Do you use MDF in paint grade work?

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Forum topic by Loren posted 04-25-2012 04:30 PM 4364 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Loren's profile


10380 posts in 3643 days

04-25-2012 04:30 PM

MDF has many good qualities, but it seems to me a lot
of work to paint it well, with all the sanding to get good
adhesion and filling of profiled edges.

I know some cabinetmakers love to make paint grade
panels and cases from MDF but I just don’t see the
benefit when the labor of a nice paint job is figured
into the cost of doing the job.

Maybe I’m off base. I’ve done some jobs in MDF that
were faux finished by painters and at the end of the
day I didn’t think it looked all that great in relation to
the amount of labor the finisher had to do.

What’s your point of view?

17 replies so far

View Doss's profile


779 posts in 2260 days

#1 posted 04-25-2012 04:59 PM

Personally, I like using it. I spray finishes on (even with a rattlecan) and it looks great. I will say that it does seem to soak up a lot of paint at first. I make sure it has a thick coat of primer on it since that usually doesn’t soak in as much. On the edges, I usually attach wood caps (face frames or similar) since they are more durable and don’t soak up as much paint. I swear the edges of MDF are like a sponge.

I think some people like myself use it because you can get a nice lacquer or smooth finish on it with relatively little work. Some woods show their grain no matter what when you paint them (unless you put sometimes 10 or more coats on it).

-- "Well, at least we can still use it as firewood... maybe." - Doss

View NiteWalker's profile


2737 posts in 2572 days

#2 posted 04-25-2012 05:02 PM

I like MDF for things like drill press tables or router tables, where flatness is important. Formica laminate on both sides makes for a very nice surface.

For paint grade projects I like poplar if they won’t be handled, soft maple if they will.

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

View canadianchips's profile


2600 posts in 2992 days

#3 posted 04-25-2012 05:21 PM

I avoid MDF as much as I can.
I HATE working with all that dust glued together.
Hard on saw blades.
Heavy as “H”
Special screws need to make it work .
I Intentially put a higher number on a bid if I have to use it !
I do see a CNC router shop using it, it is probably the same stability throughout the entire sheet.(No voids)
Cost ?

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View Loren's profile


10380 posts in 3643 days

#4 posted 04-25-2012 05:26 PM

We all know MDF is cheaper than cabinet ply per square foot
due to lack of grain direction alone.

Cost is different from price.

By cost I mean the cost of dealing with the finishing schedule
which in my opinion is a PITA compared to ply and solid woods
in paint grade work. Obviously it’s the right material for some
appearances, but I will not pretend a spray painted finish looks
good if it is less than perfect on MDF, which means time and
labor in prep… and then, the irony, the finish looks like what
you get on the cheap cabs from Home Depot.

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2772 days

#5 posted 04-25-2012 05:29 PM

I don’t use MDF except for jigs, I have used hard board.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View Loren's profile


10380 posts in 3643 days

#6 posted 04-25-2012 06:29 PM

Do you have a spray booth Jonathon?

View blackcherry's profile


3338 posts in 3818 days

#7 posted 04-25-2012 06:35 PM

Not a big fan of MDF and will avoid at all cost, it dusty , heavy and hard on blades.

View knotscott's profile


8008 posts in 3371 days

#8 posted 04-25-2012 06:41 PM

Several years ago I built a fairly large pair of speakers from MDF with the intention of retailing them at high end audio stores. I wanted a combination of visible painted surface and wood, and quickly discovered that the exotic wood look I wanted was extremely expensive. There was a local artisan who was willing to give MDF a painted “wood look” that I actually liked quite a bit….it was reasonably affordable, consistent, and “greener” than using real exotic wood or veneer. I think the paint job came out great and has up beautifully over the years.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View Doss's profile


779 posts in 2260 days

#9 posted 04-25-2012 06:48 PM

I must paint different than some of you guys because I have no problems getting a smooth finish.

It does create a lot of dust (and the dust definitely is worse to breathe in). It does make things really heavy.

Also, I don’t use it for anything that is going to see a lot of movement, have long spans, or require the strength of the material to factor heavily into the strength of the joint (or fastener grip).

-- "Well, at least we can still use it as firewood... maybe." - Doss

View Loren's profile


10380 posts in 3643 days

#10 posted 04-25-2012 08:59 PM

Is it still easy for you to spray MDF with pre-cat in your present shop?

If there’s something I’m missing that would make better finishes
available to me at higher speeds without dedicating a lot of
square footage to finishing I’m all ears.

View John 's profile


253 posts in 3397 days

#11 posted 04-25-2012 10:25 PM

I Love MDF for what I do with it. I have no problems getting any finish I want. I use the ultralite because the regular stuff is too heavy. As far as being hard on blades, that’s about as untrue as saying easy off oven cleaner to clean your saw blades is hard on the blades. There are alot of exotic woods that have negative aspects to using them but we put up with it because, well, it’s exotic. When I use to work in a shop and we did alot of veneering, MDF was the material of choice for a reason. You can’t beat it’s stability.

Loren, what shop did you work at in Los Angeles? I worked at about 6 over the span of about 20 years or so.


-- John

View Loren's profile


10380 posts in 3643 days

#12 posted 04-25-2012 11:02 PM

I’m self-taught and always run my own jobs and owned
my own equipment, John.

View Belle City Woodworking's profile

Belle City Woodworking

355 posts in 4012 days

#13 posted 04-25-2012 11:18 PM

I made this Colonial Style Pulpit out of 3/4” MDF (Painted) and Oak. As others have mentioned IT IS HEAVY!


-- Formerly known as John's Woodshop - and NO not the one from Ohio!

View rrdesigns's profile


531 posts in 3181 days

#14 posted 04-26-2012 09:12 PM

Not a fan of MDF. In fact, I hate it. If I need paint grade, I reach for the poplar. Or if it is for a cabinet back, for instance, hardboard.

-- Beth, Oklahoma, Rambling Road Designs

View WoodSpanker's profile


519 posts in 3387 days

#15 posted 05-23-2012 05:22 AM

I know I am a little late, but here is my 2 cents…. I will use it only with the client’s say so. If the client doesn’t care, then I go to town with it. But many clients, particularly the ones who have a bunch of $$$ want all hard wood, all the time. So I leave it up to the buyer.

-- Adventure? Heh! Excitement? Heh! A Woodworker craves not these things!

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