Found easily in most home-improvement stores, medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is made of sawdust, wood chips and synthetic resin binders that are glued together under extreme heat and pressure. It is devoid of the grain you find in wood, which makes it adaptable for many uses; it can be drilled or cut without damaging the surface. Fine particles are emitted when you saw or drill, so always work in a vented area and wear a face mask to prevent respiratory problems.
Although MDF baseboard is less expensive than wood, it may be more costly in the long run. It may be scraped, knocked and dinged as well as damaged from overflow toilets, refrigerator water lines or other water-related mishaps in the home. Where wood can be repaired, MDF must be replaced. It would be better to use MDF for crown moldings rather than baseboards. MDF should be unpacked in the environment in which it will be used and allowed to adapt to the moisture conditions for 24 hours prior to installation.
Solid wood may have knots and grain patterns, but MDF is flat and smooth. It can be molded into almost any shape or form and allows finishes to be applied directly to the surface. Its versatility permits it to be used in multiple forms, such as casings, crown moldings, baseboards and chair rails. MDF is usually pre-primed, so you can stain it or paint it as desired. You may also choose the pre-finished product and do nothing extra.
MDF uses formaldehyde as an adhesive, but the amount of allowable emissions is controlled by the American National Standards Institute or the Composite Panel Association. The fiberboard must be kept away from water to prevent it from swelling. Any lacquers or varnishes must be compatible with the pre-primed surface. The installation is virtually the same as other materials, but it is cumbersome, crumbles easily and stands up poorly to moisture.
MDF may be installed using power nails, manual nails, staples or screws. Power nailing requires an air gun with needle-size nails shot under pressure; manual nailing requires use of ring shank nails to prevent the fiberboard from swelling around the nail head; staple nailing involves use of fine-gauge staples with a pneumatic gun; screws, threaded all the way to the end, should be specially made for use with fiberboard and installed with a high-speed drill designed to prevent the screw from poking through the back.
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