Solid Wood vs MDF

Isn’t solid wood always the best material? This is a question we’re frequently asked and you may be surprised that the answer is “Not necessarily.”

Solid wood has many benefits; it’s strong, sturdy and beautiful in its grain. However, solid wood contracts when subjected to changes in heat and humidity. Unless these conditions are carefully controlled, cabinets, doors or paneling made from solid wood can shrink, crack or buckle.
Medium density fiberboard (MDF) is a high grade, composite material that performs better than solid wood in many areas. Made from recycled wood fibers and resin, MDF is machine dried and pressed to produce dense, stable sheets.
MDF is more stable than solid wood and stands up better to changes in heat and humidity. Solid wood boards typically expand and contract both horizontally and vertically when temperatures and humidity rise and fall. Because of this, cabinets, doors and paneling made from solid wood require a high level of care and maintenance.
For areas where humidity tends to be high, such as bathrooms, Woodmeister uses Medex® for vanities and cabinets. This is a water resistant, superior grade MDF product. Medex® is also a formaldehyde-free product and can qualify for ‘green’ home certifications such as LEED® and National Green Building Standard®.

In the construction of painted cabinet doors, MDF outperforms solid wood. The conventional frame and panel method for building solid wood doors involves connecting five separate pieces: four frame pieces and a center panel cut slightly smaller than the frame because it needs to float—to allow for expansion and contraction. This is typically known as cope and stick joinery or 5-piece construction. MDF, because it’s made of processed wood fibers as panel stock allows for a different construction method. MDF can be milled by computer-operated machinery (CNC) in one-piece frames with the center cut out for a recessed panel. Because of its density, MDF does not move independently from the frame and the inserted panel does not need to float like the conventional five-piece solid wood door. Since the MDF panel doesn’t float within the frame, hairline cracks do not form along the edges of the panel or at the style and rail joinery. MDF will expand and contract but with this 2-piece construction method the doors move as a unit and not as individual pieces of wood. Therefore the paint does not crack or peel at the joints.
MDF is readily available in much larger sizes—5-foot by 12-foot panels, for example—than solid wood. These large sheets can be milled into bead board panels or wainscot paneling
Unlike solid wood, there is no visible grain on the surface of an MDF panel. Therefore, the common problem of wood grain and knots bleeding through paint or stain is not a factor when MDF is used.
Another consideration is cost; here, too, MDF is often a better value. Solid wood is often more expensive and sometimes is not as readily available. Our Woodmeister standards require that we use only top quality material for our products. Therefore we purchase more solid wood for projects because we cull through for the best wood eliminating pieces with imperfections, such as knots and cracks. MDF can be more economical in many applications; for example, in bead board paneling and wainscoting where large sheets can be used.
When you are ready to start a new project that includes painted millwork, it’s best to review all your options. At Woodmeister, we will gladly discuss your needs, show you samples and provide information to help with your decisions. Using MDF is an excellent choice for interior millwork applications – from cabinetry to casework.

April 11, 2013; 13:48 pm by Kevin Greene