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What Is MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard)?

A face mask and eye protection should be worn when working with MDF.
MDF and similar materials are usually covered in veneer.
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  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2014
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Medium density fiberboard, or MDF, is a composite wood product similar to particleboard. It's made out of wood waste fibers glued together with resin, heat, and pressure. MDF is appropriate for many applications, from cabinetry to moulding, because it is smooth, uniform, and won't warp.

MDF has many advantages over plank wood, particleboard, or high density fiberboard. It's very smooth because the wood fibers used in its manufacture are uniform and fine. This makes it have low "tear out," which means that when sawed, the end has a smooth cut instead of a jagged edge. This also means that a coat of primer and a couple of coats of paint take well, leaving an attractive, finished surface unlike other composite wood products. MDF also has a mild reaction to moisture, meaning it won't warp or swell in high-humidity applications like a bathroom cabinet.

Builders use MDF in many capacities, such as in furniture, shelving, laminate flooring, decorative moulding, and doors. They value MDF for its insular qualities in sound and heat. Also, it can be nailed, glued, screwed, stapled, or attached with dowels, making it as versatile as plank wood. Usually, people working with MDF use a carbide saw fitted with a vacuum to reduce the amount of airborne dust. Since MDF is strengthened with resin containing formaldehyde, those at exposure try to reduce their risk of inhalation, or use special MDF with lower formaldehyde levels.

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Reconstituted, engineered wood products like MDF are often covered in a veneer or laminate. These thin layers of vinyl or real wood disguise the MDF, especially along visible edges. Some people prefer using MDF over regular lumber because it has a lower impact on the environment. MDF is solely made from waste products, the leftover scraps that would otherwise be dumped in a landfill. This attraction has helped it gain popularity among homeowners. It's now available not just to contractors. Many home improvement centers and lumberyards stock it in sheets for the general public.

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Discuss this Article

anon939323
Post 71

So---is mdf safe or not? Too many people die of horrible cancers to not ask serious questions about such products.

anon355485
Post 70
River1996
Post 69

I just bought a little dresser, nightstand and headboard for my three year old's small room. It is made of MDF and when it arrived it was labeled formaldehyde phase 2. The smell is strong and burns my throat. One piece seemed strong but we can't use the drawers. With all three in there, the room smelled toxic.

Is this safe for a small child? Will the smell ever go away? We moved the dresser and nightstand into the living room with the drawers out.

anon168313
Post 66

@anon743: if it looks bumpy, you can sand it with a very fine wet/dry sandpaper and it will make it smooth. --LC

anon164586
Post 64

looking at water bed rails. They are made of MDF. Sleeping next to this material sounds like a not so good idea. We have a humidifier in the room. also a bad combination?

anon164380
Post 63

MDF needs to bear a prominent and clear warning about its vulnerability to water damage. I was given furniture that (unknown to me) had been sitting in a garage where a water-pipe burst in the recent cold-weather. When I hauled it to its new home, the legs had disintegrated! Water had been taken in by the fibrous board and ruined the piece of furniture.

anon160725
Post 61

MDF would warp, why? Does anyone know how to solve this problem?

anon159201
Post 60

I love MDF, it is job security in the water damage industry. Looks good and has to be replaced if it gets wet even a little wet. Ditto for particle board.

dya
Post 59

Why do the wood materials need to be as thin as possible for making into wood composites?

anon154716
Post 58

The time taken to put on safety masks and gloves will likely cramp your creativity. Most people have a low immune system, and so always reach out for all kinds protective gear in any situation.

MDF brings out the artist in us. MDF was just waiting to happen, for the artistic-minded who are always groping for user-friendly, (and conservation-activists-friendly) materials. Only it is not advertised enough. Just a useful tip to counteract all fears about moisture fears: coat it (a brush will do) with clear PU coating and you seal in your fears and could even spill hot coffee over it.

anon136613
Post 57

MDF: "Friendly on the environment"? Not really. Folks, real wood will naturally decay over time into valuable nutrients for organisms on the forest floor. MDF is made using a synthetic chemical concoction including formaldehyde, a carcinogen.

All of the inappropriate chemicals introduced into the atmosphere may be the leading cause of cancers. Off-gassing of products in homes and buildings is only hitting the radar in N.America of recent time.

