as medium-density fiberboard, is a manufactured wood made to work as an alternative to plywood and engineered wood.
It begins with dehydrated sawdust and shavings mixed with resin and wax. After exposure to heat and high pressure, MDF emerges as an incredible product.
This material is a favorite among many builders and woodworkers because, unlike natural wood, there are minimal flaws.
It’s incredible for light carpentry needs because you don’t have to deal with splinters, tear outs, or burns that traditional wood bring.
Medium-density fiberboard is one of the easiest materials to work with on the market. It’s versatile, affordable, and simple for anyone to use.
Of course, there are some pros and cons to consider.
Pros of Working With MDF
- Dense and strong: Compared to particle board, MDF is much denser and stronger in projects.
- No warping and cracking: MDF isn’t natural wood, so it won’t warp and crack when exposed to humidity or heat.
- Environmentally friendly: The creation process for MDF doesn’t involve cutting down a tree making it better for the environment.
- Simple to cut: The structure of MDF makes it easier to cut, ideal for custom projects where specific cuts must occur.
- Smooth: The surface of MDF is smooth, making it simple to prepare for a paint job.
Cons of Working With MDF
- Not water-resistant: Unfortunately, MDF is not water-resistant. If exposed to liquids or water-based paint, it may soak the liquid up. It’s necessary to seal the product before adding paint.
- Easily damaged: MDF takes damage much easier than other forms of wood. It’s necessary to handle MDF with an additional level of care.
- Fails to hold items well: You can’t use nails, screws, or other similar items with MDF. It’s composed of fine particles, making it impossible for the material to keep nails and screws in place.
- Tricky to handle alone: It can be impossible to work with large slabs of MDF by yourself. It’s too dense and heavy for most people.
Where Can You Buy MDF?
MDF can be purchased at many popular home improvement stores, including:
- Home Depot
- Ace Hardware
- And more
Additional Types of MDF
There are more types of MDF beyond the classic. If you have a specific desire for your MDF, it can be helpful to purchase a specialty MDF board. These have been altered in some way to better fit the needs of a specific project.
Here are more types of MDF:
- Bendy MDF: Allows you to move and bend the board to become any shape you want.
- Ultralite MDF: Provides a lightweight option for lighter displays.
- Fire retardant MDF: Allows a more fireproof atmosphere in construction.
- Moisture-resistant MDF: Keeps more water out of the typically absorbent board.
- Extira: A unique branded MDF with tons of features, including bug resistance.
- Beadboard MDF: Made using a design that works well as an accent wall.
- Slatwall MDF: Has deep grooves for display purposes.
Of course, these MDF varieties can be more expensive because they have been tampered with in the creation process.
If you don’t have a special application, it’s cheaper to use traditional MDF.
Uses For MDF
MDF is an excellent alternative to traditional wood because it is free from natural flaws and is better for the environment. Here are some common use cases for MDF.
Furniture is one of the prime items made from MDF.
It makes furniture more eco-friendly and provides a cost-effective way for designers to make incredible pieces. If you want affordable designer furniture, you can find it made from MDF!
MDF also provides a naturally smooth finish and is easy to assemble in a home. It looks like real furniture – you don’t have to worry about losing the natural look.
Of course, there are some drawbacks to MDF furniture.
It’s not as durable and especially susceptible to moisture.
There is also the potential for VOCs, which can be harmful if people are exposed to them for too long.
Cabinetry is another item made from MDF.
It provides a denser structure than real wood while keeping a smooth surface.
It’s much easier to customize MDF cabinets than wood ones because they are easier to cut and produce.
There are some issues with MDF cabinetry, however. The surface has the potential to scratch much easier, and it won’t do as well in heat or extremely cold temperatures. MDF cabinets also don’t last as long as real wood ones, so they won’t hold their value in the home like natural cabinets.
One of the best parts about MDF is that it is fire-resistant.
Rather than building with classic wood, you can incorporate MDF to add another layer of protection to your structure.
MDF is an awesome and affordable way to provide additional layers of protection to your creation.
MDF is an excellent choice for soundproofing. It’s a lot like dry wood, but much denser.
You do need to be careful when using MDF for soundproofing. When cutting the material, it could release VOCs into the atmosphere – which isn’t great for your health.
Still, MDF is a quality choice for excellent acoustics in a room. Many people use it for soundproofing purposes.
Although it’s rare, MDF can work as a roofing option. It sits on the back of your shingles and provides support, as well as creating an additional layer between the tiles and your ceiling.
If you want an affordable way to back your shingles, go with MDF. It’s a versatile material that operates as a backing or sheath in many parts of your room.
If you’re looking for similar products to MDF, you can also try these plywood alternatives.
Although many types of MDF shouldn’t be exposed to moisture, there are others mixed with wax and sturdy materials meant to last against humidity.
MDF is ideal because it can be mixed and coated with items that wouldn’t work well on natural wood. There are types resistant to heat, water, and even bugs.
If you live in a humid climate and require wood that can handle moisture exposure, go for an MDF treated with wax. It’s a practical choice for any home in a tropical climate.
How to Cut MDF Safely
If you want to work with MDF, you need to know how to cut it properly. Doing it wrong could result in the release of VOCs which can be dangerous for any human to breathe in.
There are typically two ways people need to cut wood – straight and curved. Always wear a dust mask and work in a well ventilated area when cutting MDF.
Straight cuts are the most common type of cut for MDF boards. Many people use them for cabinet doors, wood furniture, or similar projects.
Here is the process for making a straight cut on the MDF board:
- Mark the area you want to be cut
- Use a circular saw or hand-held saw with a fine blade
- Bring the blade down on the line as precisely as possible
The best way to create curved cuts is to utilize a jigsaw or a bandsaw. These tools allow you to curve the wood without giving up control of your project.
- Mark the curve
- Get a bandsaw or jigsaw
- Carefully cut on your line, turning as you do so
Cost of MDF
MDF is relatively affordable compared to other engineered woods, but it’s still critical to understand how much it costs if you want a piece for yourself.
On average, a piece of MDF that is four feet by eight feet is between $15-$60 – making it one of the cheapest woods you can find.
MDF Vs. Real Wood
MDF and natural wood are the most popular materials for many building projects. If you are torn between the two, it can help you to understand the best and worst.
If you need a long-lasting piece that will withstand elements and look good while doing it, natural wood is the way to go. It’s more expensive but will last much longer.
MDF is an excellent choice if you are looking for something more affordable and easier to work with. It can be cut into any shape and is resistant to many common problems.
You can paint MDF and real wood, so either option will work as far as appearance goes.
Potential Health Risks of MDF
Although MDF itself doesn’t cause issues, cutting it can. The dust from MDF can contain VOCs and formaldehyde, dangerous to the human body.
When you cut MDF, always ensure you wear a mask. Sweep up any dust from your cuts and take the material into an open area to cut it.
How to Tell if Furniture is Made From MDF
Although MDF is an excellent material, it’s not ideal if you want furniture that will last.
Here are a few items that you will see if a piece of furniture is made from MDF:
- Lack of wood grain: There is no exposed wood grain in MDF. Instead, it’s a solid piece.
- Small, glued particles: MDF is made from small, exposed particles, glued together with resin or a similar substance.
If you want to save money and pick a material better for the environment, go with furniture made from MDF.
If you want something that will last, go with something made from real solid wood.
Final Thoughts on What is MDF
MDF is a versatile and affordable material, perfect for a wide range of projects.
It’s made of wood fibers, glued together with resin, and then formed into boards.
You can purchase MDF in sheets or boards of various thicknesses depending on your needs and you can usually find them at your local home improvement store.