MDF vs Wood: Why MDF has Become So Popular for Cabinet Doors

MDF vs Wood: Why MDF has Become So Popular for Cabinet Doors - Sebring Services

Solid wood is obviously the winner here, right? This is the most common perception when it comes to comparing between wood and MDF. Wood is seen as this strong and sturdy material while MDF is often viewed as a weak and cheap alternative. The truth is, both have their pros and cons for a kitchen remodel. Despite popular belief, wood is not always the superior choice; in some situations MDF might be the better material.

For homeowners who are building or undertaking home renovations, knowing the difference between the two materials and the features of each is essential. Below, we review both MDF and solid wood, noting the pros and cons of each and the best uses for each material.

Solid Wood

Solid wood has been the primary material for furniture for millennia. For definition purposes, solid wood refers to natural lumber while the term ‘engineered wood’ refers to other types of wood-based materials such as MDF. While solid wood consists of wood only, engineered wood is a mixture of real wood, veneers, fibers, resin and adhesives.

Advantages of Solid Wood

  • Strength and durability – Solid wood is impressively strong and sturdy. If you are looking to buy something that will last for decades, solid wood furniture is perfect. Solid wood is so strong that it has been used all over the world to put up entire buildings and even bridges. Of course, different types of wood have varying levels of strength. For instance, oak is stronger and will last longer than cedar.
  • Aesthetics – In terms of appearance, solid wood is unparalleled in beauty. It has a beautiful grain that results in great looking furniture. If aesthetics and style is a major priority for you, solid wood is, well, a solid choice. But just like strength and durability, different wood types have different aesthetic qualities. For instance, while red oak is stronger than white oak, white oak is more commonly used because it is better looking.
  • Customization – when using solid wood, furniture can be customized in numerous ways including shape, finish and color.
  • Value – furniture made from solid wood tends to have more value than those made from engineered wood, though in some cases MDF furniture can be quite pricey. For homeowners looking to get a better price for their home, adding elements of solid wood can boost up the price tag.
  • Variety – there are numerous types of wood, each differing in strength, cost and look.   You can take a look at our project gallery for an idea of what options you may have for your cabinets. Combine this with the many varieties of stains and finishes and you can find something highly unique for your home.

MDF vs Wood: Why MDF has Become So Popular for Cabinet Doors - Sebring Services

Disadvantages of Solid Wood

  • Moisture damage – in its unfinished state, wood is not waterproof. While stronger woods such as red oak can withstand constant moisture exposure, most woods will get damaged. To protect the wood, a waterproof finishing usually has to be applied.
  • Warping and cracking – wood tends to expand and contract with changes in temperature and humidity. The result is a tendency for solid wood furniture to warp or even crack when exposed to temperature and humidity fluctuations. The cracking can be even more noticeable when the wood is painted. With time, wood makers have developed crafting methods and technologies that minimize warping and cracking.
  • Bug infestation – Solid wood is more vulnerable to pest attack than engineered wood. It requires regular maintenance and the right finishing to keep the wood well protected.

Related: The Detailed Wellborn Cabinets Guide.

MDF

For people who prefer a cheaper but still strong alternative to solid wood, there is MDF. What is MDF wood?

MDF is an abbreviation for a type of engineered wood. The full name is Medium-Density Fiberboard. MDF consists of thin panels made from wood fiber, resin and wax. When it comes to engineered wood, MDF is often considered a level above plywood. It is denser, stronger and more durable. For these reasons, it has almost as many applications as solid wood.

Many homeowners tend to look down on MDF with the perception that it performs poorly when measured against solid wood. But as we mentioned in the beginning both solid wood and MDF have their good and bad points. There are situations where MDF is the superior choice.

Before we lay out the pros and cons of MDF, it is important to note that there are varying types of this engineered wood. They vary by density, size, glue type, moisture content, wood species and thickness. The thicker and denser the MDF board is, the costlier it is.

Why Choose MDF?

In homes, MDF is mostly used in constructing cabinet doors. In fact, solid wood cabinets will opt for MDF doors. There are several reasons for this.

