Finishing Methods for MDF

Updated February 21, 2017

MDF is an acronym for "medium density fiberboard." It is used to make cabinets, doors or anything in the home where a heavy, solid material is needed for construction purposes. MDF has no grain pattern. It's hard and slick to the touch. MDF is perfect for painting and lacquering due to its smooth surface, strength and workability.


MDF is used for European-style cabinets that are painted stark white. For the best results, the MDF is sanded first with 180-grit sandpaper using an orbital sander. It is then sprayed with either an airless or pressure pot sprayer with a sealer such as ordinary lacquer. After the lacquer is dry, the MDF is sanded again with 180-grit sandpaper. For an extremely fine finish, the lacquer can also be sanded with 400-grit sandpaper. The surface of the MDF is then blown off with air. The MDF is then sprayed with one or two coats of enamel paint for a glassy finish.

Lacquer and Stain

Without any grain pattern, MDF resembles dark granite. In some instances where a heavy-duty industrial look or application is desired, MDF is sprayed with stain after first sanding with 180-grit sandpaper. When the stain has dried, a clear coat of lacquer is applied. The first coat acts as a sealer. When the sealer is dry, approximately 20 minutes at room temperature, the first coat is sanded with 180- or 400-grit sandpaper. The dust is then cleaned off with air pressure and one or two more coats of clear lacquer are applied.

Coloured Lacquer

Coloured lacquer imparts a deeper, richer tone to MDF than either paint or stain. Coloured lacquer can add brilliant hues of red, blue, black or white to MDF. To use coloured lacquer, the surface of the MDF is first sanded with 180-grit sandpaper. An undercoat of thin, clear lacquer is applied. When the clear lacquer is dry after about 20 minutes, one, two or more coats of coloured lacquer can be applied. For an even deeper tone, clear lacquer can then be sprayed on top of the coloured lacquer.

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About the Author

Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.