What is MDF? – An Overview

What is MDF? An overview of its properties, types of MDF, advantages and disadvantages, and it’s applications. 

When hardwood or softwood residue is broken down into wood fibres, Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF) is made. This is a kind of wood product created artificially. It is formed in panels when high pressure and temperature are applied. It is far thicker than plywood. MDF comprises individual fibres and finds application in the construction business.

what is mdf

Properties of MDF:

  • Durability: It is susceptible to attack from termites and fungi. Though it is meant to be used in tropical areas and humid areas, the glue that bonds the sheets of MDF can break down in cases of humid temperature or fungal attack, thereby making it less durable than other wooden boards. MDF is also known to be attacked by beetles.
  • Response to humidity: MDF responds to change in the humidity of the surrounding air. It should not exceed 10%-12% in offices and homes.
  • Absorption and swelling: MDF absorbs moisture causing it to swell up.

Types of MDF:

There are a few types of MDF, such as:

  • Standard MDF: This sub-type of MDF is used for interiors and general fitouts, so it is a good choice for making furniture. If you live in a highly humid area or want to make patio or poolside furniture, do not go ahead with standard MDF.
  • Moisture Resistant (MR) MDF: Just like standard MDF, this sub-type of MDF should also be used only for interiors of homes or offices. Since it is resistant to moisture, it is ideal for highly humid areas and for those parts of the house where occasional dampening is usual, such as bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms. MDF is manufactured with a special resin that is highly moisture-resistant called melamine-urea formaldehyde.
  • Particle Board: One of the more widely-used types of MDF is particle board is one of the more commonly used types of MDF. It comprises several raw materials broken down and recreated into particles of various shapes and sizes. These particles are then bonded together and finished with the help of a resin binder. It is also used to furniture like those used in bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens and dining rooms.
  • Laminated Board: Yet another kind of MDF that’s used in a range of building projects is laminated board. It is made with a variety of wood grains. Each wood layer is then stuck together, giving a board of laminated wood a certain thickness and stiffness. There are several kinds of laminated wood, including plywood and blackboard.

Why MDF is chosen over plywood:

There are many reasons for MDF being the preferred choice of board over chipboard or plywood. Not only is it very dense, it is also flat, stiff, and easy to work while also being knot-free. It is also comprised of fine particles, so it does not have a distinct grain.

MDF can also be painted so that it produces a smooth and high quality surface. Since it does not have a grain, it is easy to cut it, drill it, filed and machined without causing any damage to its surface. It can be cut and dowelled together. Gluing it is also possible. It can be painted upon, varnished and laminated also.


  • It is cost- effective.
  • It is easily available in a range of sizes.
  • It is naturally flawless.
  • It can be easily cut on the machine.
  • It uses recycled wood when used in the construction industry, so it does its bit in saving trees.
  • It is easy to paint it in different colors.
  • It is completely devoid of knots, so it is smooth and blemish-free.
  • It contains harsh chemicals that are poisonous to termites and other pests.
  • Unlike solid wood, MDF neither expands nor contracts due to humidity or heat.
  • It can be easily used to design attractive objects as shaping it is far easier than styling solid wood.
  • If veneered, MDF can easily look like authentic wood.


  • When MDF is being made, it gives off small quantities of formaldehyde, known to be carcinogenic. It also contains poisonous resins which throw up dangerous saw dust.
  • It is expensive to maintain. If it is cracked or chipped, it can never be repaired.
  • The chemicals used to make MDF render it less child-friendly than others in this segment.
  • It swells when exposed to water directly.
  • As it isn’t a natural wood product, it has no natural grain.
  • MDF contains glue which can make it hard to put in different kinds of fasteners into it.
  • It is unsuitable for the majority of joints.
  • It needs to be fully sealed so that dangerous toxins do not escape.
  • It is susceptible to splitting.
  • To cut it, it needs to be placed in a ventilated area or anywhere that there is a dust collection mechanism.


There are several uses of MDF. These include being used slat wall panels that are used in the setting up shops. Since it spoils when exposed to moisture, it is not used for outdoor areas like decks and patios but only for interior applications. It is also used in school projects because it is highly flexible.

It is chiefly used for making furniture, including wardrobes, cupboards, kitchen and display cabinets, interior fittings for showrooms and shops and loudspeakers, since it has enhanced weight and it is more inflexible than normal plywood.

How to be safe while working with MDF:

Every time MDF is sawn, it throws up huge quantities of dust into the environment. If you are working with this material, it is highly likely that it will get into your eyes, nose and mouth and make you cough and choke. To avoid this, ensure that you wear a respirator. Also, be sure that MDF is cut in a well-ventilated room and has a good method of collecting dust. It would also help you if you close up the visible parts of this board to reduce what emanates from the binders of this material.

It is a well-known fact that MDF boards give off formaldehyde and other toxic substances that could prove hazardous to your health for some time after manufacture.

Author: John Clax

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