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I heard mixed opinions about making cupboards and beds from MDF. Some said it doesn't matter, MDF is as durable as whole tree or sandwich boards. Some said that MDF is weak, and will not last for years if you move the MDF-beds often.

I'll be glad to hear your experiences about the durability of the MDF.

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

I have used MDF for a number of furniture building applications. Shelving, cupboards, cabinets (body and doors).

  1. It is easy to work into interesting shapes, you can cut curves using a jigsaw and sand it easily.
  2. If you sand off any of the surface, and on the cut ends, you get a very different finish than on the front/back surfaces. If you want to get a smooth uniform finish I suggest using an undercoat of acrylic or PVA. If you are careful and get the undercoat right you can get a very smooth (almost plastic looking) finish.
  3. Best to avoid damaging or removing the surface, as the surface is quite different to the inside and may contribute to the strength (not sure).
  4. I usually sand over and round any exposed edges to prevent then from getting damaged. I always finish MDF with some kind of paint, so the texture differences are hidden.
  5. MDF is very dimensionally stable, I have had no real issues with it changing size due to temperature or moisture
  6. Basic MDF is not very good at handling high moisture levels. I always try and seal it as far as possible using a paint with relatively high moisture retardation (couple of coats of gloss paint for example). I have not so far experienced any serious moisture damage to my MDF even in places I have used it as an experiment in my kitchen where it is exposed to humidity (replacing chipboard which was being damaged by the humidity). However, it has only been a few years so I will see how it is in another 10.
  7. Use exterior grade MDF if your application is likely to be exposed to high levels of moisture.
  8. I often fix it with wood glue and dowels, but screws will work fine as long as you drill a pilot hole.
  9. MDF is not as strong as plywood, if you are using it for shelving/load bearing you will have to increase the thickness compared to plywood or use some other method. For the sides of cabinets, etc, I have sometimes used two pieces attached face to face.
  10. the dust from working it is a bit horrible, so wear as mask/use extraction

Overall, it has some advantages and some disadvantages. I think it is rarely the best material, but probably good enough for a number of furniture building applications. And for some things (like cutting into shapes with a jigsaw) it is very handy (no grain). I have not so far had any serious durability issues, but I do always take the above precautions.

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MDF is medium density fiberboard. It is essentially an amalgamation of sawdust, wood chips, and binders. Sorta like dried oatmeal.

Cons:

  • MDF is a pain to work with if you have to remodel later or install hardware several times, as the more you drill it, the less sturdy it becomes and begins to flake.
  • It will also split if not pilot hole drilled.
  • MDF does NOT tolerate water well. Water begins to degrade MDF into fine particles, think wet cardboard.
  • Smooth shank nails have a difficult finding purchase.
  • Formaldehyde resins are commonly used to bind MDF together, so I wouldn't use it near small children or pets.
  • It is much heavier than similar sized pine boards.
  • MDF crumbles easily, so finding pieces that have a clean edge are hard to find.

If you have purchased anything from Ikea, you know what this is.

Pros:

  • It's cheaper than hard wood.
  • It can look very "clean" as it doesn't contain knots or rings or any other naturally occurring wood deformities.

Verdict: Use anything else, seriously. MDF is cheaper, but you will pay for it in the long run. Especially true for cabinets, as weight of the wood will decrease the amount your cabinet can hold, plus MDF will begin to sag from stress.

What about Pineboard? Pineboard, considered to be the cheapest whole wood you can buy. Is stronger than MDF, lasts longer, holds up to water degredation much better, and doesn't crumble.

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Thanks! What about sandwich boards (similar to MDF, planks of thin wood stitched together by glue). They're also cheap, and have a better reputation. –  Elazar Leibovich Mar 12 '11 at 22:39
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Yes sandwich boards are much better than MDF, I have a great history with them. I consider them to be very strong. –  allindal Mar 12 '11 at 23:01
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@Elazar there are several possible "sandwich" lumber selections, this in itself is a huge question, it may be best to edit this question down to just mdf and make a new question dealing with laminates right off the top of my head i can think of these :Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL), Oriented Strand Lumber (OSL), Prefabricated Wood I-Joists, and Structural Glued Laminated Timber (Glulam), –  allindal Mar 12 '11 at 23:18
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I think you might be mistaking particle board for MDF. I have never seen anything from Ikea made from MDF, everything I've seen is solid wood or particle board. Two very different products. –  Cody C Mar 15 '11 at 16:11
    
@Cody I assure you, I know the difference between MDF and partical board. google "ikea MDF" that should be evidence enough or you can check this –  allindal Mar 15 '11 at 18:07
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