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What is MDF? Plus Tips for Using MDF
MDF (medium-density fiberboard) is inexpensive, durable, and a good choice for many woodworking and carpentry projects. Learn how to use it correctly, and how to avoid common mistakes.
Medium-density fiberboard is the most versatile building material I know of. Because it's inexpensive and fairly durable, medium density fiberboard s a good choice for practical projects like shelving and storage cabinets. But MDF wood is great for decorative projects too. The smooth surface of medium density fiberboard is perfect for painting, and a router leaves crisp profiles with no splintering, burning or tear-out.
Over the past 15 years, I've used MDF to build everything from crude shelving in my shop to fancy trim in upscale homes. I've even used it for furniture and ornate millwork like the trim board shown in the lead photo. In fact, my own home is entirely trimmed out with MDF moldings made from about 50 sheets of MDF. Yes, I'm a fan of the stuff. This article will cover the most important things I've learned about working with MDF—and help you avoid some of the frustrating mistakes I've made.
MDF is basically sawdust and glue, fused together under pressure and heat. It varies in color from tan to chocolate brown. Common thicknesses range from 1/4 in. to 1 in., but most home centers carry only 1/2-in. and 3/4-in. Full sheets are oversized by 1 in., so a “4 x 8” sheet is actually 49 x 97 in. A full sheet of 3/4-in. MDF costs about $30 (as of 2010). Some home centers also carry MDF boards in various lengths and widths. Working with MDF is no different from working with wood or plywood; you use the same tools to cut and shape it.
When a job calls for painted trim, I almost always cut costs with MDF. Even inexpensive wood, like this poplar baseboard, costs four times as much. To make trim, I cut MDF sheets into strips and shape the edges with a router or router table. With the right bit, I can create just about any trim profile, simple or fancy. (Check woodworking stores or online for a large selection of bits.) Some home centers carry ready-made MDF wood trim for less than the price of solid wood.
MDF or Plywood: Which One is Better for Your House?
Though these two materials may have found a place in your home, they are definitely not interchangeable. Both are often used in building kitchens and modular furniture and like every other material, MDF and plywood come with their set of advantages and disadvantages. Given their frequency of use, we thought we'd give you a lowdown on the MDF vs Plywood comparison,. A little extra information never did any harm, right? Read on.