Plastics, formaldehyde, toxins in paint and carpeting will off-gas (mix with your indoor air) and bring a risk to you.

Be careful what you purchase and install in your living space. Think twice about MDF.

anon135441
Post 56

I have just been diagnosed with lower-respiratory lung disease, asthma, sleep apnea, rhinosinusitis, sinusitis,and am under doctors care right now.

I have to get a c-pap machine, use two inhalers, nose spray. I have been classed as totally disabled since October 2008.

I worked for Rails Plus, Inc., from denver, on a brinkmann constructors job site in broomfield,co. OSHA issued an overexposure citation. If you have been exposed to this crap, you can go to concentra medical for diagnosis and treatment, and possibly legal action as far as workers comp., and social security disability.

anon130945
Post 55

is Hardboard as dangerous as MDF when cutting it?

anon105132
Post 53

Would MDF board be suitable to make a bathroom door?

anon100719
Post 52

Yes, there are published safety concerns with MDF dust and fumes.

anon91435
Post 51

Where is this wood available? What is the cost of this wood ? On which bases they will sell this wood (i mean weight or length)

anon88505
Post 49

Please, i have recycled MDF but it is so fragile. is there any chemical that can be painted on it to strengthen it?

anon84195
Post 48

would i be able to make a phone holder out of one?

anon77547
Post 46

Are there special precautions for cutting MDF with a laser?

anon73920
Post 45

Just one question. Is MDF good material for glass show cases? Are they reliable and sturdy enough for glass? Thanks.

anon73667
Post 44

I recently had cabinets made in a 12x 15 upstairs bedroom for crafts and sewing. I also have recently struggled with a skin rash.

Four days ago, I left the door closed when I was out of town. The smell is so strong that I can taste it when I opened the door.

Does anyone think that the smell will die down after sealing the ends of raw MDF? Is my rash connected to this MDF?

It's a shame to have to rip out all the cabinets. I wish I had known about this earlier. Is there a warning label at Home Depot?

anon67568
Post 40

can MDF be used in a bookshelf?

anon64955
Post 39

can I use it for my woofer box?

anon50657
Post 36

MDF is garbage. It does warp if you don't store it correctly (i.e. level and straight on a rack). Water and moisture destroy it unless you take the types of steps to protect it that most people don't. It has a nasty chemical odor when you cut it that you know can't be good (formaldehyde!). This is something to be used for desperate homeowners on a budget as a short term (read: less than 20 years) remodel, or developers that are churning out McMansions for the ignorant to ogle at.

anon47946
Post 32

I love it. my whole house is made out of it.

anon47457
Post 31

it's toxic and should not be inhaled.

anon46915
Post 30

I don't think I've ever seen a more contradictory set of comments. MDF is environmentally friendly. MDF is not environmentally friendly. MDF is toxic. MDF is not toxic. MDF is better than real wood. MDF is not better than real wood. MDF warps. MDF doesn't warp. The earth is rectangular. The earth is square. I don't know what I'm talking about. Neither do I.

anon44463
Post 28

this is just awesome. :)

anon43194
Post 27

mdf is not as toxic as it is reported, it lets off the same toxic fumes as pine, because that's what it is. the urea formaldehyde only makes up 10 percent of the board; the other 90 is pine. it isn't made out of scraps as stated they specifically cut trees down to use for mdf. the worst kinds of dusts are hardwoods, i.e iroko sapele and meranti. the urea part is the adhesive, the formaldehyde is the substance which stops the adhesive setting, therefore when the resin is applied the formaldehyde evaporates and the urea sets. therefore it doesn't let off deathly quantities of toxic fumes people claim when cut. the report that the dust is the same as asbestos sharp which sticks to the walls of your lungs is rubbish as well. it's simple ignorance of the facts, just because it creates a lot of dust doesn't mean it's more toxic, but it still isn't good for you. wear ppe.

anon42021
Post 26

is mdf safe to make kids' furniture? I'm going to make the kids a bed like a car.

jrk189
Post 25

would the same size of an mdf board and the same size of a board of pine used for shelving have the same weight bearing strength, both being 3/4 inch thick x 72 x 17? thank you

anon40281
Post 23

I suspect any recycled material in MDF would largely be accidental. Wikipedia says they chip whole debarked logs. I can't imagine a mill producing 100s of tons of composite products like MDF fooling around with sticks and twigs. They don't want bark and they don't want nails.

