Solid Wood vs. MDF?

Elaborate Lip on MDF Door
MDF door with applied moulding. Finished with paint and glaze.
X Mullion door in MDF proves MDF's versatility

No one has to sell us on the beauty, strength and desirability of solid wood for our cabinet doors, wainscot panels and beadboard panels. They don’t call us “wood heads” for nothing. However, our beloved 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. What can we do to avoid this? Use MDF, of course.

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. (Note it’s built from recycled materials, thus qualifying it as “green”.)

MDF stands up better to changes in heat and humidity than solid wood. 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 care and maintenance.

In the construction of cabinet doors that will get painted, MDF definitely 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.

MDF can be milled by CNC machines in one-piece frames with the center cut out for a 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 is readily available in panel sizes larger than those available for solid wood.  These large sheets can be milled into bead board panels or wainscot paneling

If you are getting painted cabinets, here are some reasons why MDF is used in residences across the nation:

1) MDF finishes fantastically - since there is no "grain" to MDF, you get an extremely smooth finish.

2) Environmentally sound - MDF is a pre-consumer recycled material, i.e. “green”.

3) Stable – you will not get cracks in the joints of your painted doors.

Prevo offers a line of MDF doors, and if you’ve been thinking that using MDF doors would limit your design choices, you need to re-think. We recently completed a job using MDF doors. These doors had applied mouldings and an elaborate, two-step edge profile (lip). The photos are part of this post. We will be happy to help you with your selection.