Isn’t real wood always better than MDF? This is a question that we hear all the time. The answer is ‘Not necessarily’. In some situations, real wood performs better. In some other situations, MDF can outperform real wood.

Real Wood Advantages

Real wood has several benefits. It is strong and beautiful. Also it is quite durable. Because of its superior quality it offers the potential for many generations of hard use.

But real wood tends to contract or expand when it is exposed to changes in temperature and humidity. If you fail to control heat or humidity, doors, window frames and paneling made from real wood can crack, shrink or buckle.

Medium Density Fiberboard Advantages

Medium density fiberboard (MDF) performs much better than real wood in at least some areas. It is a composite material of high quality. MDF is made from resin and recycled wood fibers. It is pressed to produce dense sheets that remain stable in all weather conditions. MDF can withstand changes in humidity and heat better than solid wood. Real wood tends to expand and contract when humidity and temperatures rise and fall. As a result, cabinets, doors and panels made from real wood require more maintenance and care.

In areas such as bathrooms where humidity tends to be high, real wood is not suitable. If your bathroom has a high humidity, you should improve its ventilation, or  consider using cabinets and vanities made from water resistant MDF products.

MDF also tends to outperform solid wood in the making of painted cabinet doors. Also unlike real wood, it is available in larger 5 – foot by 12 – foot panels.

An MDF panel does not have any visible grains on its surface. So when you use MDF, the problem of wood grain bleeding through paint does not arise. This can be an issue when you use real wood.

Cost is another consideration. MDF is much cheaper than real wood. It is also readily available. When you use solid wood for your projects, you will need to purchase more because you have to eliminate pieces with knots and cracks. This problem does not arise when you use MDF. Also MDF is more economical in wainscoting and bead board paneling where large sheets are used.

MDF is made up of a mixture of wax, wood solids and resin pressed together under high pressure and high temperature to produce a uniform wood like product. It is basically sawdust bonded together with glue.

If you decide to use MDF for your projects, make sure that you choose varieties that do not contain formaldehyde which is known as a human carcinogen. Releasing tiny particles of MDF to the air during cutting or sanding should be avoided.

Not all MDF products contain formaldehyde. You can easily find MDF products that qualify for ‘green’ home certifications like National Green Building Standard and LEED.

Real Wood vs MDF Conclusions

Real wood has several advantages. With proper maintenance it can last decades or even centuries. Also solid wood lends a classic touch to your furniture. If you can afford it and don’t mind the upkeep, you probably have no reason to look for alternatives. However, there are still some areas where real wood is not recommended. Your bathroom is one of them.

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