When it comes to wood selection, there are a few significant factors to consider before deciding on the one you will be using in your project. To list a few, considering the strength of the wood, how it looks, and how long it lasts are all vital to making the right decision.
Last but certainly not least, the cost of the wood is perhaps the factor that holds the most weight when making a decision. As solid wood can be expensive, cheaper alternatives such as MDF wood are gaining a fair amount of popularity.
While we can’t deny that MDF wood has a few advantages, it also comes with glaring disadvantages that allow it to be more budget-friendly than other types of wood. As these disadvantages can be problematic for some projects, it’s crucial to know about them before committing to buying MDF wood for your next project.
Without further ado, let’s take a quick peek at the disadvantages that come with using MDF wood.
- MDF wood is weaker than other types of wood.
- MDF wood absorbs water quickly and can swell as a result.
- MDF wood can crack and split easily.
- MDF wood doesn’t take screws and nails too well.
- MDF wood may contain urea-formaldehyde, a harmful chemical.
As we have mentioned earlier, not all is bad with MDF wood. Here are the advantages that MDF wood brings to the table.
- MDF wood is budget-friendly.
- MDF wood has a smooth surface, which makes it easy to paint.
- MDF wood is easy to drill and cut as it has no knots, voids, or grain.
- MDF wood is dimensionally stable.
Next up, we will be going into detail about all the disadvantages we have just mentioned, which we believe will be helpful for you to decide whether MDF wood is the correct choice for your project or not.
MDF Wood Disadvantages
While the budget-friendly price of MDF wood is definitely enticing, ignoring the disadvantages that come with it will most likely cause disappointment in the long run.
MDF Wood Is Weak
Due to how MDF wood is produced, its structural integrity is much weaker than wood types such as plywood or solid wood. Even though MDF wood is actually denser than these wood types, it doesn’t do a great job when it comes to bearing heavy loads.
In the cases where projects made out of MDF wood carry heavy loads for extended periods, the wood usually starts cracking and splitting and eventually breaks. Since MDF wood isn’t elastic at all, you will most likely experience cracking without any warnings, such as the furniture bending first.
As a result, MDF wood is often not favored for load-bearing projects such as furniture, as furniture made with MDF wood is unreliable and doesn’t last long.
MDF Wood Can Swell
MDF wood absorbs water very quickly, which makes it prone to swelling.
In cases where a significant amount of water comes into contact with your MDF wood, the swelling will most likely cause the wood to crumble, meaning that you will have to replace it.
While it’s possible to fix swollen MDF wood with some work if it hasn’t crumbled yet, water causes the wood to slowly degrade over time, meaning that your MDF wood gets weaker and weaker if it frequently comes into contact with water.
Although you can remedy this issue to some extent by sealing the wood to protect it from water, it’s best to keep MDF wood away from areas with a risk of direct water contact.
MDF Wood Can Crack and Split Easily
Since MDF wood doesn’t have any elastic properties, it starts cracking and splitting as soon as there is some tension on it.
Combined with the fact that it’s not simple to repair MDF wood if it’s significantly damaged, the cracking and splitting can quickly become a considerable problem.
Since the cracked part of the wood essentially becomes a weak point, it won’t take much for it to break off soon after unless you get around to fixing it quickly.
As a result, we don’t recommend using MDF wood in projects where it will experience high amounts of tension.
MDF Wood Doesn’t Take Screws and Nails Too Well
You can face a fair few issues if you plan on using screws and nails on your MDF wood, which can quickly become annoying.
MDF wood doesn’t do a great job of holding nails, meaning that the nails eventually start loosening, wobbling, and falling out. Even if you somehow successfully manage to get the nail in, you may experience chips and cracks during the process.
The situation is a bit better when it comes to screws as long as you drill a pilot hole first. Since MDF wood does a better job of holding screws (large threads are better) than it holds nails, all you need to do is to avoid the cracking problem, which is what a pilot hole does.
That being said, even with a pilot hole, you may experience cracking if you apply too much force during the screwing process.
MDF Wood May Contain a Harmful Chemical
While most respectable manufacturers steer clear from using this chemical due to it being a health hazard, there’s a possibility that your MDF wood contains it.
This chemical is called urea-formaldehyde, and it’s used to bind the fibers of the MDF together. In some cases where MDF wood isn’t properly sealed, it can emit this chemical from its edges and its surface, which may cause health problems in the long run.
Bonus Fact: Due to the risks attached to this chemical, both the US and Australia were on the verge of banning MDF wood in 1994.
MDF Wood Advantages
You should certainly keep the disadvantages of MDF wood in mind, but if these disadvantages don’t affect your project, there is a good chance that you will especially benefit from the advantages that come with it.
MDF Wood Is Budget-Friendly
Budget-friendliness is the primary selling point of MDF wood.
As MDF wood is produced by combining the fibers of waste wood and other recycled content, its production cost is quite low compared to lumber that has a very high demand and a low supply.
Since cost is a significant factor to consider in most scenarios, it’s no surprise that MDF wood is immensely favored nowadays.
MDF Wood Has a Smooth Surface
While getting an even finish in solid wood can be hard sometimes, it’s not a problem with MDF wood due to its smooth surface.
MDF wood can’t have knots, voids, or other imperfections due to the way it’s produced, making it a pleasure to work with when it comes to painting, staining, or laminating.
If you have never worked with MDF wood before, you will be surprised at how simple it is to get an even coat of paint on your first try.
MDF Wood Is Easy to Drill and Cut
Cutting and drilling wood can be a hassle due to voids, knots, and grain direction, often requiring a lot of planning and effort.
On the other hand, as MDF wood doesn’t have knots, voids, or a grain direction, it can be drilled and cut very practically and smoothly.
Because of this, MDF wood is often quite pleasurable to work with as long as you use it in the right project.
MDF Wood Is Dimensionally Stable
While solid wood can easily warp and become deformed due to the changes in temperature and humidity, the effect of these factors on MDF wood is minimal.
Even though MDF wood isn’t immune to expansion and contraction, it’s unusual for it to warp as long as you don’t keep it in an area where the humidity is too high or where it gets direct sunlight for extended periods.
Projects Where MDF Wood Is a Good Option
Now that we have gone over the advantages and disadvantages of MDF wood – let’s look at some examples where using MDF wood is a good option.
- Wall panels
- Cabinet doors
- Ceiling molding
As you can see, all of these examples are either purely decorative or are used to carry very minimal weights, playing to the strengths of MDF wood.
Projects Where MDF Wood Is Not a Good Option
Lastly, let’s look at some examples where using MDF wood wouldn’t be a good idea.
- Outdoor furniture
- Door casings
As you can see, the items listed above can be affected by factors such as bumps, water damage, moisture, and heavy load, meaning that MDF wood isn’t a good fit for them.
While there are areas where the usage of MDF wood is perfectly suitable, using it in all of your projects for the sole reason of it being more budget-friendly will most likely set you back even further both in terms of time and budget in the long run.
As we have seen countless scenarios where our fellow woodworking enthusiasts regretted their choice after they started encountering problems with their projects, we highly recommend not ignoring any of the disadvantages that come with MDF wood before committing to it.
Remember that a significant part of being a great woodworker is the ability to choose the correct material for a project and having the knowledge to leverage the advantages of these materials to your benefit.