Not all composites — in fact, not all medium density fiberboards — are created equal. Medium density fiberboard (MDF) is a composite product used in many home and professional projects, such as furniture, cabinetry, flooring and even speaker boxes due to its smooth finish, machinability, strength and consistency.
All MDF is made using a process similar to that of particleboard: wood fibers, mixed with resin, are compressed and heated to form durable panels. Under the MDF umbrella, however, are a few other types beyond the “regular” MDF that are made especially for certain applications.
Bendy MDF, also called flexible MDF, is processed to allow the panel to bend and curve to whatever shape you’d like. Just like regular MDF, it can be painted, veneered or laminated to create one-of-a-kind pieces. It is most often used by architects and designers to create pieces with dramatic curves and slopes, all in much less time and with fewer expenses than using other materials.
MDF’s density and subsequent strength makes the composite fairly heavy. This type of lightweight MDF, however, weighs in at only two-thirds the weight of regular MDF. Its weight and durability make it ideal for projects that must be moved on a regular basis, such as tradeshow booths, theater set construction, mobile homes, event setups and “pop up” galleries or shops.
Fire Retardant MDF
There are some places in which it’s preferable (or even required) to use fire retardant materials in construction. In order to ensure that you are buying legitimate fire retardant MDF, the panel must be certified by a reputable body like UL. Fire-retardant MDF is often used in commercial buildings, including stores and offices, to adhere to building codes and requirements. However, fire retardant MDF can also be used in homes for extra protection against a potential fire.
Moisture Resistant MDF
On the other side of the spectrum is moisture resistant MDF, which is designed for damp environments. Standard MDF doesn’t even have to touch water to warp as it will swell both in length and thickness with even the slightest change in humidity. Moisture resistant MDF (abbreviated to MR MDF) is manufactured using special resin that imparts moisture resistance. It is often used in places like bathrooms, kitchens and flooring where humidity is a concern.
A brand name of its own, Extira manufactures MDF-like panels using its patented TEC™ manufacturing process. The panels are made with wood, phenolic resins, zinc borate, water repellent and other ingredients—with the exception of urea formaldehyde, which is often used in standard MDF panels. Extira panels feature moisture, termite and rot resistance, making them suitable for exterior use in landscaping and as signage, doors, and any other outdoor architectural or carpentry use.
Beadboard, made using standard MDF, is manufactured with a faux tongue and groove pattern that is commonly found in wainscoting. Wainscoting and beadboard are often used interchangeably, but wainscoting typically refers to any sort of half-wall wood paneling; it can be constructed with traditional wood tongue-and-groove boards, but beadboard is a popular alternative due to its lower cost. Beadboard wainscoting has become prevalent as a design accent in residential bathrooms, kitchens and dining rooms.
Slatwall is a specifically designed MDF panel that features deep, lipped grooves. This type of MDF is made for a very specific purpose: display. Its grooves perfectly secure many types of hanging hardware and shelving for the display of merchandise in retail shops and tools in home garages. You can even use slatwall as an architectural feature in your kitchen for innovative storage!
Medium density fiberboard is a great alternative—or even first choice—for many home and commercial projects. But, just like plywood, there is a large selection of this durable, strong composite available that can suit any project.