Quantcast
  • We invite you to join UKWorkshop.
    Members can turn off viewing Ads!

What the hell is wrong with MDF ?

UKworkshop.co.uk

Help Support UKworkshop.co.uk:

smiffy

Established Member
Joined
30 Oct 2004
Messages
45
Reaction score
0
Location
Fife
I could not help noticing the anti-MDF posts in the forum, so I thought I should take the opportunity.

Even though I take the point that it may not be true cabinet making using MDF, it can be put to good use in making some decent (but bloody heavy) furniture. I have used both raw and veneered and they always seem to put the better quality veneers on MDF than on chipboard.
Granted, it is horrible stuff to work with as far as the mess it makes, but it is stable (hence very good for speaker cabinets, fireplaces and radiator covers).
I have worked in a kitchen manufacturers woodworking shop where the owner refused point blank to ever use it due the bad press. While everyone else was making coated MDF doors with nice mouldings etc, he was using the more limited and much less versatile chipboard. He went bust last month.

Anyway, have a look at the kitchen I made for my own home here.
http://www.raysmiffy.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/kitchen.xml
Note the rustic look (read as 'built in margin for roughness') :roll:

The carcasses and the doors are 18mm MDF, and 12mm MDF for the unit back panels. The carcasses and the doors are painted with the Dulux brand of the 16x harder than ordinary emulsion. This resisted the tendency to chip and peel, bit it was very easily marked. The solution was to further coat with water based varnish which created a wipe easy clean surface.
The hardwood used is Ash (also very heavy)

The main point is, if you are prepared to put in the effort, you can get exactly the kitchen you want for a fraction of the price of even from MFI.

I agree MDF is horrible stuff in the workshop, but it is one of the cheapest, stable and versatile boards you can get.
Of course, you guys that have used it know this already.

Cheers,
Ray.
 

Midnight

Established Member
Joined
11 Oct 2003
Messages
1,805
Reaction score
0
Location
Scotland
This is a serious question...??

Coming from somebody who openly refuses to touch the stuff, much less work with it, you might view my answers with scepticism...

1/, as you've pointed out, the dust issue...

2/, is there anything that could possibly be more labour intensive i.e. needing finishing on all 6 sides???

3/, it's reliance on a veneer as a stressed skin to give it any kinda structural integrity; 50mm thick shelves may be somebody's idea of fun but they sure ain't mine

4/, the weight issue; granted it's ideal for speaker cabinets, but having walked away from one heart attack, I don't fancy another trying to manhandle that stuff...

5/, the fumes issue; I honestly prefer not to install something that's gonna off-gas Formaldehyde constantly for years to come.

6/ it's absolutely devoid of character; utterly reliant on a veneer to make it look like anything except recycled paper pulp

call me a boring auld fart, but I'll stick to working with the real thing...


N.B. Smiffy.... blunt though this has been, I stress that my issues are with the material....NOT you..!!! If you can turn that stuff into a thing of beauty, more power to yer elbow...
 

smiffy

Established Member
Joined
30 Oct 2004
Messages
45
Reaction score
0
Location
Fife
You are absolutely right of course in most of your points. Especially point 6. But then I always look at it as a blank canvas needing painting and enhanced with real wood features, the right handles/knobs etc.

Like I said, it is not in the same league as real wood furniture. For kitchens, wardrobes and the like, it will do. If I made my kitchen with solid wood doors, I would be adding at least £2000 to the cost. And I would rather have a widescreen TV :lol: And in fact this is the reason I chose to go with MDF doors.

Point 5 is a bit scary though. Haven't they banned the use of Formaldehyde in the bonding agent these days?

Ray.
 

Midnight

Established Member
Joined
11 Oct 2003
Messages
1,805
Reaction score
0
Location
Scotland
If they haven't, I hope they get at it real soon... but the prob isn't the legislation or the lack of it; until it's globally accepted and enforced, all it takes is one rogue manufacturer churning the stuff out someplace where regulations are frowned at to tar the rest with the same brush...

Put another way, does the EEC have the legislative power to ban imports from manufacturers who refuse to stop using it? The whole thing strikes me as a massive rubbish shoot; there's no way of telling for sure exactly what it is you're dealing with unless you get a sample of every board / batch / consignment tested; how much extra cost will that pass on to the end user???

Naa.. like I said.... call me a boring auld fart, but I'll stick with the real stuff; the most I gotta worry about is reaction wood....

