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What is the difference between Particle Board and MDF?

I'm just wondering what the differences are between particle board and MDF?  MDF is more expensive and I was wondering why.  What applications would you use them differently? I'm a beginner woodworker and thought that you could help me understand the difference so that I can purchase the right material for the projects.  I'm always looking to save money. . .  any help you can give will be much appreciated.  Thank You.

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Hi Lorrie. basically the difference between the two is the density and the size of the wood fibers that are compressed together.  An example of particle board is what is normally used in home construction as an underlayment under carpet coverings.  It is brittle and usually pretty rough to the feel.  You will see some of it used in cheap made shelving and cabinets that are sometime used in garages due to it being cheap.  The big problem with this is that it is very absorbent to moisture and in time breaks down to sawdust.

Mdf is a higher grade of material made of finer wood fibers that more resembles saw dust that is mixed with resins and glue and compressed under high pressure making a dense hard but smooth surface.  It is much more resistance to moisture.  An example is a melamine  of which is often used to build the boxes of cabinets.  It is actually a mdf material that is surfaced with a melamine coating that is applied under heat and pressure.

Mdf is also used as a substrate for laminate counter tops in homes and business cabinet work.  It is smooth and flat and very dense.  It is desirable as it takes laminate glue well and does not ring like plywood based counter tops.

You recently received a retrofit for your radial arm saw that came with a table top.  If it is the same as the retro fit that I have, it is a good example of MDF. 

In construction my preference is to only use particle if I am going to place it on the floor to underlayment for carpet flooring.  In my opinion for woodworking, particle board really does not serve as  good satisfactory material.

Thanks for the information Jay and Ken.  I had heard that they both don't do well with moisture.  you are saying that the MDF has smaller wood fibers so it will hold up better.  that makes sense.  I have used particle board for shelving in the garage.  It seems to be okay.  Of course, I think that is what the inside of the cabinet was made of and it fell  apart.  I will post a picture of it.  the front of the cabinet is oak and I'm thinking of saving that.  My thought is to build the Kreg Workbench and size it for the oak frame.  I have some white Melamine doors (4) that are coated on both sides that I'm thinking of using for the top. ??  I have already made one drawer so I will just need to make another one.

Jay, you are correct.  I did receive the retrofit kit.  the table they sent is MDF.  I just wondered if the MDF was stronger and you are indicating that it is.  there is so much material out there and I don't know what's what.  When I ask for help at the big box stores, they steer me to buy what they want to sell and I only get the knowledge that the person that is helping me has.  sometimes that is not much.  I would just like to have somewhat of a clue when I go to buy material.  when I built my cabinets, I would much rather have paid $4 more to get the nice cabinet grade wood instead of the rough plywood that the person told me I needed the first time.  I'm trying to learn from my mistakes.  I guess that is how we all learn.  tough lesson. 

Is the white melamine something that you can use for a workbench top or is MDF a better choice?  I also have an interior door laying in the garage.  I could use that as well.  I took it off my closet and don't plan to put it back up.

thanks for all of your help.  Have a good day! :)   Lorrie
 
Jay Boutwell said:

Hi Lorrie. basically the difference between the two is the density and the size of the wood fibers that are compressed together.  An example of particle board is what is normally used in home construction as an underlayment under carpet coverings.  It is brittle and usually pretty rough to the feel.  You will see some of it used in cheap made shelving and cabinets that are sometime used in garages due to it being cheap.  The big problem with this is that it is very absorbent to moisture and in time breaks down to sawdust.

Mdf is a higher grade of material made of finer wood fibers that more resembles saw dust that is mixed with resins and glue and compressed under high pressure making a dense hard but smooth surface.  It is much more resistance to moisture.  An example is a melamine  of which is often used to build the boxes of cabinets.  It is actually a mdf material that is surfaced with a melamine coating that is applied under heat and pressure.

Mdf is also used as a substrate for laminate counter tops in homes and business cabinet work.  It is smooth and flat and very dense.  It is desirable as it takes laminate glue well and does not ring like plywood based counter tops.

You recently received a retrofit for your radial arm saw that came with a table top.  If it is the same as the retro fit that I have, it is a good example of MDF. 

In construction my preference is to only use particle if I am going to place it on the floor to underlayment for carpet flooring.  In my opinion for woodworking, particle board really does not serve as  good satisfactory material.

Here are pictures of the cabinet that I was using as a workbench. . . pretty sad!  I've also included the drawer that I made.

Attachments:

MDF failure is generally due to inadequate design build, joinery construction and assembly techniques.

Suitable joinery methods and fasteners need to be employed, for the products intended end use.

can you use the kreg jig for joining MDF?

