What is MDF board?

While it’s likely you’ve heard of MDF, you may not know exactly what it stands for or how it is best used.

MDF is an extremely common material for building or DIY projects, yet one that is often misunderstood when it comes to quality – largely due to its lower price point. If you’re partaking in a DIY or building project and are debating whether to use MDF, you’ve come to the right place. Here at Arnold Laver, we’re answering all of your MDF FAQ’s, running through exactly what MDF is and how it is made to the pros and cons of this versatile material. 

What is MDF board?

So, first things first; what is MDF board, and what does MDF stand for?

MDF is medium-density fiberboard – a building and DIY sheet material commonly used in cabinetry, furniture and molding. As a material, MDF is extremely versatile and cost-effective, making it a great choice for a whole host of projects. MDF isn’t often used as a finish alone but is instead finished with veneer or laminate, giving the impression of real wood. 

Due to the smoothness of MDF, it can easily be painted, cut and shaped, making it an ideal material for decorative DIY projects. 

What is MDF made from?

MDF is a sheet material rather than a hardwood, and is created by using heat and pressure to fuse together fine wood fiber and glue. The resulting sheet material is strong yet extremely easy to work with. Plus, it is environmentally friendly, created using recycled wood!

Alongside MDF, you can also get low-density fiberboard and high-density fiberboard. Low-density fiberboard, also known as particleboard, is created with even smaller pieces of wood fused together. The result is cheaper but also harder to work with, as it is more prone to chipping or breaking. High-density fiberboard, or hardboard, is created with more heat and pressure to create a much stronger finish, however, this is reflected in the price. MDF sits as a happy medium between these two materials – cost-effective, strong, durable and versatile. 

How to cut MDF board by hand 

If you’re looking to make a straight cut through MDF, you can use a handheld cutting tool or saw. Due to the high glue content of MDF, we would recommend using a carbide-tipped blade, as the material can quickly dull steel blades. 

For a curved cut through MDF, you can opt for a handheld multipurpose or rotary tool with a multi-purpose blade. However, if you’re looking to create a much more detailed cut or decorative pattern, a jigsaw is always the best option. 

How to paint MDF board 

The key thing to remember when painting MDF is that, as it is porous, priming is needed to ensure a smooth, high-quality finish. 

Priming MDF for painting

While the texture of MDF makes it a good option for painting, it is a very porous material that naturally soaks up moisture. Therefore, it’s important to prime MDF before you paint it. You should start by lightly sanding down your MDF and brushing away all dust. Then, apply a coat of solvent-based (rather than water-based) primer. Leave this coat to fully dry before lightly sanding the surface of your MDF, then apply a second coat and repeat the process. Usually, two coats will be enough but you can apply a third if needed. Once all your priming coats are dry, you’re ready to move onto painting. 

Painting MDF

If you’ve correctly primed and prepared your MDF, painting it should be a fairly simple job! We would recommend staying away from standard emulsion which may look patchy, alongside water-based paints as, even fully primed, there is a risk of damage to your MDF. 

Oil-based paint, acrylic and latex paints are all suitable for painting your MDF. Choose your colour and your finish, and apply two to three coats. As with priming, you should lightly sand your MDF between each coat of paint. 

The advantages of MDF

  • MDF is highly economical, cheaper than plywood and hardwoods.
  • MDF is environmentally friendly, created from recycled wood.
  • The consistent texture throughout MDF means it will have a smooth finish when cut. 
  • MDF offers a smooth surface which, with priming, can easily be painted in a variety of different shades.
  • MDF is easier to shape than solid wood. The smoothness and strength of MDF means it can be cut into detailed patterns or designs without breaking. 

The disadvantages of MDF

  • As a porous material, MDF can deteriorate if exposed to water or damp conditions, making it not ideal for use outdoors. MDF should always be primed and sealed if you suspect it will come into contact with water or moisture. 
  • MDF is a heavy material, so can be difficult to manoeuvre when working with large sheets alone. 

If you think MDF is the perfect material for your project, look no further than the Arnold Laver sheet materials collection. With premium MDF, premium MR V313 MDF and veneered MDF available, you’re sure to find the right option for you.

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