  • MDF does not warp or crack. MDF, like wood, expands and contracts when there are fluctuations in temperature and humidity. But unlike Wood, MDF does not warp. This is because the board, thanks to its structure, moves as a unit. Even with extreme changes in humidity and temperature, you do not have to worry about any damage to the cabinet doors.
  • MDF is made from very fine particles meaning that it does not have noticeable grain. This results in a better and smooth finish especially when the board is painted. If you plan to get the cabinet doors painted, we would highly recommend MDF over solid wood.
  • Easier to customize. Cabinet doors come in a wide variety of styles. There are shaker-style cabinet doors, flat paneled doors, inset doors, raised doors and many more. The ease of customization of MDF boards is to thank for this variety. Because of its structure, MDF can be cut and drilled in many different ways without any damage.
  • Some boards have better water resistance. If you plan to use MDF in high moisture areas like the bathroom, you can get MDF boards that have been specially made to be highly water resistant.
  • Available in larger sizes than solid wood. If you have a project that demands a large piece of wood with no joints, MDF is the recommended choice.  Take a look at the similarities of MDF to solid wood at Wellborn Cabinets.
  • Finally, MDF is often cheaper than solid wood but it is still as strong and can last quite long with proper maintenance.

On the downside, MDF gets easily scratched and cannot be repaired after this. This is unlike wood that can be sanded down to eliminate any damage on the surface. Additionally, MDF does not do very well when exposed to extreme heat as the core materials can get damaged. This is why MDF is not a good material for outdoor furniture.

MDF vs Wood: Why MDF has Become So Popular for Cabinet Doors - Sebring Services

Related: Shaker Style Cabinets: Are They Here to Stay.

Where MDF is Used

MDF finds its most common use in kitchen cabinets. Most kitchen cabinets comprise of both solid wood and MDF elements. MDF is usually found on the doors and interior paneling for the reasons stated above (easier to paint, easier to clean, does not warp and so on).

But it is not just the kitchen where MDF finds its use. In the bathroom where there is a lot of moisture, MDF is the preferable choice over solid wood. This is because it does not get damaged with humidity and temperature changes in the bathroom. When getting MDF for use in the bathroom or any other damp environment, check that it is specially made to be moisture resistant. Normal MDF boards will easily get damaged when they come in contact with water.

For fire protection, fire retardant MDF is recommended. While this type of MDF is more common in commercial areas, it can also be used at home to provide fire protection especially in places like the kitchen and bedrooms.

Another consideration when using MDF, is when it is compared to plywood.  This is not necessarily a comparison you would do for kitchen cabinets, but in other construction instances choosing a plywood vs MDF may be a choice you need to consider.

MDF can also be used purely for aesthetic purposes. A good example of this is wainscoting. Unlike past years when wood was the sole wainscoting material in use, today there is a variety of materials used including MDF. MDF wainscoting can be customized in many styles and can be used in the kitchen, living room, or even bathroom.

Another area where MDF is used is in shelving. Whether it is the inside of a cabinet, an open wall shelf, or a bookshelf, MDF is preferred because of its smooth surface. But be careful about placing heavy weight on it as it can sag with time. If you plan to place heavy weights on the MDF shelving, consider reinforcing it with solid wood.

Finally, MDF is widely used as a material for both interior and exterior doors. There are specially made MDF boards designed to be stylish, hardy and durable. In fact, MDF doors can provide more customization options than solid wood doors.

wellborn-cabinetry-quote-2016-1_sebring-services

MDF vs Solid Wood: The Verdict

Both types of wood are good and we cannot declare any one of them the ultimate winner. This is because they both have their pros and cons. There are situations where one is better than the other. But when it comes to cabinet doors, we highly recommend MDF. It provides far more benefits than solid wood.

If you are in the process of giving your kitchen an upgrade, consider choosing cabinets with MDF doors. As always, we are here to help with anything. Contact us with any questions and queries on using MDF in your home.

 

Other Great Articles to Read:

Cabinets 101 Banner - Sebring Design Build

About the Author:

" We are very passionate about educating homeowners. From design ideas to hiring a contractor, we hope this blog helps you in the process of remodeling your home. " ~ Bryan Sebring

25 Comments

  1. Aarsun Woods June 23, 2017 at 5:31 am - Reply

    In-depth comparison and great Verdict. Cabinet Doors can be made in MDF provided one does not require heavy carving work on the Panels as is popular in India. we have been in handicrafts business since 1986 and have seen the trend change from one aspect to another. Great article indeed!! Thanks!!

