How to build furniture from mdf (medium-density fiberboard)

MDF image by Jez Hanton from

MDF is a sheet good made from wood byproducts and adhesive, usually manufactured in 4-by-8-foot sheets. It is used extensively in the commercial furniture industry for the manufacture of kitchen cabinets, household trim, and other domestic goods. Building furniture with MDF can save a lot of money, as it is inexpensive compared to solid wood. MDF creates a lot of dust when it is worked, and there are questions about the health effects of the adhesives that are used in it.

Design your components to make the most efficient use of a 4-by-8-foot sheet. If you use measurements of 3 or 7 feet, you may find yourself with a huge amount of waste.

Build shelves in short enough lengths that they won't sag when weight is put onto them. MDF shelves shouldn't be longer than 30 inches. They can be made stronger by reinforcing the front and back edges of the shelf with vertical supports.

Design built-in furniture to take advantage of the precision and low cost of MDF for the interiors, while making the visible faces out of fine hardwood. This gives you the best of both worlds.

Arrange your woodshop so that you have adequate room to safely cut large sheets on your table saw. You will need a minimum of 8 feet in front of, behind, and to the left of the saw.

Cut elements from MDF sheets very carefully and check your dimensions after cutting. If pieces are off dimension by even a small amount, or out of square, this will complicate the construction process.

Fasten MDF components together using glue and screws. Be sure to drill pilot holes before securing MDF with screws; it is prone to splitting if you attempt to drive a screw directly into it with no pilot hole.

Make the surfaces of MDF more attractive by treating them with polyurethane or a wipe-on varnish. If you cover all surfaces of the MDF, this has the added benefit of reducing the off-gassing of new MDF.

Paint MDF to match the room where it will be installed. MDF is a smooth surface and takes a paint finish very well.

Make MDF look like real wood by laminating it with wood veneer. You can buy MDF that has already been laminated, or you can buy the veneer separately and do it yourself using contact cement.

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