MDF vs. Particle Board – Which Engineered Board Suits Your Project?
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While the world is far from perfect, we can all agree that things are a lot more convenient now, thanks to developments in technology. Our lives are not only easier, but we have far more environmentally friendly and readily available materials for things like construction, home improvement, automobile manufacturing, artistic expression, and even recreational activities. Two of the most useful materials available right now are MDF (medium density fiberboard) and particle board, but what are these materials? What are they used for? Let’s have a look and see if we can decide which one is better along the way.
Table of Contents
- 1 MDF vs. Particle Board
- 2 MDF And Particle Board: A Side-by-Side Comparison
- 3 Which One Should You Choose?
- 4 Tips And Tricks for Working With Particle Board
- 5 Frequently Asked Questions
MDF vs. Particle Board
The battle of MDF vs. particle board is not really a battle so much as it’s a preference, or which application a given material is most conducive to. These boards are both inexpensive and serve as an easy way to improve your home without having to doll out thousands of dollars for solid wood finishes that often require replacements and maintenance far more often. Let’s have a look at what these boards are, as well as some of the pros and cons associated with each.
Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF)
What is MDF? Put simply, MDF is made from wood fibers fused together to form a solid wood board, which can be used for a number of applications in and around the home. We use the term solid with reservation as it’s not a solid by definition, but it can function as a piece of solid wood normally would.
How is MFD formed? Well, quite simply, the process involves taking wood fibers and mixing them with a bunch of glue or specialized adhesive. Once mixed together, they are placed into an oven that uses a combination of heat and pressure from the now glue-soaked wood fibers into a wood board. These boards range considerably in density, size, shape, and therefore can be used for a number of different applications.
Think of it like a trash compactor squishing waste together into neat little cubes that are easier to manage, except less smelly and way more useful in day-to-day life. MDF is easy to make, is made of recycled materials, is easy to paint, can pass as solid wood at a glance, and you can even drill and tap into its surface if need be!
It should come as no surprise then that both contractors and DIY home improvement enthusiasts use this material for all manner of applications like cupboard doors, installation art, kitchen countertops, light duty shelving, and even things like bedside lamp frames.
MDF is available in its raw form, which can be painted or treated with a variety of finishes. It also comes wrapped in various materials, ranging from real wood veneer, to melamine, and vinyl. This means that MDF can be made to resemble almost any material you could think of, for a much lower cost than the real thing.
Although MDF is a lot cheaper than most solid wood types, it is by no means a suitable replacement for solid wood in load-bearing applications or other instances where surface hardness above a certain threshold is required. MDF also has quite a nasty habit of absorbing water and swelling up, which in combination with the fact that it contains some harmful chemicals means it’s not ideal for every occasion.
- Environmentally friendly
- Made of recycled materials
- Can be painted and modified with ease
- Can pass for solid wood if need be
- Can be tapped, cut, and drilled into
- Cannot be used for load-bearing applications
- Will falter under a certain amount of pressure
- Swells and splits as it absorbs and retains water
- Contains harmful chemicals
The particle board vs MDF debate isn’t a very lively one, there are professionals and DIY enthusiasts alike that have somewhat differing opinions. This doesn’t mean that the particle board vs MDF debate is pointless but simply implies that because different people would have used materials of varying quality for different applications and therefore have come to different results.
Like MDF, particle board is made up of little wood particles that have been joined together in order to make a solid material which can then be used for a number of different applications. Unlike MDF, the component particles are much larger and are not compressed together to the same density as MDF. For this reason, particle board is also known as chipboard in some circles, Unlike MDF, particle board is joined with a high-grade epoxy resin which not only has better adhesive properties but provides the material with a certain degree of fire resistance that MDF inherently lacks.
Also, like MDF, particle board is used for the underside of kitchen countertops, but unlike MDF it’s not as conducive to tapping, drilling, or cutting which means it can be a challenge to reinforce and not suitable for load-bearing applications or ones that require any semi-permanent locking mechanisms. This is counteracted to a degree with the application of veneer on both surfaces of each board.
Not only does this reinforce the structural integrity of particle board, but it allows manufacturers to place virtually any type of finish you could think of on the surface of particle board. The result is a really nice, really affordable means of interior decoration, plus since particle board is sealed with veneer on each side it has significantly less of a chance of accidentally taking up water which would result in swelling and/or splitting of the board.
- Extremely affordable
- Holds screws and nails
- Smooth surfaces are easy to clean
- Made of recyclable materials
- Most types are soundproof
- Easily modified aesthetic appearance
- Does not have the structural integrity of plywood, solid wood, or MDF
- If their veneer is damaged, they can become extremely weak
- Cannot be used in moisture-rich environments
- Not environmentally friendly due to the use of epoxy resin in the manufacturing process
- Price can differ according to finish and composite used in the manufacturing process
MDF And Particle Board: A Side-by-Side Comparison
All of the aforementioned can be a lot to take in, after all, there are a lot of similarities between MDF and particle board that can make them a bit tricky to differentiate from one another. We understand this, and therefore we’ve taken it upon ourselves to provide you with a small table detailing the differences between these materials. Remember that although they are similar, they cannot be used interchangeably in certain applications, so ensure you’re familiar with the characteristics of each material before starting your project.
|Relatively inexpensive||Price can be higher depending on location|
|Low density||Relatively high-density|
|Not particularly strong||Stronger than particle board|
|Not very durable||Quite durable even compared to solid wood|
|Doesn’t weigh much||Weighs more than particle board|
|Not watertight||Slightly more water-resistant|
|Very long-lasting||Not very durable/long-lasting|
Which One Should You Choose?