anon37305
Post 22

how can you put a slight compound curve in a 30"x36" sheet of MDF board?

keyboardsart
Post 21

Currently am working now with a marble flooring on top of MDF wood substrate. Do you think MDF wood substrate will not swell after it totally got wet from the volume of water we mixed with the tile glue? *Is it water resistant?*

handyman
Post 16

Of course it is toxic tool, it has formaldehyde resin in it which is in the dust. So no, you shouldn't breathe it in.

alvinsanity
Post 15

im an industrial design student and i was wondering what kinds of furniture specifically that i can use MDF on?

davianny
Post 13

Would MDF make for a suitable Table top for an outside picnic/Patio table. If not, then what would be suitable, a hardwood?.

anon14318
Post 12

Can mdf ever be used in an exterior situation? Like using as a platform or anchor winch mounting in a boat if it is covered with marine carpeting?

zena
Post 11

hello all, i am working in a factory which generates a significant amount of MDF dust (milldust),which sent to landfills. my question is : if there is a specific material (like a: resin, glue...) which mixed together with the mdf dust, and thus making a mixture for pouring in a mold ? Where i can get like this material ? thank u all

joshklipsch
Post 10

Hello all. I had a question about MDF. I'm working for a company trying to get to the bottom of some bowing issues in furniture that's made of MDF. We're seeing it happen on a lot of tops and shelves where the large flat MDF surface is starting to droop and/or bow. It looks like this is a normal issue with MDF, but my question is whether or not there are common ways to fix this or improve it?

anon9108
Post 9

First, never trust rubberband masks. Aren't your lungs are worth more than that? 27 USD will get you something you can fit to your face and you will definitely feel the difference. Enough to know you're doing yourself a favor.

as to the worth of MDF, to me, it's like that old (blues) saying about the older woman, Old women don't tell, they don't' swell, and they're grateful as h*ll."

MDF covers nicely, edges too!, it don't swell, or move or split (the metaphor may break a bit here ;)) and it will thank you by lookin' good for less $$$

And I have made a LOT of mdf dust.

As far as the formaldehyde, I used some of this around say, 1980's. I remember when it got hot, LOTS of the formaldehyde smell. Last year, and very soon this year, I am going to/have cut up several 49x97's into many many chunks and glue it up with TitebondII into many cool useful things. I don't get anywhere near the smell these days.

Just my $0.02+ =8^>

anon8850
Post 8

very useful information

anon7124
Post 7

MDF contains formaldehyde so yes it can be toxic and yes it can give off gas. I've heard that the amount of gas given off is actually large, not small as one poster on this discussion said. Also, there are more cons to MDF. It can snap like dry twigs, which properly cured wood never does. It is also not true that it is more environmentally safe. Yes it uses scrap lumber, but it binds it with resin, which has formaldehyde in it. Give me wood any day.

anon4305
Post 6

To try and answer the third question: MDF is made by attrition milling wood scraps, then applying a resin to the fibers, then consolidating the fibers with heat and pressure into a panel product. There are two main resins that are used to adhere the particles: urea formaldehyde and phenol formaldehyde. There is a limit placed on the formaldehyde emission of the MDF by ANSI (American National Standards Institute) of .3 parts per million. The MDF that you purchase should have a tag or stamp on it somewhere that says that it conforms to ANSI A208.2-1994. The amount of formaldehyde in typical MDF is not significant enough to be toxic. To put it in perspective, OSHA allows an exposure of .75 ppm during an 8-hour work day.

That being said, if you are cutting MDF, you should always take safety precautions: one of those dentist masks should be fine for your mouth and nose, and safety glasses and gloves. Hope this answered your question.

anon4237
Post 5

Does anyone know if I should be concerned about off-gassing from a desk which is made from MDF and coated with a few layers of varnish? Please advise.

anon3810
Post 4

Is there a difference between MDF and standard untempered hardboard (masonite)?

anon1601
Post 3

Is exposed or particles of MDF released into the air toxic? And how much do they give off gas?

anon743
Post 2

I just used mdf as wainscoting in the dining room. I primed it with oil based primer and used a semi-gloss paint, but now it looks bumpy like an orange peel. What can we do?

anon443
Post 1

Does MDF used as interior moulding need to be primed before painting?

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