At present, among all the popular materials used in furniture, doors, cabinets, and interior decoration, in addition to solid wood, the other widely used material is MDF.
Meanwhile, with the development of laser cutting technology and other CNC machines, many people from pros to hobbyists now have another affordable cutting tool to accomplish their projects.
The more choices, the more confusion. People always have trouble deciding which kind of wood they should choose for their project and how the laser works on the material. So, MimoWork would like to share as much knowledge and experience as possible for your better understanding of wood and laser cutting technology.
Today we are going to talk about the MDF, the differences between it and solid wood, and some tips to help you get a better cutting result of MDF wood. Let's get started!
MDF has a uniform fiber structure and strong bonding strength between fibers, so its static bending strength, plane tensile strength, and elastic modulus are better than plywood and particle board/chipboard.
Typical MDF has a flat, smooth, hard, surface. Perfect to be used to make panels with wood frames, crown molding, out-of-reach window casings, painted architectural beams, etc., and easy to finish and save paint.
MDF can be produced from a few millimeters to tens of millimeters thickness, it has excellent machinability: no matter sawing, drilling, grooving, tenoning, sanding, cutting, or engraving, the edges of the board can be machined according to any shape, resulting in a smooth and consistent surface.
Good heat insulation performance, not aging, strong adhesion, can be made of sound insulation and sound-absorbing board. Due to the above excellent characteristics of MDF, it has been used in high-end furniture manufacturing, interior decoration, audio shell, musical instrument, vehicle, and boat interior decoration, construction, and other industries.
As MDF is made from all kinds of wood and its processing leftovers and plant fibers through a chemical process, it can be manufactured in bulk. Therefore, it has a better price compared to solid wood. But MDF can have the same durability as solid wood with proper maintenance.
And it is popular among hobbyists and self-employed entrepreneurs who use MDF to make name tags, lighting, furniture, decorations, and much more.
We solicited many experienced carpenters, they appreciate that MDF is decent for trim work. It's more flexible than wood. Also, it is straight when it comes to installing which is a great advantage for workmen.
The surface of MDF is smoother than solid wood, and no need to worry about knots.
Easy painting is also a big advantage. We recommend you to do your first priming with a quality oil-based primer instead of aerosol spray primers. The latter one would soak right into the MDF and result in a rough surface.
Moreover, because of this character, MDF is people's first choice for veneer substrate. It allows MDF to be cut and drilled by a wide variety of tools such as a scroll saw, jigsaw, band saw, or laser technology without damage.
Because MDF is made of fibers, it has a consistent structure. MOR (modulus of rupture)≥24MPa. Many people are concerned about whether their MDF board would crack or warp if they plan to use it in damp areas. The answer is: Not really. Unlike some kinds of wood, even it comes to an extreme change in humidity and temperature, the MDF board would just move as a unit. Also, some boards provide better water resistance. You can simply choose MDF boards that have been specially made to be highly water-resistant.
One of the greatest strengths of MDF is that it lends itself perfectly to being painted. It can be varnished, dyed, lacquered. It gets along with solvent-based paint very well, such as oil-based paints, or water-based paints, such as acrylic paints.
If MDF is chipped or cracked, you cannot repair or cover it easily. Therefore, if you want to expend the service life of your MDF goods, you must be sure to caulk it with primer, seal any rough edges and avoid the holes left in the wood where edges are routed.
The solid wood will close on a nail, but the MDF doesn't hold mechanical fasteners very well. Its bottom line it's not as strong as wood that could be easy to strip the screw holes. To avoid this from happening, please pre-drill holes for nails and screws.
Although there are now water-resistant varieties on the market today that can be used outdoors, in bathrooms, and basements. But if the quality and post-processing of your MDF are not standard enough, you never know what is going to happen.
As MDF is a synthetic building material that contains VOCs (eg. urea-formaldehyde), dust generated during the manufacture could be harmful to your health. Small amounts of formaldehyde may be off-gassed during cutting, so protective measures need to be taken while cutting and sanding to avoid inhalation of the particles. MDF which has been encapsulated with primer, paint, etc. reduces health risk still further. We recommend you use a better tool like laser cutting technology to do the cutting job.
For artificial boards, the density board is finally made with adhesive bonding, like wax and resin (glue). Also, formaldehyde is the main component of the adhesive. Therefore, you are most likely to deal with hazardous fume and dust.
Over the last few years, it has become more common for worldwide manufacturers of MDF to lower the amount of added formaldehyde in adhesive bonding. For your safety, you may want to choose the one that uses alternate glues that emit less formaldehyde (eg. Melamine formaldehyde or phenol-formaldehyde) or no added formaldehyde (eg. soy, polyvinyl acetate, or methylene diisocyanate).
Look for CARB (the California Air Resources Board) certified MDF boards and molding with NAF (no added formaldehyde), ULEF (ultra-low emitting formaldehyde) on the label. This will not only avoid your health risk and also provide you with a better quality of goods.
If you have processed large pieces or amount of wood before, you should notice that skin rash and irritation is the most common health hazard caused by wood dust. Wood dust, especially from hardwood, not only settles in the upper airways causing eye and nasal irritation, nose obstruction, headaches, some particles may even cause nasal and sinus cancer.
If feasible, use a laser cutter to process your MDF. Laser technology can be used on many materials such as acrylic, wood, and paper, etc. As laser cutting is non-contact processing, it simply avoids wood dust. Additionally, its local exhaust ventilation will extract the generating gases at the working part and vent them outside. However, if not feasible, please make sure you use good room ventilation and wear a respirator with cartridges approved for dust and formaldehyde and wear it properly.
Moreover, laser cutting MDF saves the time for sanding or shaving, as the laser is heat treatment, it provides burr-free cutting edge and easy cleaning up the working area after processing.
Before you get to cut, you should have a thorough knowledge of the materials you are going to cut/engrave and what kind of materials can be cut with a CO2 laser. As MDF is an artificial wood board, the composition of materials is different, the proportion of the material is also different. So, not every kind of MDF board is suitable for your laser machine. Ozon board, water washing board, and poplar board are acknowledged have great laser ability. MimoWork recommends you inquiry experienced carpenters and laser specialists for good suggestions, or you can simply do a quick sample test on your machine.
Everyone wants their project to be as perfect as possible, but it is always nice to have another alternative that within everyone's reach to purchase. By choosing to use MDF in certain areas of your house, you can save money to use on other things. MDF definitely provides you with a lot of flexibility when it comes to the budget of your project.
Q&As about how to get a perfect cutting result of MDF are just never enough, but lucky for you, now you are one step closer to a great MDF product. Hope you learned something new today! If you have some more specific questions, please feel free to ask your laser technical friend MimoWork.com.
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