A quick guide to MDF and how to use it

Engineered MDF (medium-density fibreboard) is an increasingly popular material for DIY projects and manufactured products alike. It’s often compared to solid wood and plyboard, but why should you use MDF? How can you best use it? Read on to find out.

MDF boards

Engineered MDF and alternatives

Engineered MDF is, as you’d assume, a man-made product. It’s made from a combination of sawdust and glue, which is fused together using heat and pressure. It’s particularly popular because it’s relatively inexpensive and still durable enough for most projects. 

MDF is heavier than you’d expect, as it’s made up of very densely packed fibres. It can also soak up water if you don’t seal it properly. But, when used appropriately, MDF makes a fantastic and inexpensive material. While it can’t be stained, it can be painted very easily. 

MDF and Plywood

MDF is somewhat similar to plywood, but with a few significant differences. While MDF is formed of sawdust and glue, plywood is made with sheets of wood veneer. This means that plywood looks more like solid wood, and will usually have visible and consistent wood grain from the wood veneer sheets.

Plywood stack
Plywood

This visible wood grain means that you can stain plywood, which you can’t do with MDF. It can also tightly hold screws and is a very strong material to work with. However, MDF is much less expensive than plywood. It’s also very smooth and consistent, so MDF cutting is easier. However, make sure that you take care while cutting so you don’t inhale the particles.

MDF and Solid Wood

Solid wood is timber that has been processed in the old fashioned way. Trees are cut down and the logs formed into planks or whatever else the manufacturer needs. It is generally seen as a better quality product, although different trees yield wood that’s suitable for different purposes.

Solid wood is attractive and can last for decades. Wood comes from something that’s alive and that has grown. This means that each tree is unique and has a grain and imperfections which give it character. Solid wood can be stained to emphasise this character and beauty.

untreated oak boards
untreated oak boards

However, solid wood is a lot more expensive than MDF. While it’s usually fairly easy to work with, the expense makes many amatuers nervous about using it. Solid wood is also more vulnerable to moisture, temperature, and pests like woodworm. 

How you can use MDF

As mentioned before, MDF is very popular, and for a good reason. It’s easy to use, cheap, and easy to look after. While it isn’t as durable as other materials and won’t support a lot of weight, MDF is sturdy and durable enough for all kinds of DIY projects.

One great way to use MDF is to build radiator covers, which can turn a functional and unattractive part of your home into something that is functional and looks nice. You can use it in conjunction with other materials as well, so you can have that solid wood wardrobe that you’ve always wanted, but with an MDF door which is easy to paint. 

Thanks for reading. Take a look at some of my other posts for some further reading:

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