;)
 

Adam

Established Member
Joined
10 Sep 2003
Messages
3,768
Reaction score
0
Location
UK
This is interesting:

http://www.design-technology.org/mdf.htm

Advantages: -There are a number of reasons why MDF may be used instead of plywood or chipboard. It is dense, flat, stiff, has no knots and is easily machined. Because it is made up of fine particles it does not have an easily recognisable surface grain. MDF can be painted to produce a smooth quality surface. Because MDF has no grain it can be cut, drilled, machined and filed without damaging the surface. MDF may be dowelled together and traditional woodwork joints may even be cut. MDF may be glued together with PVA wood glue. Oil, water-based paints and varnishes may be used on MDF. Veneers and laminates may also be used to finish MDF

Disadvantages: -MDF can be dangerous to use if the correct safety precautions are not taken. MDF contains a substance called urea formaldehyde, which may be released from the material through cutting and sanding. Urea formaldehyde may cause irritation to the eyes and lungs. Proper ventilation is required when using it and facemasks are needed when sanding or cutting MDF with machinery. The dust produced when machining MDF is very dangerous. Masks and goggles should always be worn at all times. Due to the fact that MDF contains a great deal of glue the cutting edges of your tools will blunt very quickly. MDF can be fixed together with screws and nails but the material may split if care is not taken. If you are screwing, the screws should not be any further than 25mm in from the edge. When using screws always use pilot holes. Urea formaldehyde is always being slowly released from the surface of MDF. When painting it is good idea to coat the whole of the product in order to seal in the urea formaldehyde. Wax and oil finishes may be used as finishes but they are less effective at sealing in the urea formaldehyde.



..... as a result this has (in general) put me off, is realising it releases formaldehyde gas for a significant length of time after manufacture. Luckily I get to choose whether or not to use it, and if I needed to use it in my house, I'd buy Zero-formaldehyde stuff which is now available. If I was a professional however, I'd be covering my backside against future claims of "ill-health" etc due to breathing said gas of kitchen/cabinet etc that you sold to a customer, by definately mentioning it up front as a risk factor, and making sure I always used zero-F MDF.

I think it's shown the dust is no-worse than any other - thats because all dust seems to be bad for you!

Having said all that, I knocked up some MDF shelves for work over the W/e - just made sure I won't be sitting in the same room as them! :?

Adam
 

smiffy

Established Member
Joined
30 Oct 2004
Messages
45
Reaction score
0
Location
Fife
I have emerged from the workshop after a hard, sweaty days graft working in a haze (probably) of MDF dust, my eyes nipping for a good few days afterwards. I have also had the same effect working with nothing but mahogany, oak or even the ash I used in my kitchen. I used extraction and a good quality mask (10 times better than the one that Handy Andy uses anyway:wink: ) Not the full face mask I should have used though.
I always felt that even though the level of nippy eyes was the same, the natural wood induced nippyness was acceptable. :shock: :roll: :wink:

The point is, use the appropriate safe practices as always when working in the workshop, regardless of what material you use and you should be OK. You know that of course. I used goggles, but they were the kind with the holes around the sides of the eye piece, hence letting the dust in.

I have to say though, I always put my work clothes after working with MDF into a bag and do not sit around the house in them.

I do not like working with the stuff as you can probably gather.

Ray.
 

Adam

Established Member
Joined
10 Sep 2003
Messages
3,768
Reaction score
0
Location
UK
Yeah forgot that bit off my post, your kitchen looks superb. Really like the style and finishing touches.

Adam
 

Noel

Moderator
Staff member
Moderator
Joined
7 Aug 2003
Messages
6,266
Reaction score
97
I'm pretty sure that some US states have banned disposal of formaldehyde MDF in land fill sites for the reasons Adam has stated.
Imagine we'll have similar regulations eventually.

Noel
 

Midnight

Established Member
Joined
11 Oct 2003
Messages
1,805
Reaction score
0
Location
Scotland
The guys are right Ray..... yer nae exactly short changed in the skills dept. That said.. I still have grave reservations about going to all that effort... only to have to clag Fragile... and Toxic labels on everything... kinda defeats the purpose...

sheesh.... this is startin to sound like a sermon....

just for the record... for case goods, I've learned that Baltic Birch ply takes some beating for strength/weight and ease of use... real good stuff to work with...
 

tim

Established Member
Joined
5 Nov 2004
Messages
2,307
Reaction score
0
Location
Herefordshire
An interesting debate indeed. I am curious though what solution is provided by the 'MDF is the devil's work' clan as a suitable alternative where strong, flat panels are needed. True Baltic Birch can be used but it is 3 times the price, still needs prepping on all 6 sides and needs sanding as well.

