When homeowners think about purchasing custom cabinets, they often have in mind solid wood. As style trends and technology have changed, we find ourselves often presenting the pros and cons of MDF cabinet doors to our customers. If you’re dreaming of beautifully painted cabinets like you see in so many magazines and throughout Houzz pictures, you’ll especially want to keep reading.
First, let’s talk about quality. Today’s MDF, or medium density fiberboard, cabinets are not the MDF cabinets of the past. As production methods have changed, so has the quality of MDF. MDF is a quality, composite material that can perform as well as, or even better than, real wood in some circumstances. When exposed to environmental changes like temperature and humidity, real wood can contract and cause a great deal of long-term maintenance. MDF, composed of recycled wood fiber and resin, is machine-made to be dense and stable. In rooms where humidity is higher, like bathrooms, MDF is actually a better choice than real wood.
One concern of many homeowners when considering MDF is swelling, but this can be avoided with the right finish. In fact, with the right finish, you won’t be able to tell the difference between a solid wood door and a MDF door. If water gets beyond the finish, swelling may follow, which means quality work is key to long lasting results. Issues are much more common with real wood, which can contract, shrink and buckle if conditions are not carefully maintained.
The assumed trade-off when choosing MDF instead of real wood is cosmetic, but contrary to popular belief, a similar look to painted wood can be achieved by MDF with a much smaller budget.The exception is flat panel doors, in which case wood must be used. MDF has no wood grain, which can be a pro or con. If you want painted cabinets, MDF has no grain to be covered by numerous coats, but if you want the grain look, real wood must be used.
Another benefit to using MDF is its availability in much larger sizes than wood. MDF panels are also one solid piece, which prevents hairline cracking that is common with wood.
The choice comes down to stability, look and price. If you want the look of wood grain, real wood is the best choice. If you prefer painted cabinets and want durability with a sensible price tag, MDF, or medium density fiberboard, is certainly worth your consideration.