Working with MDF

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Forum topic by John posted 10-05-2007 06:08 PM 11494 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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100 posts in 4090 days

10-05-2007 06:08 PM

I am working on the design for a project for which I think veneered MDF would work very well. However, I am concerned about the issues of breathing the “sawdust” created by MDF. For those of you who work with MDF, do you wear a respirator when cutting on a table saw or routing? I’m told it can be quite bad to breathe, but don’t want to wear a respirator whenever I’m in the workshop. I am willing to use another type of material just to avoid working in the “uncomfortableness” of wearing a respirator all the time. My frustration is that MDF would most likely work VERY well for what I have in mind. Any feedback?

-- Thanks!

13 replies so far

View jpw1995's profile


376 posts in 4471 days

#1 posted 10-05-2007 07:05 PM

There’s been a lot of material written about MDF by people a lot smarter than me, and they all say that you should always wear a respirator when working with MDF. I always follow there advice and wear a respirator when cutting and routing MDF, and I also wear it any time I’m power sanding any material. I wouldn’t jeapordize your health if you don’t have to. My two cents….

-- JP, Louisville, KY

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100 posts in 4090 days

#2 posted 10-06-2007 08:41 PM

JP, thanks for your reply. As I suspected, it is NOT the material for me. I appreciate your input.

-- Thanks!

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4488 days

#3 posted 10-06-2007 09:21 PM

I saw on the news the other day that swimming in lakes can kill you! An deadly amoeba is stalking swimmers. My point is MDF is not a vicious killer…face it lots of things in wood working can kill you. You are probably just as likely to get a splinter from plywood and die from an infection.

View Dadoo's profile


1789 posts in 4164 days

#4 posted 10-07-2007 07:04 PM

Medically speaking…If you think you need a dust mask, then wear a dust mask. You have one set of lungs and new ones don’t come cheap. “And don’t forget these…Safety glasses.” (May Norm forgive me.)

-- Bob Vila would be so proud of you!

View TomFran's profile


2959 posts in 4167 days

#5 posted 10-07-2007 10:48 PM

We have a lot of people on this forum who use MDF, and they’re still with us. Lee Jesberger uses it quite often on some of his beautiful projects, and he’s still here. Like a lot of things we do (like driving cars), there are risks, but most of us take the necessary precautions, and we’re still here.

I just recently made a simple frame out of MDF. I wore a mask when cutting and sanding, and I think I’m still OK. Using table saws and jointers and planers are dangerours too, but we still use them, while we observe the safety precautions.

When it comes right down to it, there are probably things we do and breathe right now, that researchers will someday discover are bad for us. Thank goodness we don’t know all the bad things that are out there, or we wouldn’t leave the house in the morning.

There are also a lot of beautiful exotic woods whose dust is not good to breath. The list could go on and on.

Now, after having said all that, let me just say that if you feel uncomfortable using MDF, don’t use it.

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View mski's profile


439 posts in 4153 days

#6 posted 10-08-2007 02:34 AM

Just a thought, the Home Dumpo in my town will NOT cut it because of health reasons (they even wear respirators) , BUT the Lowe’s will, so go figure, I cut it outside and still use a dust mask. I made speaker boxes for my truck and just the smell of it lingered for a couple of months so I would be carefull, who knows what the effects will or can be! But again what is in plywood glue, I can’t sand purple heart without my chest hurting, no problem with maple or oak, as Dennis said the brain eating amoeba is natural so is a problem with balsa wood a virus or something in it that caused illness and death!(I used to do model airplanes) so natural dangers are as serious as man made ones
All said MDF is great stuff for alot of things,
BUT as said in the other posts, A respirator is uncomforatable BUT ALSO is a Iron Lung, or Lung transplant!
And for all you bearded beauties like me I worked for a major airline and had to pass a respirator seal test, I had to shave because a resirator has about a 10% efficientcy rating with a beard, ( about 85%with a shaven face and petro jelly around the seal)this was with BIG $$$$ test eqipment!
I smoke so what am I preaching about.