If you are trying to make a living out of this and customers can easily compare cabinet prices then you have to level the playing field if there is any chance of competing with Malaysian 9 year olds or factories churning out a million units a year

I use Zero F Ultralight MDF where possible which is slightly more expensive but I still hate the dust etc. But for cost effectiveness I have yet to find a viable alternative - not saying there isn't one just I'm not aware of it.

Also didn't understand Midnight's comment:

3/, it's reliance on a veneer as a stressed skin to give it any kinda structural integrity; 50mm thick shelves may be somebody's idea of fun but they sure ain't mine
.

What structural integrity does it lack? Sure it deflects over wide spans so I lip it with a hardwood edge. Is there something I'm missing?

I don't think anyone would argue about the lack of character - but that's not what its used for.

So come on guys, whats the alternative?

BTW very nice kitchen Ray.

Cheers

Tim
 

Midnight

Established Member
Joined
11 Oct 2003
Messages
1,805
Reaction score
0
Location
Scotland
What structural integrity does it lack? Sure it deflects over wide spans so I lip it with a hardwood edge. Is there something I'm missing?
If you can tolerate me shooting from the hip... I can try to model what I was on about...

case in point... take a traditional flat packed 1 metre kitchen unit, and model the load on the centre shelf. Traditionally the only support this gets are the press fit plastic elbows; a pair at each side plus one behind the centre vertical brace.

Subject the shelf to a "normal" load. Maybe I should make that nominal... whatever.. unbraced (point taken with the hardwood lipping btw.... I do the same with ply), the shelf's gonna deflect under load, usually sagging badly towards the rear of centre (unsupported). Measure the deflection at its lowest point.

These shelves are traditionally clad in a low maintainance vinyl (or similar) cladding that lends a ton of tensile strength through the glue bond.

Take a utility knife and score the underside of the shelf, front to back, along the centre line. Devoid of the tensile strength of the cladding, the load is now borne by the core material of the shelf; the deflection will be significantly greater... measure and compare...

In terms of overall damage, the depth of the cut in relation to the overall thickness of the shelf is neglegable; in a ply shelf of the same thickness the strength lost would be minimal. However, with the integrity of the stressed skin compromised, it wouldn't take too much additional load for the deflection to increase to the point where the shelf fails structurally.

Long winded I know but it's the only way I could think of "modeling" stressed skin at this time of night...


The latter part of your post is a more serious matter... With our higher cost of living / higher expected earnings etc, there's no way we can complete on a level playing field with the mass manufactured mess; to try to would be economic suicide... the way I see it, we gotta play to our strengths...
The mass manufactured stuff is playing to the 55th percentile; Joe average. As cabinet makers, we can offer a bespoke service; tailored specifically to suit the exact requirements of any customer. Being bespoke craftsman, we have a range of material open to us as opposed to veneered chipboard or other pulp based media. Gotta emphasis the quality... the craftsmanship... hand made features as opposed to mass produced rubbish. With improved quality, we can design in features that enable longevity; carcasses built to last a succession of door and drawer front upgrades if that's what the customer wishes, or built to withstand the rigors of daily use for decades.

Then there's the safety side of things.... when you're making the sales pitch, make it plain that while you can offer the cheaper materials, those materials can carry substantial health risks, both to you as manufacturer and to them; they're the ones suffering the effects of years of off-gassing should the integrity of the finish be compromised even slightly... However, for a moderate increase in cost, you can offer materials that are stronger, sturdier, far better in appearance and safer, both to you and them...

I agree with you, irrespective of the media used, it still needs similar sanding / prep / finishing time... However ply or solid wood opens a whole range of finishes that can cut the finishing time of MDF to shreds... John will correct me if I'm wrong, but 3-6 coats..????? That's a ton of work... making inroads into that should more than compensate for the more expensive materials...

Good grief.... this was supposed to be a quick reply..not another bl&%dy sermon...
If I'm being too nieve, correct me where I'm wrong... I'm big enough to take being told I'm talking rubbish.....
 

kityuser

Established Member
Joined
12 Jan 2003
Messages
1,108
Reaction score
0
If I made my kitchen with solid wood doors, I would be adding at least £2000 to the cost.
not true. I have just installed my own home made kitchen, solid beech doors (ash and oak was considered, both cheaper).

I can tell you that the door-wood cost me around 600 squid and I have plenty left. It may not be as many doors as you would need, but I`d say 1000 quid at the very tops!!!!!


I`d always worry in a kitchen that MDF tends to act like a sponge............


steve
 

Newbie_Neil

Established Member
Joined
27 Jul 2003
Messages
6,537
Reaction score
0
Location
Nottingham, England
Hi Ray

Great kitchen, you've really done well.