Ken Darga said:

MDF failure is generally due to inadequate design build, joinery construction and assembly techniques.

Suitable joinery methods and fasteners need to be employed, for the products intended end use.

Lorrie you are most welcome.  Yes moisture is the enemy of both the particle board and MDF and tends to swell and turn back into saw dust when exposed to too much moisture.  Melamine does as well however is a little more resistant to moisture due to the melamine coating on the MDF.   Yes MDf is tougher than the particle board as there is more material in the MDF since the small particles can be compressed to a more dense product and then there is more resin and glue in MDF that in particle board.

Melamine is the choice of material for cabinet making when you select a man made product.  It is stable as long as the raw cuts are protected by glue and or other sealant.  it cuts well with a good table saw blade and holds screws well.  I have been building melamine cabinets with out any failure for several years.  I will admit that if I have my choice I will go for the cabinet grade plywood however the cost factor is a definite decision maker when it comes to customers wishes.  There are also those that favor the melamine in kitchen and bath cabinets due to the ease of cleaning the interiors.  This is also the choice of most medical and industry needs as well.

One thing to keep in mind when buying melamine is that there are two grades and the only one to really use is the industrial grade.  It is much tougher and the cost is near the same.  Here in my area home depot and lowes both sell the melamine however it is not the industrial grade.  I purchase mine from a lumber dealer which deals only in top of the line materials.  My cost here is $27.95 which is actually about the same price as at Home Depot.

I build a set of melamine cabinets within the last month and am now in the final stages of finishing the trim out.  These were installed in a mobile home owned by a young married couple with financial struggles and their choice was melamine due to the increased dollar amount for the cabinet grade cabinet boxes.  In this case I even built the doors and drawer faces using melamine.  To make the cabinets look expensive and custom I trimmed the doors and drawer fronts with red oak.   The face frame is red oak and done in a semi-European style using narrow face frames.  I am now building some red oak end panels to cover the exposed cabinet boxes so that from the outside view it appears to be all oak with a melamine insert.    I will post these soon.

I viewed the cabinet you were taking about and I agree with you about the cabinet case being made of particle board. Your drawer looks very nice and well built.  You have a good plan on keeping the face frame and fitting it to a new cabinet box.  The interior door is hollow and is not a good bench top if you are going to do any heavy work or assembly work on it.  The skin is thin and will soon develop holes and tears.

You are also correct when you say learning from mistakes as I have always learned lessons from mistakes that I have made as well as those made by others.

Melamine would make a good top for some uses however if it is to be used for anything that will have to take a pounding from heavy use it will not stand up as the dents become cracks in the melamine surfaces and it will begin to flake off and become a hand and skin cutting objects.

What I have for my work benches is metal framed with 2x6 top and a 3/4 MDF added to the top of that.  The I added a 1/4" sheet of hard board.  The MDF will take the pounding and since it is backed by 2x6 material will not break apart.  The MDF will deaden the noise from pounding or other work on the bench.  I can tell you that it has held up for over 20 years without failure and is really a joy to work on.   Another thing is that I do not have to worry about damage to work surface and the hard board is about $7.00 a sheet and is held down only by a few short screws.  With this method I can screw down a jig or other item to the bench top and do a task and then remove it.

I like your determination to learn and hope you will continue to ask questions as this is a true learning method.  Have a Great Week End. 
 
Lorrie said:

Thanks for the information Jay and Ken.  I had heard that they both don't do well with moisture.  you are saying that the MDF has smaller wood fibers so it will hold up better.  that makes sense.  I have used particle board for shelving in the garage.  It seems to be okay.  Of course, I think that is what the inside of the cabinet was made of and it fell  apart.  I will post a picture of it.  the front of the cabinet is oak and I'm thinking of saving that.  My thought is to build the Kreg Workbench and size it for the oak frame.  I have some white Melamine doors (4) that are coated on both sides that I'm thinking of using for the top. ??  I have already made one drawer so I will just need to make another one.

Jay, you are correct.  I did receive the retrofit kit.  the table they sent is MDF.  I just wondered if the MDF was stronger and you are indicating that it is.  there is so much material out there and I don't know what's what.  When I ask for help at the big box stores, they steer me to buy what they want to sell and I only get the knowledge that the person that is helping me has.  sometimes that is not much.  I would just like to have somewhat of a clue when I go to buy material.  when I built my cabinets, I would much rather have paid $4 more to get the nice cabinet grade wood instead of the rough plywood that the person told me I needed the first time.  I'm trying to learn from my mistakes.  I guess that is how we all learn.  tough lesson. 

