• Share:
What is MDF? Plus Tips for Using MDF

MDF (medium-density fiberboard) is inexpensive, durable, and a good choice for many woodworking and carpentry projects. Learn how to use it correctly, and how to avoid common mistakes.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Overview

Medium-density fiberboard is the most versatile building material I know of. Because it’s inexpensive and fairly durable, it’s a good choice for practical projects like shelving and storage cabinets. But MDF is great for decorative projects too. The smooth surface is perfect for painting, and a router leaves crisp profiles with no splintering, burning or tear-out.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve used MDF to build everything from crude shelving in my shop to fancy trim in upscale homes. I’ve even used it for furniture and ornate millwork like the trim board shown in the lead photo. In fact, my own home is entirely trimmed out with MDF moldings made from about 50 sheets of MDF. Yes, I’m a fan of the stuff. This article will cover the most important things I’ve learned about working with MDF—and help you avoid some of the frustrating mistakes I’ve made.

MDF is basically sawdust and glue, fused together under pressure and heat. It varies in color from tan to chocolate brown. Common thicknesses range from 1/4 in. to 1 in., but most home centers carry only 1/2-in. and 3/4-in. Full sheets are oversized by 1 in., so a “4 x 8” sheet is actually 49 x 97 in. A full sheet of 3/4-in. MDF costs about $30 (as of 2010). Some home centers also carry MDF boards in various lengths and widths. Working with MDF is no different from working with wood or plywood; you use the same tools to cut and shape it.

Make your own trim—cheap!

Combine MDF with wood moldings

Prepare for a dust storm

Don't drive without drilling

Avoid full sheets

I blame my hernia on MDF. A full sheet of 3/4-in. MDF weighs about 100 lbs., and I’ve lugged lots of them from my pickup to my shop. But there are ways to avoid hernia surgery:

  • Buy half (4 x 4-ft.) or quarter (2 x 4- ft.) sheets instead of full sheets.
  • Some lumberyards and home centers sell MDF shelving, usually in 1 x 8-ft. sections. I like to slice these long, easy-to-handle shelves into trim stock.
  • Some home centers and lumberyards will cut full sheets into manageable sections at no extra charge.

Sand, prime, sand...

Don't drop it

Don't let it get wet

Reinforce MDF shelves

Don't use a hammer

Back to Top

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Miter saw
    • Air compressor
    • Air hose
    • Brad nail gun
    • Cordless drill
    • Circular saw
    • Countersink drill bit
    • Dust mask
    • Orbital sander
    • Paint roller
    • Paint tray
    • Router
    • Safety glasses
    • Paintbrush
    • Wood glue

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • MDF
    • 100 grit sandpaper
    • Solvent-based primer
    • Sanding pad
    • Wood glue

Comments from DIY Community Members

No comments on the article have been posted yet. Be the first to add your comment!

You will be required to log in or create an account to post a comment.

closeX

Add Your Comment

What is MDF? Plus Tips for Using MDF

Please add your comment
closeX

Log in to My Account

Log in to enjoy membership benefits from The Family Handyman.

  • Forgot your password?
Don’t have an account yet?

Sign up today for FREE and become part of The Family Handyman community of DIYers.

Member benefits:

  • Get a FREE Traditional Bookcase Project Plan
  • Sign up for FREE DIY newsletters
  • Save projects to your project binder
  • Ask and answer questions in our DIY Forums
  • Share comments on DIY Projects and more!
Join Us Today
closeX

Report Abuse

Subject
Reasons for reporting post

Free OnSite Newsletter

Get timely DIY projects for your home and yard, plus a dream project for your wish list!

Follow Us