What the last few days has given us is an appreciation of the quality of work that people are producing with mdf. You only have to look at Keith's wardrobes and window seat, Tim's boutique units, John Elliott's kitchens and Jason's utility room cupboards to get an idea of the quality that can be produced.

I think, that as a board, we have matured into a very healthy debating forum. Long may it last.

Cheers
Neil

PS My apologies to anyone that I've missed.

PPS Why is Mr M hiding at the back?
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
Hi Smiffy

What's wrong with MDF (for me)?

You have to paint it. Pure and simple.

If you get veneered MDF, it does not look like solid wood.

I have this woodworking hobby because I like the feel and look of wood.

However, I am happy to use MDF in my garage as shelves (with loads of brackets to stop bending under load) and to make jigs. Also sometiems use 6mm MDF as cabinet backs

I must say that the recent posts do show really impressive results with the stuff and I would say that it is probably THE material for modern contempory kitchens to get the popular 'clean' look.
 

tim

Established Member
Joined
5 Nov 2004
Messages
2,307
Reaction score
0
Location
Herefordshire
Mike,

Thanks for the 'quick' reply. Can't help but think that the flat pack kitchen units you refer to are chipboard and not MDF. I don't know of any mainstream flat pack manufacturer that uses MDF instead of chip/ particle board. On that front I would totally agree with you and I would never in a million years use chipboard. Maybe I'm mistaken but can you confirm that you are comparing like with like.

Re market dynamics, I also agree with you that we are not competing for the 55th percentile but there is a substantial group above that (probably the 25th - 50th who do want nice stuff that is a bit different and are prepared to pay a bit more (generally for what they see is different). Telling them that an alternative material could be used which is three times the price which will be used for cabinet boxes that they won't really see again will result in a 'no sell'. My experience with this group is that they are nice people who pay on time and will come back for more and there are a lot of them. None of that detracts from the bespoke craftsmanship nor affects the lifespan. As a result I have chosen not to ignore this market. There aren't enough of customers (for me anyway) who 'don't care what it costs just make it the best it can be'.

From a health and safety and environmental angle: there are zero emission panels out there that are light in weight and moisture resistant. I use them. I'd rather use them than the 15 or so board feet of solid tree that is needed for average kitchen cabinet.

On the finishing front - I agree about the laboriousness of 3-6 coats which is why I generally lip bare edges with solid timber - which takes very little time. However, if you look through the finishing forum and others like it you will see regular threads about the 5th coat of spar varnish (after hours of rubbing down between coats) - not deemed a waste of time there? No, because it looks beautiful. Get the finish right on a panel product and it looks beautiful. Its not cherry or walnut - its not meant to be!

Finally (this was also meant to be short!) I agree with Neil - its great to be able to have mature and passionate debates about a subject be it hobby or work that we love. If you try to have these sort of exchanges on other ones (esp US ones) everybody is reaching for their guns before the end of the third thread! :shock:

Cheers

Tim

PS Mods - is there a better spellchecker that can be linked to the board - the current one is pants!
 

Aragorn

Established Member
Joined
6 Feb 2004
Messages
1,331
Reaction score
0
Location
East Sussex
I try not to make this decision on behalf of my customer.
Usually I'll just ask what materials they had in mind. Very often, people know what they want, e.g. "I don't mind about the insides, I'll leave that to you, but the outside must be solid wood."

This is a typical response I hear all the time. Depending on the application I would then use pine boards or hardwood for the stuff that shows, and a suitable sheet material for the stuff that doesn't.
If it needs to be easily wiped down and low load-bearing, then it's melamine (horrible stuff), otherwise edged plywood, occasionally edged MDF (I mostly avoid it because working with it makes me feel ill for a day, even with a face mask).

I think really good cases have been made for and against the use of this glorified cardboard. For me it is more and more coming down to what kind of work I want to do. I just don't get satisfaction from knocking out MDF flat-packs, and ultimately I will turn down the job, or make a quote that matches my reluctance to do the work!
 

Alf

Established Member
Joined
22 Oct 2003
Messages
12,079
Reaction score
0
Location
Up the proverbial creek
It's lousy to work with hand tools. End of argument as far as I'm concerned.
It has it's uses, and if I was doing this for money then obviously other considerations would carry a lot more weight so I'd probably be using it too; but it's heavy, it has no lateral strength, the dust just seems so much finer and messier than any other and it looks pants without considerable finishing work. Oh, and it doesn't keep well in the moist Cornish climate.


Cheers, Alf
 
Top