MDF (medium Density Fiberboard) has been around for years and is a critical material use in the manufacturing of anything from cabinet doors to moldings and trim. Just like any material, MDF has its place in the mill work process. It has a great many attributes that make it more desirable than solid wood, but it may not be ideal for every project or client. Lets explore MDF vs Solid wood in more detail.

What is MDF? MDF is, in very generic terms, is an engineered wood product made from fine hard or soft wood residuals (saw dust particles, for lack of a better term) held together by glues/resins and pressed in to dense, hard sheets under heat and pressure. It is stronger and denser than particle board

Why would I use it instead of solid wood? The answer to this question is dependent on the application you are intending to use it in. When it comes to Conestoga’s cabinets, the only place you may need to consider using MDF is in the cabinet door/drawer fronts when you are planning on painted cabinetry. This is where we will focus the discussion in this article.

Solid wood does not do well as a painted product. The reason is obvious, but often misunderstood. Solid wood is an organic substance and, even after cut down, it will always have the ability to take in and gas off moisture based on ambient humidity. So, wood cabinetry in a house in the spring time with the windows open will tend to expand, sometimes alarmingly. When you paint solid wood and the wood then expands and contracts, the result is unavoidably telegraphed to the paints surface. What you will see is:

  • Small hairline fissures in the paint where the door’s framing comes together at the joint
  • Lines in the center panel where one panel stave expanded in thickness more than an adjacent stave in the glued up panel
  • Contacting panels when humidity drop, resulting in unpainted wood creating a ‘halo’ where is pulls out from under the groove in the framing.
  • Warping, bowing and twisting of the solid wood, something that is prevalent in any solid wood, painted or stained.

So, while solid wood can be painted, the results over time may not be what you hoped for. Picture a solid wood interior door from an old house. You will see the corner cracks, the door may bind in the jam or be hard to shut if the door has warped. Cabinetry is no different and no amount of kiln drying know-how or fastidious manufacturing processes can eliminate the potential for solid wood to do this.

MDF makes an excellent substrate to paint over because it is dimensionally stable, smooth as glass for painting, durable, easy to machine and very hard (therefore difficult to dent, causing paint to flake off). Many people bristle at the notion of having MDF in their doors, but high end manufacturers of cabinetry such as Conestoga actually advise it. In fact, we generally assume at least MDF panels on any cabinet doors/drawer fronts if a customer is planning on purchasing the cabinetry painted from Conestoga. Conestoga will even make full 5 piece doors out of all MDF (4 pieces of MDF framing and a floating MDF center panel), virtually elimination any of the issues of solid wood including its tendency to exhibit cracks in the joints!

MDF is often thought of as ‘cheap’, but as the article at this link makes clear, less expensive does not mean ‘cheap’.

So, while we are happy to sell you a solid wood hard maple door with paint over it, realize the limitations you are opening yourself up for, many of which are not covered under Conestoga’s generous warranty (see the warranty in their literature on our web site or ask a sales rep to send it to you). We are selling far more doors out of all MDF or at least MDF center panels than we are all-wood painted doors users begin to more fully understand the issues with painted wood.

If you have any questions on MDF or its use in Conestoga’s doors, feel free to ask us and realize that if you want all-wood doors with paint, please be sure to specify this on your quote request as we don’t want to assume MDF is acceptable for your job when it may not be what you are wanting or expecting!


23 thoughts on “MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) and When to Use It

    1. No, antique/distress is only available on real wood. Face frames are always solid wood, Conestoga does not make their face frames of MDF even when the doors are MDF.

        1. You can paint alder only with the Unitone (one coat with a mandatory glaze) option, but not rustic alder. The paint covers the knots and defeats the purpose of ordering Rustic which is to see the big, beautiful knots. Alder is soft, so not suggested to paint it anyway. You would get a very similar look from painted cherry for LESS money and it is a harder, more durable wood.

  1. What are the pro’s and con’s to using all MDF Courtland doors and face frames for painted inset cabinets?

    1. The face frames on Conestoga cabinets are solid wood regardless of the door material (no MDF face frames are available). We can do an MDF center panel in a shaker style door if you wish. MDF is more stable than solid wood for painting, so MDF center panels are recommended anyway.

      For future questions, please be sure to email us at It is better to answer these questions in an email string that we can look back on versus as comments to blog posts. Thank you!

    1. Yes, the 5 piece doors start on page 8 of that PDF and those are the only available all MDF options. MDF panel can be added to any door that has floating center panel. The drawers can also have an MDF panel.

    1. It is fine. MDF is just not good in standing water. Ambient humidity has no real affect and is actually more stable than solid wood in the same environment.

    1. Conestoga does not make the cabinet box or face frame out of MDF. Only doors and drawer fronts (and some moldings) will be made of MDF. The cabinet box will always be Plywood (Advantage line) or Particleboard (Essence, and not very popular) and the face frame will always be solid wood in the specie requested by the customer.

    2. Conestoga does not make the cabinet box or face frame out of MDF. Only doors and drawer fronts (and some moldings) will be made of MDF. The cabinet box will always be Plywood (Advantage line) or Particleboard (Essence, and not very popular) and the face frame will always be solid wood in the specie requested by the customer.

      1. It is pretty much the same color all the way through. It has no layers like plywood, it is basically microscopic wood fibers glued together into a sheet. VERY dense and heavier than a wood door of the same size. It is only meant to be painted, not stained so its color is really of no importance, really. You can see what MDF (a cheap version) looks like at a home center. They usually carry MDF or HDF sheets for project work. Looking at the edge of one of those sheets would sort of show you what you would be getting, but again, MDF quality is all over the map. Conestoga uses the best (denser in the middle, machines much better), home centers use the budget stuff.

    1. MDF can be used in doors and drawer fronts and provides a very hard and durable substrate for application of paint. In many cases it is the preferred material for painted products due to its stability and resistance to expansion and contraction. The paint and top coat that is used is the same material whether applied to solid wood or MDF so the resistance to scratching will be the same.

  2. Can I leave my MDF bathroom vanity doors unfinished? They look beautiful just the way they are and I don’t want to risk changing their look with clear polyurethane.

    1. Yes but understand that would leave the unfinished surface susceptible to water, soaps, etc. that may mark/stain the MDF. You may want to talk to your finish supplier to get their opinion on the best material to use.

  3. I want to make some doors to enclose an open bookcase. Individual doors will be approx 24″Wx48″H. Can I use 1/2″ for this or should I use the heavier 3/4″? I’m assuming neither would warp so would prefer to go with the lighter version if it would work. Thinking the lighter weight of the 1/2″ would put less pressure on hinges as well so they don’t work loose over time… Thank you for your counsel!

    1. Hi Tina,
      We dont offer doors in anything other than 3/4″ thick, so you would not have any options there. Also, I dont think cabinet doors are offered in 1/2″ thick anywhere else and you would not be able to get concealed cup hinges drilled in a door that thick, so be mindful of your hinge selection if you go with a thin door like that somewhere else.

  4. You seem to have addressed all of the critical points raised in your post. That’s an incredible achievement. Keep up the excellent work!

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