MDF vs HDF Wood: What Is the Difference?

Ever notice that when you go to start a new project there seems to be something ‘new’ or that you haven’t noticed before that might work better? Selecting the best material for a project often depends on its unique characteristics. When comparing MDF vs HDF, it is best to look at their differences to determine which will work best.

MDF and HDF are engineered wood products made of soft and hardwood fibers mixed with resin adhesives, and subjected to high pressure and heat to form panels with consistent density. HDF is thinner, denser, heavier, stronger, and more expensive, while MDF is easier to shape and use. The unique properties of each make them ideal for a variety of projects.

In this guide, we’ll compare MDF and HDF, explain what each is, and explore the different types of each type of board. We’ll also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of MDF and HDF, look at their differences, and where they can be purchased. Plus, how well they handle exposure to moisture, and which product is better for potential projects.

MDF vs HDF

MDF vs HDF: Comparison

MDF and HDF are both versatile manufactured wood products. They have a variety of different uses, profiles, and finishes. In the table below, we compare the two materials using common factors.

 MDFHDF
MaterialWood fiber, wax, and urea-formaldehyde or urea-methanal formaldehyde resinsWood fiber, 18% to 20% recycled wood material, wax, and phenol-formaldehyde (PF) or urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins
DensityTypically, 42 to 52 lb/cu ftBetween 65 to 90 lb/cu ft
DurabilityGoodBetter
StrengthLow to medium depending on the thickness in the direction of the force appliedMedium to strong depending on the thickness in the direction of the force applied
LifespanDepends on use and abuse, 1 to 50+ yearsDepends on use and abuse, 1 to 50+ years
Moisture ResistanceLowMedium
Weight4’x8’ of 1/4” thickness weighs 34lbs, 1/2" 68lbs, 3/4" 102lbs, 1” 136lbs, and 1-1/4” 170lbs1/4”x4’x8’ weighs 42lbs
Thickness1/8”, 3/16”, 1/4", 3/8”, 7/16”, 1/2", 5/8”, 11/16”, 3/4", 15/16”, 1”, 1-1/8”, 1-1/4”, and 1-1/2”3/32”, 7/64”, 1/8”, 5/32”, 3/16”, 13/64”, 15/64”, 1/4”, 23/64”, and 3/8”
Best UsesFurniture, flooring, underlay, cabinetry, shelving, countertops, soundproofing, signage, baseboards, decorative panels, and other itemsDoor skins, pegboards, wall panels, backer panels, laminated flooring, underlay, high use furniture, cabinetry, drawer bottoms, dividers, countertops, whiteboards, clipboards, and other items
Price1/2"x49”x97” is $50.57 and a 3/4" sheet $60.98, so more affordable1/8”x4’x8’ is $14.97 and 3/16” $25.98, so more expensive by thickness

What Is MDF Board?

What Is MDF Board

MDF (medium-density fiberboard) is made of wood fibers or pulp from soft and hardwood residuals that are mixed together with resin and wax adhesive binders. The mix is poured into molds, pressed, and heated to form wood panels that have the same density of 42 to 52 lb/cu ft throughout. They are an engineered product that is solid and has no hollows or soft spots like those found in natural wood or some other panel boards. It should be noted, though, that MDF is not the same as particleboard, and it is denser than plywood.

MDF panels are manufactured in different sizes and thicknesses. Nominally 4’x8’ sheets are available in 1/8”, 3/16”, 1/4″, 3/8”, 7/16”, 1/2″, 5/8”, 11/16”, 3/4″, 15/16”, 1”, 1-1/8”, 1-1/4”, and 1-1/2”. Some of those thicknesses are also available in 4’x10’ and 4’x12’ panels, or 5’x8’, 5’x9’, 5’x10’, and 5’x12’. All dimensions of MDF are interior rated, with some sizes and thicknesses also rated for exterior use, or as being resistant to moisture or fire. However, not all exterior grade MDF is resistant to moisture.

Different manufacturers offer colored MDF sheets or planks for use in furniture, cabinetry, signage, or other purposes. The dyes or inks are added during the mixing or liquid state so the coloring is consistent throughout the ‘wood’. Some colors, however, denote special characteristics such as fire or moisture resistance.