  2. AarsunWoods July 20, 2017 at 3:16 am - Reply

    Amazing creativity!!! Artisans have put down their vast experience and excellent skills to made these wooden Almirahs.

  3. Jeff Winters August 27, 2017 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    Nice article, but I would like to know more about the toxicity of MDF. I wonder what kinds of resins are used and what kinds of VOCs MDF may give off. I am also of the impression that, because MDF is made from tiny particles, the more MDF one has in one’s house, the more dust one will have. I don’t know how true that is.

    • Bryan Sebring August 29, 2017 at 9:50 am - Reply

      Hi Jeff, I would not be too concerned with the MDF toxicity, as it is fully painted and sealed by the time the cabinetry is put into place.

      If you have any additional questions please feel free to reach back out to us!

      Bryan Sebring

  4. Jo September 23, 2017 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    Very good article. Thank you!

  5. Christopher October 22, 2017 at 4:05 am - Reply

    MDF is an engineered product made from the waste of wood mills. No one is specifically harvesting trees to make MDF. While it may seem to be structurally impervious to changes in humidity, it turns into garbage when exposed to liquid or heat. Because there is no actual fibrous grain structure, it warps easily and holds a warped shape if not carefully reinforced.

    MDF is great at dulling cutting blades because of the amount of binder in the product. It cannot be shaped by physical means. Forget beveling.

    MDF fulfills a purpose of creating facade aesthetic furnishings that usually cannot fulfill extensive repeat use, disassembly/reassembly, or any type of restoration/repair. It is not reusable. Sum of parts is not much more than sawdust, binder, and a sticker skin. The skin is easily ruined, exposing the obvious product underneath. MDF performs best where repeat physical contact or exposure to liquids may not occur. In summary, when moving out of a home or office, MDF products typically end up in the dumpster.

    Depending on the application, wood might be a suitable alternative to MDF.

  6. Nina October 31, 2017 at 10:49 am - Reply

    Hi. I am the process of redoing a condo in south Florida. I read so many articles related to what type of cabinets to put. I am looking for a sturdy cabinet that does not warp or expand. We usually higher the air to 78 when we vacate the condo for months on end. We were told mdf, fibreglass and polyester melamine. I am so confused. We do cook when we r there and it is exposed to the sun from the am till later afternoon and in summer till early evening. Can anyone suggest the best and the strongest. I am not a delicate person

    • Bryan Sebring November 29, 2017 at 6:59 am - Reply

      Hi Nina, unfortunately we don’t feel comfortable recommending a cabinet/ material for the Florida market, as we’ve never lived there and don’t have any personal experiences to draw upon. That market is much different than here in the mid-west and they do a lot more frameless cabinetry, while we do a good majority of framed. I would rely on the experts in the Florida area instead, best of luck on your project!

      Bryan Sebring

  7. Aarsun Woods November 30, 2017 at 6:22 am - Reply

    Nice article you have done here!! MDF is medium density fiberboard and its easily made, rather than wood. MDF board is cost effective and light weighted mostly it can use for wall panel and cabin-ate. We have work with MDF and Wooden Furniture. Thanks for such informative post.

  8. Chris April 7, 2018 at 10:33 am - Reply

    Nice article. Keep sharing!

  9. Donald R. Murray April 24, 2018 at 8:31 pm - Reply

    I really loved this idea and I want to have this too in my home, very exciting to know the ideal style you will show in this blog. Thank you for sharing this brilliant idea of yours, I really looking forward to have talk to you about the renovation to my kitchen.

  10. Smith April 26, 2018 at 7:25 am - Reply

    Informative post. For people who prefer a cheaper but still strong alternative to solid wood, there is MDF. When it comes to engineered wood, MDF is often considered a level above plywood. It is denser, stronger and more durable. For these reasons, it has almost as many applications as solid wood.

  11. Trond Kvitvik April 26, 2018 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    One advantage of solid wood over MDF, is that it is fairly to repair damages. Especially surfaces of melamine is difficult to restore. Well made doors from solid wood, might last more than a lifetime.

  12. Barbara Dion May 3, 2018 at 9:09 am - Reply

    I am building in southern, Utah which is extremely arid, often less than 10% humidity. One cabinet business told me I ought to use solid wood, the next told me MDF, although they both make either. We are retired so only have occasional grandchildren here so we are not “hard” on the cabinets. I am in a quandary. Please advise.

