Solid wood is obviously the winner here, right? This is the most common perception when it comes to comparing between wood and MDF Board. Wood is seen as this strong and sturdy material while MDF Board 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 Board might be the better material.
Solid wood’s beauty, character, and strength entice homeowners to pick it above other available materials for their new kitchen cabinets. However, solid wood cabinets are not without flaws. They contract and expand in response to changes in temperature and humidity. Solid wood cabinets, doors, drawers, and paneling can shrink, crack, or bend.
What can be done to avoid this? Professional cabinetmakers use MDF.
Isn’t it true that solid wood is superior to MDF? When comparing wood versus MDF, this is the most widespread misconception. Wood is seen as reliable and durable, whereas MDF is frequently regarded as a low-cost, inferior substitute.
As this article will demonstrate, both solid wood and MDF have advantages and disadvantages. Despite common opinion, wood is not always the best material; MDF may be a better choice in some cases.
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 Board and solid wood, noting the pros and cons of each and the best uses for each material.
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 Board. 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.
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.
What Is MDF Board?
For people who prefer a cheaper but still strong alternative to solid wood, there is MDF Wood. 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 Wood with the perception that it performs poorly when measured against solid wood. But as we mentioned in the beginning both solid wood and MDF Wood 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 Wood, 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 Board?
In homes, MDF Wood is mostly used in constructing cabinet doors. In fact, solid wood cabinets will opt for MDF doors. There are several reasons for this.
- MDF Wood 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 Board 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 Board can be cut and drilled in many different ways without any damage.
- Some boards have better water resistance. If you plan to use MDF Board 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 Board 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 Boarddoes not do very well when exposed to extreme heat as the core materials can get damaged. This is why MDF Board is not a good material for outdoor furniture.
Where MDF Board Is Used
MDF finds its most common use in kitchen cabinets. Most kitchen cabinets comprise of both solid wood and MDF elements. MDF Board 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 Board 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 Board, 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 Board. 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.
The Difference Between MDF & Solid Wood MDF Cabinets
MDF, or medium-density fiberboard, is a man-made board product that does not occur naturally.
So, what is it composed of if it’s not made of genuine wood? It’s a blend of wood wax, fiber, and resin that’s often used for kitchen cabinets due to its low cost.
What are the advantages? MDF is a relatively stable material that is less likely to warp or twist. If you reside in a location with high humidity fluctuations, you may find that the wood in your home begins to alter form or fracture. The advantage of MDF wood is that it does not warp… as long as it is not damaged or has a shattered paint finish! More on that later.
What about the disadvantages? There are a few significant drawbacks of MDF that you should be aware of. For starters, MDF is typically weaker than natural wood and frequently fails to retain screws and nails adequately over extended periods. Furthermore, when exposed to water, high temperatures and the wear and tear of daily living, this type of material is quickly ruined (dents, bumps, scratches, dings).
Finally, if scratched or damaged, MDF is almost impossible to restore! Once the MDF has been damaged, and the paint surface has been compromised, the material beneath is prone to warping and expanding with moisture, exactly like real wood! So, while MDF does not warp in perfect condition, once subjected to simple wear and tear (such as minor chips and scratches), MDF frequently warps and expands after only a few years of use.
When this happens, the material does not dry out and does not return to its original shape or size. What does this signify for your cabinets’ future? The material remains blown up, and you’ll have to replace it entirely! This is incredibly difficult and costly because it is generally the fixed components of your kitchen that suffer the most wear and tear damage (baseboards, end panels, face frames, fridge gable ends, etc.). Around the 5-7 year point, an MDF kitchen will exhibit significant age and wear signs. Although an MDF kitchen may be a less expensive option for a quick refresh, read on if you want something that will last!
Is it necessary to choose between solid wood and MDF?
When choosing kitchen cabinets, the solid wood vs. MDF debate might be perplexing. Is it truly necessary for you to make a decision? Most likely not.
When it comes to custom cabinets, you have a variety of materials to choose from. The manufacturer of the cabinets you hire will select you using semi-custom and stock lines. What they give you is what you get. Even if you are buying a stock line, the information in this article will help you understand how your cabinets will function.
However, if you choose painted cabinets, you must understand the qualities of both wood and MDF.
Which Is Better For Cabinet Doors: Solid Wood Or MDF?
The general consensus is that solid wood is stronger, sturdier, and lasts longer than MDF. MDF is seen as a less expensive and flimsier alternative to genuine wood. However, as previously said, both solid wood and MDF have advantages and disadvantages.
Solid wood is a natural product, whereas MDF is frequently referred to as “engineered wood.” MDF is used for particular components such as door center panels, while solid wood is used for cabinet box construction.
Both real wood and MDF are significant when it comes to kitchen cabinets. While real wood provides a strong, sturdy, long-lasting finish, MDF provides a smooth finish.
MDF is more resistant to variations in temperature and humidity than solid wood. When temperatures and humidity rise and fall, solid wood expands and shrinks both horizontally and vertically. As a result, painted cabinets and solid wood components will most likely have cracks at the joints.
MDF, unlike actual wood, does not bend or break when temperatures and humidity fluctuate. This is one of the primary reasons that MDF is employed as door center panels in painted cabinets.
Have we persuaded you that there is no obvious winner in the battle between solid wood and MDF? Neither is a superior product. Both have advantages as well as drawbacks. When integrated into cabinet doors for painted cabinets, MDF clearly outperforms real wood.
With its individual grain patterns, knots, and pinholes, Mother Nature’s solid wood will always be the ideal choice for kitchen cabinetry. However, MDF center panels are required to eliminate cracks in the painted finish at the seams of your five-piece cabinet doors.
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 Wood. 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.