Advantages and Disadvantages of MDF

Like any product, be it natural or manufactured, there are always advantages and disadvantages. Much depends on how it is used and where, and if it is the best for the task.

Advantages

  • Inexpensive: MDF is less expensive than plywood or natural wood.
  • Even density and strength: stronger than particle board but not plywood of the same thickness.
  • Paintable: the smooth flat surface is easy to sand and paint, and has a wood-like look.
  • Stainable: the wood fibers in MDF absorb stain for an even look, but the lack of wood grain doesn’t give the same effect as plywood or solid wood.
  • Easy to shape or form: MDF can be cut with most types of saws or routered for different profiles or textures without the worry of chipping, splinters, or cracking, unlike natural woods or plywood.
  • Customizable: different thicknesses can be heat pressed and formed to have different profiles or reliefs.
  • Can be curved: MDF is more flexible than plywood or solid wood and can be used for bay window skirting or baseboard – it may require kerf cuts for greater bendability.
  • Low warpage: The low moisture content and non-directional fiber arrangement make MDF less likely to warp.
  • Relatively eco-friendly: MDF is made out of wood scraps, reclaimed or recycled wood, or old wood that isn’t marketable. So, fewer trees are lost to its manufacture and less lumber waste is cast away.

Disadvantages

  • Poor load-bearing strength: MDF is strong and dense but isn’t good for carrying loads, especially when oriented horizontally.
  • Weight: MDF is heavy which makes it difficult to move around.
  • Breakable: the lack of fiber orientation makes MDF susceptible to breakage if dropped or unsupported.
  • Poor fastener holding ability: MDF’s small wood fiber grain provides limited nail or screw holding ability, so they can easily come loose.
  • Not water resistant: some MDF is moisture-resistant, and it can be sealed.
  • Toxicity: the glues, adhesives, or resins that are used to fuse the wood fiber together in the manufacture of MDF contain urea-formaldehyde or urea-methanal formaldehyde which are known carcinogens. Off-gassing or dust from cutting or shaping the wood can cause eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation.

Types of MDF

There are different types of MDF. Some are edge and-or top colored to denote special characteristics, while others may have a veneer adhered to one face, and some are covered with melamine, PVC, paper, or cloth. MDF is also available in multiple colors for use in the manufacture of furniture, cabinetry, or signage. Here’s a list of the main types of MDF:

  • Regular MDF is multi-purpose.
  • Green-edged is typically moisture-resistant MDF.
  • Red or Blue-edged and-or top-coated identifies fire-retardant MDF.
  • Ultra-lite MDF is lighter weight and lower density, so easier to handle.
  • Exterior grade MDF has a greater density and may be resistant to moisture, mold, mildew, and insects.
  • NAF (no added formaldehyde) MDF has a very low level of formaldehyde.

What Is HDF Board?

HDF (high-density fiberboard) or hardboard is manufactured from wood fiber taken from cutoffs and other waste wood from the lumber and pulp industries. The process is similar to that of MDF, the wood fibers are mixed together with resin and wax adhesives and poured or placed into molds. It is then heated and compressed under high pressure to form engineered wood panels with a consistent density between 65 to 90 lb/cu ft.

The greater density of MDF usually results in a strong, thin panel product, making it ideal for flooring, peg-board and wall panels, door skins, underlayment, furniture, and other cabinetry uses. HDF panels are available in widths of 48”, 49”, 60”, and 61”, and lengths of 73”, 96”, 97”, 109”, and 121”. The different lengths and widths are manufactured in thicknesses, or thinness, of 3/32”, 7/64”, 1/8”, 5/32”, 3/16”, 13/64”, 15/64”, 1/4”, 23/64”, and 3/8”, with slight variances depending on the manufacturer.

There are two manufacturing processes for HDF, one is wet and the other is dry. The wet process, also referred to as the Mason Method, typically results in one textured surface or face and the other being smooth. Masonite is always produced with this process. The dry process results in both faces or surfaces being smooth. Both processes rely on either phenol-formaldehyde (PF) or urea-formaldehyde (UF) resin adhesives.

