Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) is a non-structural panel made from fibres produced from wood chips through a mechanical refining process. It is generally used for industrial purposes as a raw material in the production of finished goods, including ready-to-assemble furniture and cabinets. MDF is either hidden from view in a finished product or covered with a decorative coating such as a wood veneer or resin-impregnated paper.
MDF is composed of wood fibres bonded together with specialized resins under heat and pressure. The fibres are produced using a pulping process in which wood chips are treated with steam and broken down into fibres by grinding them between ridged steel plates. Mats are then formed by allowing the fibres distribute themselves randomly, resulting in in a very homogeneous panel.
MDF is produced in thicknesses ranging from ¼ inch to 1½ inches. Larger panel sizes can be produced, but panels are typically cut to 4x8 feet for retail purposes. The panels have smooth surfaces suitable for direct painting, printing or laminating.
When cut, MDF produces a tight edge and smooth surface (compared to particleboard), and can therefore be machined and worked like solid wood. The edges can be routed to various shapes and still be smooth enough for a clean paint finish. The small size of the fibres not only makes MDF easy to finish, but also allows it to be produced in moulded form as well as in straight-edged flat panels. However, MDF does not hold a screw or nail as well as solid wood, plywood or even particleboard.
MDF has a wide range of uses. For example, it is used in factory-assembled and ready-to-assemble furniture, kitchen cabinet boxes and doors, bases for kitchen counters, book cases, moulding, shelving and furniture. Because MDF produces a smooth surface and edge, it can be overlaid with a variety of materials, including melamine for kitchen cabinet doors, wood veneer for furniture, and printed paper for desks and moulding. Some MDF plants have converted to high-density fibreboard (HDF), which is often covered with pictures of wood and a hard, clear, thin topping to make laminate flooring.
MDF and particleboard compete for the same markets. MDF is generally of higher quality than particleboard, but is more expensive. It has smoother surfaces, permits more detailed edge shaping and is more dimensionally stable.
Globally, the use of MDF has grown substantially in recent decades. However, production in North America and Europe has been stagnant for a decade as a result of the dramatic expansion of Chinese production. Over 40% of the world’s MDF is now produced in China, feeding the country’s rapidly growing furniture industry.
In 2012, Canada produced 440,000 cubic metres of MDF—compared to U.S. production of 1.6 million cubic metres.
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