    • Bryan Sebring May 11, 2018 at 1:14 pm - Reply

      Hi Barbara, cost is a factor for sure, but certainly it is a preference and many of our clients end up choosing MDF for its benefits. Best of luck on your project! -Bryan

  13. Vera Stewart May 6, 2018 at 8:23 am - Reply

    You’re doing a great job. Keep it up.

  14. Anil B. May 19, 2018 at 3:37 am - Reply

    Hi Bryan, an elaborated article on MDF. Nice One. Would you please let me know the advantages of MDF when it is used in drawer base in the cabinets and the back panel of the cabinets while the rest of the cabinet is made of Solid Wood….

    • Bryan Sebring May 21, 2018 at 8:33 am - Reply

      Hi Anil – it would typically be to save cost.

  15. Ellen Hughes September 17, 2018 at 12:16 am - Reply

    It sure was nice when you suggested choosing solid wood cabinets if your major priority is aesthetics and style because solid wood is unparalleled in beauty. My mother and I are interested in installing new bathroom cabinets. Our main goal is to provide our bathroom with a timeless beauty that we’ll be proud to show to our visitors, so we’ll make sure to consider shopping for solid wood bathroom cabinets.

  16. Sharon Wilson-Smith October 4, 2018 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    It got me when you said that solid woods can allow you to customize them because they can come in numerous shapes, finishes, and colors. My husband and I are planning to install kitchen cabinets. We’d like to make sure that they will be made based on our preferences because we want our kitchen to represent our taste. We’ll make sure to consider all your tips.

  17. Denise Loveless November 4, 2018 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    Hello Bryan, we have Ikea cabinets made of MDF. can you please tell me how I can get grease spots off of
    my kitchen cabinet doors. Thanks in advance.

    • Bryan Sebring November 6, 2018 at 8:34 am - Reply

      Denise,

      I recommend using a mixture of warm water and dish soap, as dish soap works as a degreaser. Try to avoid any harsh cleaners as they can damage the finish of the cabinets. Also, make sure to dry the cabinets thoroughly after cleaning. I Hope this helps!

      -Bryan Sebring

  18. MechanicGuides November 11, 2018 at 1:41 pm - Reply

    I’ve completed a bunch of long standing projects lately and their aftermath has left me with the conclusion that it is time to really knuckle down and get the shop organized. So I have put everything on hold while I make some much needed organizational improvements to my work space.

    I have come to a few conclusions that I am using to guide me process.

    1. If I use it a lot, I need to make it easy to get to and easy to put away. This may sound obvious, but I find that things like my angle grinder, which I typically keep in the factory case on a shelf above my workbench, is seemingly easy to get too but once I get it out the case and all the discs are left sitting on some horizontal surface, usually my work bench, taking up valuable work space until I am done with my project. I’m going to ditch the case and try to locate it and all it’s related accessories in a drawer or tool box so as to eliminate the wasted space a case takes up while not in storage.

    2. Vertical storage is the only effective way to keep your benches clear. This one I think is key. Stacking things on flat surfaces is a waste of work space and invites the addition of more crap. It also makes it harder to get at things. Ideally things should be stored on a wall or shelf 1 item deep and 1 item tall. If you have to stack things, you need more shelves.

    3. Organize like things together. This one also sounds obvious, but things like boxes of bolts, screws and nails seem to get strewn around my work benches to no end. I have tackled this by buying one of the Harbor Freight rolling hardware carts. It has a ton of space to store loose hardware of all kinds and since it’s mobile, I can roll it right next to the project I am working on saving trips too and from the workbench. I have also bought some cheap tool boxes to store things like electrical parts and pieces. I have one box devoted to things like breakers, wire crimps, switches, cable ends, plugs, etc. I have done the same for plumbing parts and fittings.

    4. When you’re finished with a project take some time to clean up and put stuff back where it belongs. We’d all rather be wrenching, but it is important to take a short break after any project and simply clean up. I have been lax in this and it has shown. Before I started cleaning, I had 3 benches full of crap now only 2 are full of crap and I hope to have that down to 1 before the end of the week.

    • Bryan Sebring November 12, 2018 at 3:42 pm - Reply

      Wow, thanks for sharing all of that!

  19. Gamini December 17, 2018 at 8:10 am - Reply

    Nice …very useful information as am planning to remodel my kitchen…thanks

Leave A Comment