HDF Advantages and Disadvantages

High-density fiberboard has its share of advantages and disadvantages. How it is used typically determines some of them. Check these out to see if HDF is what you’re looking for.

Advantages

  • Consistent density: HDF has a consistent density throughout, so there are no soft spots.
  • Customizable: as a manufactured and engineered product, it can easily be molded for different purposes – textured door skins, flooring, cabinetry, etc.
  • Affordable: although it is more expensive than MDF, it is still less expensive than other panel boards and real wood.
  • Paintable: HDF has a smooth finish that is easily painted and to which paint adheres very well.
  • Stainable: the even, higher density allows stains to adhere better to HDF than to MDF, plus the color is uniform throughout.
  • Durable and impact-resistant: the high density makes HDF surfaces harder than others so more durable and resistant to damage.
  • Shape and form: HDF board is easy to rip or crosscut as it has no uniform grain direction. It can be cut into multiple shapes with a jig, scroll, hand, circular, or table saw, and edge-shaped with a router.
  • Won’t warp: the high density allows for low-moisture absorption, so HDF holds its shape or form better.
  • Moisture resistant: HDF won’t split, crack, or separate like other manufactured or real wood due to humidity.
  • Eco-friendly: made of scrap or cast-off wood pieces and byproducts of the pulp and lumber industries and recycled wood, HDF is forest friendly, recyclable, and even biodegradable.
Disadvantages
  • Not waterproof: although moisture resistant, it is not waterproof.
  • Cost: more expensive than MDF but less than plywood.
  • Toxicity: HDF is manufactured with phenol-formaldehyde (PF) or urea-formaldehyde (UF) resin adhesives, so off-gassing and sawdust may cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation.
  • Weight: the high density makes panels heavy to work with.
  • Poor load-bearing ability: HDF can be used vertically or horizontally but doesn’t have strong carrying tensile strength.

What Is the Difference Between MDF and HDF?

Difference Between MDF and HDF

MDF and HDF are both engineered wood products. They are manufactured using similar materials and processes, so they often look similar. However, there are some key differences that affect how they are used and why.

Material

MDF and HDF are both manufactured using wood fiber extracted from waste material from lumber and pulp industries, and other waste wood sources. HDF also usually contains 18% to 20% recycled wood material. The wood fiber for MDF is bonded together using wax and resins containing urea-formaldehyde or urea-methanal formaldehyde, while HDF is bonded together using wax and resins containing phenol-formaldehyde (PF) or urea-formaldehyde (UF).

Durability

MDF and HDF both have higher and more consistent densities than many hard and softwoods, so they are harder, with HDF being harder and denser (65–90 lb/cu ft) than MDF (42 to 52 lb/cu ft). Both resist swelling and warping when exposed to high-humidity locations. The higher density of HDF also makes it more durable, moisture-resistant, and dent or impact-resistant than MDF. If handled roughly, both products have a tendency to crack or break.

Strength

MDF and HDF are considered fairly brittle since they have no directional grain, both tend to break if they are bent much. The thicker the material is in the bend direction, the stronger it is. If the thickness in the direction of the bending force is the same, HDF’s higher density makes it stronger than MDF.

Lifespan

The lifespan of both HDF and MDF depends on use and abuse. I’ve seen HDF pegboards that have lasted more than half a century and are still going strong, however, if you pull tools off instead of lifting them, it will shorten the lifespan. The same goes for MDF or HDF furniture, doors, or cabinetry, the more abuse it receives, the shorter its life expectancy. Since it costs about 1/4 of real wood and doesn’t have the nail or screw grip-ability, it typically won’t last as long. However, HDF’s greater density and strength usually mean it will last longer than MDF.

Moisture Resistance

HDF has a greater density than MDF, so it is more moisture resistant. HDF is considered to have medium resistance to moisture and MDF has a low resistance. Both products can be treated or covered to make them more resistant too.