Is the white melamine something that you can use for a workbench top or is MDF a better choice?  I also have an interior door laying in the garage.  I could use that as well.  I took it off my closet and don't plan to put it back up.

thanks for all of your help.  Have a good day! :)   Lorrie
 
Jay Boutwell said:

Hi Lorrie. basically the difference between the two is the density and the size of the wood fibers that are compressed together.  An example of particle board is what is normally used in home construction as an underlayment under carpet coverings.  It is brittle and usually pretty rough to the feel.  You will see some of it used in cheap made shelving and cabinets that are sometime used in garages due to it being cheap.  The big problem with this is that it is very absorbent to moisture and in time breaks down to sawdust.

Mdf is a higher grade of material made of finer wood fibers that more resembles saw dust that is mixed with resins and glue and compressed under high pressure making a dense hard but smooth surface.  It is much more resistance to moisture.  An example is a melamine  of which is often used to build the boxes of cabinets.  It is actually a mdf material that is surfaced with a melamine coating that is applied under heat and pressure.

Mdf is also used as a substrate for laminate counter tops in homes and business cabinet work.  It is smooth and flat and very dense.  It is desirable as it takes laminate glue well and does not ring like plywood based counter tops.

You recently received a retrofit for your radial arm saw that came with a table top.  If it is the same as the retro fit that I have, it is a good example of MDF. 

In construction my preference is to only use particle if I am going to place it on the floor to underlayment for carpet flooring.  In my opinion for woodworking, particle board really does not serve as  good satisfactory material.

Reference your question about using kreg joints.  The answer is yes.  I just posted some melamine cabinets of which is also MDF with melamine coating.  It is full of kreg pocket holes with  about 1000 screws in the cabinets.  I also used "Roo" glue in all the joints.  Most cabinet shop use nails and or staples and this is the main cause of some of the cabinet shop cabinets failing. 
 
Lorrie said:

can you use the kreg jig for joining MDF?

Ken Darga said:

MDF failure is generally due to inadequate design build, joinery construction and assembly techniques.

Suitable joinery methods and fasteners need to be employed, for the products intended end use.

Thanks Jay for all of the information!  It is much appreciated!  I love making things with the Kreg jig! LOL
 
Jay Boutwell said:

Reference your question about using kreg joints.  The answer is yes.  I just posted some melamine cabinets of which is also MDF with melamine coating.  It is full of kreg pocket holes with  about 1000 screws in the cabinets.  I also used "Roo" glue in all the joints.  Most cabinet shop use nails and or staples and this is the main cause of some of the cabinet shop cabinets failing. 
 
Lorrie said:

can you use the kreg jig for joining MDF?

Ken Darga said:

MDF failure is generally due to inadequate design build, joinery construction and assembly techniques.

Suitable joinery methods and fasteners need to be employed, for the products intended end use.

Any time Lorrie, always glad to help.  Been doing this for better that 25 years and the only trouble is that once you get me talking about woodworking I can't shut up.
 
Lorrie said:

Thanks Jay for all of the information!  It is much appreciated!  I love making things with the Kreg jig! LOL
 
Jay Boutwell said:

Reference your question about using kreg joints.  The answer is yes.  I just posted some melamine cabinets of which is also MDF with melamine coating.  It is full of kreg pocket holes with  about 1000 screws in the cabinets.  I also used "Roo" glue in all the joints.  Most cabinet shop use nails and or staples and this is the main cause of some of the cabinet shop cabinets failing. 
 
Lorrie said:

can you use the kreg jig for joining MDF?

Ken Darga said:

MDF failure is generally due to inadequate design build, joinery construction and assembly techniques.

Suitable joinery methods and fasteners need to be employed, for the products intended end use.

Lorrie, about your particle board shelving, you will want to add some additional bracing because they will sag over time.  Attaching a straight board across the front of each shelf helps too.   I purchased metal strips designed exactly for that purpose on some of my heavy use shelves.   I learned how quickly they can sag the hard way :)

Hi Rita.  Glad to hear from you.  I did attach trim to the front of the shelving.  It stiffened the shelving up.  I also have black pipe as a brace for the shelving so they shouldn't sag.  I posted a picture of the lumber rack yesterday. I was proud of myself for building it by myself.  It was big!  I used 2x3's for the framing because they are lighter and easier for me to handle.  I built it in the driveway and carried it into the garage.  I, too, am trying to get my garage in order.  I have cleaned up quite a bit, but still have more to do.  I'm in the process of rebuilding my workbench.  I'm salvaging some parts from the old one. I'm trying to work out my design on paper first.  I just tore apart the old one so I can figure out what dimensions I want to build the new one.  Do you have a picture of your workbench? Good luck on your garage projects.  I am also using my garage projects as practice before moving onto projects for the house. :)

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