MDF is a versatile material. While MDF isn’t necessarily what every woodworker dreams about, this product performs well when properly applied. In this article, I’m going to share what is MDF used for.
People typically use MDF for indoor projects like cabinets and bookshelves. It has a smooth finish that is easy to paint. It’s also easy to cut and sand, making it suitable for trim and countertops.
MDF is typically less expensive than traditional plywood. However, don’t think that MDF is just a cheap material for cheap projects. It excels in many areas, and I’ll share with you why.
Best Projects for MDF
Let’s go into detail about the best projects for MDF. These will be all the projects that fall within its parameters. You won’t find many outdoor uses here; however, as technology grows, more MDF boards are becoming water-resistant.
Here’s a list of good projects for MDF:
- TV stands
- Side tables
- Storage cabinets
I’ll explain these in more detail.
MDF for TV Stands
The great thing about MDF is its versatility. Especially for a project that will require paint. It has a smooth surface. Not only is it smooth, but since it has no grain pattern, it’s really easy to paint. You’ll get a good smooth paint cover without needing to go over it a bunch of times.
TV stands are a good option for MDF because they don’t come into contact with a high moisture level. Also, people often change their TV stands from time to time. A new TV comes out, or your old one breaks, and you need a new TV stand.
MDF is an affordable option, allowing you to make changes without breaking the bank.
Using MDF for Side Tables
When you start furnishing an apartment or a house, it can be surprising how many side tables you need. Side tables in the bedrooms, in the living room, and a few in the play area.
Like TV stands, MDF is a good material for side tables and coffee stands because it is affordable and easy to work with. If you want to add a wood style to MDF, it’s not too difficult to cover the MDF with a wood veneer.
Of course, side tables will hold a lot of drinks. You want to be careful not to expose the MDF to a ton of moisture. You can solve this problem by purchasing cup and mug coasters for your drinks. If you spill on the MDF, just quickly dry it off, and you shouldn’t have problems.
MDF for Bookshelves
Bookshelves are an important aspect of any home or office. MDF provides an easily paintable surface for your bookshelves and allows you to quickly add more bookshelves as your library grows.
This is especially for bookshelves in kids’ rooms or play areas. You may want those deep mahogany shelves, and that’s okay; however, your young child isn’t going to care. MDF is a good option for those areas of high abuse, like kids’ rooms.
Using MDF for Trim
Trim is another great use for MDF. Why? Because you’ll need a lot of it. Buying real wood can make the project expensive, and depending on the quality of wood, cause some aches.
You don’t want the trim to splinter or crack. Also, if you want to use a router to make your own trim, you’ll find that MDF is very easy to work with.
Furthermore, since MDF doesn’t have a grain, it’s not going to warp the same way wood does.
Using MDF for Cabinets
MDF offers great options for cabinets. As stated previously, It is on a spectrum. There’s high-quality water-resistant MDF, and there’s affordable, less resilient MDF.
MDF is about providing an affordable option that gives you the look you want. Of course, MDF can accept more than just paint. If you’re going for a stained wood appearance, you can install MDF with a wood laminate.
MDF is also used for countertops; however, it is almost always covered with a water-resistant laminate.
Below, we’ll go over a list of reasons to use this material.
Reasons to Use MDF
There are good and bad MDF projects, and there are bad projects for MDF. For a good experience in the workshop, it’s all about choosing the right project.
Let’s go over a few valid reasons to used MDF:
- It’s cheaper – MDF gives you the ability to furnish your home at an affordable price. Sure, the coffee table might not be an exotic hardwood, but it’s still a coffee table, and it will do the job.
- It’s easy to work with – MDF sands down to a smooth finish. You don’t have to worry about hitting a knot or cutting yourself on splinters.
- Easy to paint – MDF takes paint nicely, giving you a color that’s true to your decor.
- It doesn’t warp – MDF can bend and bow over time. However, initially, you don’t need to worry about the same amount of warping as you do with wood.
- It takes a good router edge – with regular plywood, you have to worry about tearing out the fibers and ugly layers showing through. MDF takes a clean router edge.
- Good for backing – Even if you use real wood for your project, like a bookshelf, it can be nice to back your project with a thin, flexible material like MDF.
- Efficient – By this I mean, MDF is recycled wood. By using MDF, you’re helping use every aspect of a milled tree.
We’ve explained some of the reasons to use MDF and why it can be useful material. However, there are some cons to MDF. We’ll go over these in the next section.
When Not to Use MDF
MDF has its disadvantages. Not every material is suited for every task. We are going to share some of the instances in which you should avoid using MDF.
Note: what I’m about to list below does not mean that MDF is a “bad material,” it just means that MDF isn’t suited for the task.
Projects to avoid MDF:
- Outdoor projects or exposure to water
- For structural support
- Projects you want to stain
Let’s cover these below.
MDF for Outdoor Projects
As stated previously, MDF can act like a sponge when exposed to water. For this reason, most MDF isn’t going to be suitable for almost any outdoor wood project. Once MDF is wet, it has a hard time drying.
However, the caveat is weatherproof MDF. You can find this stuff on the market. You’ll have to make sure you compare the prices between waterproof MDF and normal wood.
However, water isn’t the only reason MDF isn’t great for outdoor projects, and I’ll share why below.
MDF for Structural Support
MDF is not as strong as regular plywood. It doesn’t have the same grain structure and durability that regular plywood has. For this reason, avoid MDF for an area that needs significant structural support.
When thoroughly soaked, MDF can lose nearly all holding power, with some boards almost crumbling in your hands.
MDF and Stain
The stain will just get sucked into MDF, and you may never see it again. The truth is if you want that rich wood grain look, then MDF probably isn’t the route you want to go.
You can sometimes stain the laminate on your MDF; however, you may still deal with peeling over time.
In the next section, we do a rapid-fire of some downsides to MDF.
Cons to Building with MDF
Here is a list of cons to using MDF. Not all MDF is made the same, so it’s important to research your specific type of MDF.
Here’s the list:
- Not durable – MDF isn’t as durable as regular plywood. You might be able to find some layered MDF, but it’s not likely to be as strong as regular hardwood.
- Not as pretty are wood – MDF isn’t going to have that beautiful grain patterns like some hardwoods. You’ll have to take more time to make MDF look good.
- Doesn’t take a screw or a nail very well – MDF does not hold screws or nails well. For this reason, you’ll find many projects like using a bolt and nut method to hold pieces together. Or, you may have to get out the glue and secure things that way; however, even glue won’t give you great hold.
- Edge stability – It’s hard to get that crisp edge with MDF. Many MDF projects will require some attention to the corners to keep them from crumbling.
- The sawdust – Though easy to cut, MDF creates nasty sawdust. The sawdust is small and full of the adhesives used to create the MDF. You don’t want to breathe this stuff in. Be sure to use caution. Wear a mask and safety goggles around MDF sawdust.
MDF is a good material when used for the right project. Depending on what you want to do, MDF can be the perfect option. As long as you don’t ask this material to do something it isn’t designed to do, your projects will go smooth.