Weight

The thickness and size of the material will determine its weight, but HDF’s greater density makes it heavier than a piece of MDF with the same dimensions. A 4’x8’ sheet of 1/4″ MDH weighs 29-pounds while the same size of HDF weighs 42-pounds. MDF is available in thicker 4’x8’ sheets which will weigh more – 1/2” sheets weigh 68lbs, 3/4″ are 102lbs, 1” 136lbs, and 1-1/4” a hefty 170lbs.

Thickness

MDF is manufactured in thicknesses of 1/8”, 3/16”, 1/4″, 3/8”, 7/16”, 1/2″, 5/8”, 11/16”, 3/4″, 15/16”, 1”, 1-1/8”, 1-1/4”, and 1-1/2”, although availability will vary from manufacturer and seller. HDF is also available in a variety of thicknesses, or rather thinnesses of 3/32”, 7/64”, 1/8”, 5/32”, 3/16”, 13/64”, 15/64”, 1/4”, 23/64”, and 3/8” – again, availability depends on sources.

Best Uses

MDF is lighter and available in thicker dimensions, so it is more versatile than HDF. It can be used for furniture, flooring, underlay, cabinetry, shelving, countertops, soundproofing, signage, baseboards, decorative panels, and other items. HDF is stronger and heavier, but only available in thinner dimensions. It’s typically used for door skins, pegboards, wall panels, backer panels, laminated flooring, underlay, high use furniture, cabinetry, drawer bottoms, dividers, countertops, whiteboards, and clipboards.

Price

The price of HDF and MDF depends on the dimensions and thicknesses being purchased, and location – some locations are pricier than others. Typically, for the same size and thickness, HDF is more expensive than MDF but still less expensive than plywood or real wood. A 1/2”x4’x8’ sheet of MDF has actual dimensions of 1/2″x49”x97” and costs $50.57 and a 3/4″ sheet $60.98 at my local lumber store. A 1/8”x4’x8’ sheet of HDF is $14.97 and 3/16” $25.98, with the price increasing depending on the finish applied. For direct comparison, 1/4″ T&G HDF wainscot costs $2.82 a square foot which is more than double the 1/4″ MDF equivalent that runs between $1.44 to $1.60 a square foot.

Is HDF Waterproof?

The greater density of HDF makes it water-resistant but not waterproof. It is possible to use different finishes to make it more water-resistant and almost waterproof. However, if the finish gets damaged or worn, moisture damage will occur.

MDF vs Plywood

MDF and plywood are both engineered wood products that are less expensive than real wood and can be used in many of the same ways and situations as solid wood. MDF is made of hard and softwood fibers while plywood is made of thin layers of wood with alternating grain directions taken from peeler logs. Both use formaldehyde-based resins and adhesives to bond everything together and are then subjected to high heat and pressure to create the final product.

  • MDF is less expensive than plywood of the same thickness.
  • MDF has no grain direction while plywood’s top surface has a visible and uniform grain direction.
  • Plywood is made of layers with opposing grain directions, making it stronger than MDF and less likely to sag, crack, split, or break under loads.
  • Plywood is less bendable than MDF.
  • MDF is easier to cut.
  • Less dust is produced when cutting plywood.
  • The edges of plywood are harder to finish than those of MDF.
  • Plywood has the same feel and look as real wood.
  • MDF has a smooth finish making painting and staining easier, although higher grades of plywood are sanded smooth to make them easier to finish.
  • MDF is heavier and has a more uniform density than plywood of the same dimensions.

Where to Buy MDF and HDF Board?

MDF and HDF are both available at home improvement stores, some hardware and craft stores, and different specialty stores serving a variety of requirements. Different products are also available online too. Some thicknesses or profiles may need to be specially ordered, and prices vary from location to location, so shop around.

What is Better: MDF or HDF?

MDF and HDF are manufactured from hard and softwood fibers mixed with different resin adhesives containing formaldehyde. Both have a consistent density throughout, however, HDF has a much higher density and ranges from 3/32” to 3/8” thick while MDF is available in thicknesses from 1/8” to 1-1/2”. HDF is also heavier, stronger, more durable, and thus more expensive, plus it is more moisture resistant, MDF, though, is easier to use and shape. As to which is better, that depends on the intended purpose or use. Hopefully, you have a better understanding of which will work best for your project.

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