Choosing between particle board and MDF isn’t exactly a clear-cut choice even if it doesn’t seem that way. There isn’t a lot between the two when it comes down to it, and at the end of the day, it comes down to what applications they are used for and whether you’re willing to put in the time and the effort to take care of these materials once they have been installed.
This being said, it really does depend on what they’re used for and the environment they’ll be situated in for their lifetime. Neither of these will last as long as a solid wood board would in any application, so we wouldn’t exactly recommend using them for applications where they would be load-bearing, outdoors, or be under stresses like impact, abrasion, torsion, or extreme temperature changes.
Although they are similar, we’d be feigning ignorance if we didn’t recognize that MDF is objectively the better material between the two. After all, not only is MDF cheaper than particle board, but it also retains less water, has a greater number of finishes on offer, is easier to paint, is more conducive to tapping, drilling, and cutting, and lasts for far longer. So, this makes MDF the obvious choice for any application, doesn’t it?
No, it doesn’t. While MDF might be the best choice objectively for furniture creation, kitchen cupboards, countertops, and even things like backing for installation art pieces, there are certain applications that simply don’t need the befits or the exorbitant cost that MDF is associated with. A good example of this is the creation of set pieces or props for film or theatre.
In applications like these, you don’t need longevity or the hard-wearing nature of MDF as most of these creations are disposable compared to most of the applications that MDF is used for conventionally. It’s also marginally cheaper than MDF, which means you can get disposable, recyclable particle board for less than the cost of MDF.
It’s always a good idea to take into account all of the characteristics of your choice of material, but you should always consider whether your application warrants the cost of the material you’ve chosen. The last thing you want is to use inferior material for a hard-wearing application or a material that’s overkill for something that you’ll only be used for a few weeks before disposing of it.
Tips And Tricks for Working With Particle Board
The differences between MDF and particle board are essentially in their longevity and rigidity. If you’re thinking about using either of these materials, we recommend becoming intimately familiar with each of these characteristics to avoid disappointment. Although, knowing the difference between MDF and particle board doesn’t automatically mean you know how to work with them.
MDF is strong, but keep in mind that it is by no means a substitute for particle board, so ensure that you reinforce it with brackets or other material especially if things will be resting on the surface of the board. Also, do your best to ensure that it doesn’t get wet by waterproofing it with a resin coating or a watertight surface coating like paint. Also take care to use screws and fasteners specifically designed for MDF or particle board.
When working with particle board or MDF safety is of utmost importance because of the amount of dust and potential sharp splinters these materials are capable of producing when they’re cut, tapped, or drilled into. The appropriate personal protective gear when working with these materials would be a pair of goggles, gloves, and a face mask to prevent you from inhaling stray wood particles.
Keep in mind that MDF not only includes formaldehyde, which is a dangerous carcinogenic, but it also produces an extremely fine dust which can cause severe lung irritation. So it is particularly essential to always wear a mask when cutting or sanding this material.
At some point in all of our lives, we’ve managed to drop something fragile only to watch it shatter right before our eyes. While MDF and particle board won’t shatter, they will crack in a number of places, or lose material on corners, which will render either material completely unusable in virtually any application. This is especially important if you’re unloading a bulk order, as these boards can get quite slippery when stacked on top of one another. Also, this may not be the end of the world, but keep in mind that sliding your finger along the edge of a raw MDF board can result in a paper cut, which can be surprisingly painful and very annoying when you work with your hands.
Never Allow Them to Get Wet
This should go without saying, but since most people think that MDF and particle board are some sort of miracle material (which they are, in a sense) we’d like to remind you to try your utmost not to get these boards wet. They will swell up and eventually split open into a soggy mess, which is the exact opposite of what you want out of a board. Ensure that both MDF and particle board workpieces are adequately sealed when used in close proximity to water.
Now that you know what MFD and particle board are, what some of their pros and cons are, what they look like side by side, and which one you should choose for any given application, it’s time for you to get out there and put your newfound knowledge to the test. Remember to consider the overall environment your board will be situated in and to always wear the appropriate personal protective gear when working with either material.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is MDF Particle Board?
Is MDF particle board? Well, although these materials are similar, they are completely different in composition, application, and longevity. While the component chips or particles of wood are clearly visible in particle board, the densely compacted fibers in MDF are not easily individually distinguishable. This difference in density means MDF is a bit more expensive compared to particle board, since it is able to be tapped and drilled without as much caution needed. MDF also contains no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), but it does produce a very fine dust which can be dangerous if inhaled.
How Good Is Particle Board Furniture?
Particle board is an affordable and readily available material that many contractors and DIY enthusiasts use regularly for all manner of workpieces. This doesn’t mean that it’s a good fit for furniture creation though, it does not have high tensile strength and is not suitable for load-bearing applications and therefore would make pretty terrible furniture unless reinforced.
What Kind of Wood Is Particle Board?
Particle board forms part of a group of materials that are commonly known as engineered wood. Engineered woods are made of composite (synthetic) materials that have been joined together to form a solid board, particle board being of the most affordable and least durable of this group of materials.