View Karson's profile


35139 posts in 4574 days

#7 posted 10-08-2007 02:50 AM

Work Safe!

Live safe!

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia †

View bryano's profile


546 posts in 4107 days

#8 posted 10-08-2007 04:43 AM

Check out (Dust Bee Gone) on line. Its a dust mask developed by a woodworker. Its expensive but wasable and its supposed to last for years.

-- bryano

View mot's profile


4918 posts in 4210 days

#9 posted 10-08-2007 04:58 AM

Well, the problem with dust, as with all particulate matter that we have trouble clearing from our lungs, is that they create a problem down the road. MDF won’t make you sick cutting up a few sheets over the weekend. Where MDF can get you, as will all find dust inhalates, is in 30 years when you develop particulate inhalation disease, pneumoconiosis. Then you’ve got some health problems on your plate. As for cutting it up now and working with it for 25 years? You may not notice a bit of change. The problem is, you will. So, wear a respirator.

As some people say though, “Why worry about something that can kill you in 30 years, when there are so many things that can kill you today.”

The problem is, that doesn’t really help you in 30 years.

Work safe! Err on the side of caution. It’s not the first exposure, it’s cumulative exposure. Also remember, cumulative exposure means cumulative. Wearing your respirator 2 out of four times you cut and sand means for every 10 cuts/sands, you’re only getting 5 exposures to the dust. Do that for 10 projects a year, over 25 years, and you’ll wish you wore the darn thing everytime…. or maybe you’ll get hit by a buss in 2 years…roll the dice. (not a scientific example, just to put things in some sort of context)


-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View John 's profile


100 posts in 4090 days

#10 posted 10-29-2007 06:27 PM

Well, I guess it is clear, I DO need to wear a mask. I was at Lowes and saw a mask which is used for “Sanding and Insulation.” It was an R95 I believe. Not very expensive, and I have a bunch in my shop from sanding drywall. Is this a sufficient mask? Or do I need to invest in one which is used for paint fumes and the like – which I find much more cumbersome to wear. Any advice would be great.

-- Thanks!

View Dekker's profile


147 posts in 4054 days

#11 posted 10-29-2007 07:32 PM

I am in the habit of wearing a full respirator.

In addition to its great filtration (NO fumes from finishes, NO wood smell, NO dust), it also eliminates all fogging from my safety glasses.

The normal “cheap” dust masks are c%ap, allow too much leakage around the sides, and fog up your glasses due to moist air being directed upwards.

Control your dust.
Protect yourself
Cleanup afterwards, to prevent the dust from becoming airborne again.

-- Dekker -

View WilsonCreations's profile


105 posts in 2704 days

#12 posted 08-06-2011 08:59 PM

I just cut MDF yesterday with a sabre saw, I put a floor collector attachment on the DC hose and positioned it just under the sheet. When I made my cuts, I could even see the dust from above the sheet get pulled down onto the collector. I didn’t get 100% of it (maybe 95%) but could see I greatly reduced what went into the air in fact I couldn’t see any in the air and only a little on the sheet when I was done. Assuming your using a TS or routertable, then putting a Y connector in the line would allow a second collection point above the table. Or maybe connect the DC to your handheld router—I’ve used the floor connector with little success with the hand held.
Of course, regardless of if youhave a DC, be safe.

-- Wilson

View Grandpa's profile


3261 posts in 2849 days

#13 posted 08-06-2011 09:57 PM

I have not worn a dust mask when I should have and I got to feeling bad. Went to the doctor and after an exray and an exam he said I had developed pneumonia. SSSSSOOOOO…... Actually I am thinking that respirator shown above is an R95 or N95…whatever the rating is that the govt issues. The better paper filters have the same rating but they don’t seal as well on your face. The rubber seals better but not good. Use vasoline around the sealing surfaces if it is a rubber mask. We have all done things we shouldn’t do and won’t do again because we have seen people suffering from it.

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