[This is part of my DIY Molding Inventory and How to Install Moldings pages.]
The core of the architectural details that I like to make is this stuff, Medium Density Fiberboard, or MDF.
It’s an engineered wood product — so says the product literature on it — which simply means wood fibers glued and pressed together.
But for the molding projects you and I are going to use if for — wainscoting, baseboard, crown molding and door trim — it means these important things
- Is consistent in both size and thickness from one batch to another
- Machines easily: cutting/routering/sanding
- Takes paint really well
- Expands and contracts far less than wood
- Is really inexpensive
Common MDF Board Sizes
Most lumber yards or cabinet shops sell mdf board in 4′ X 8′ sheets in these three thicknesses:
Where to Buy MDF Board
I mention both Lowes and Home Depot because they are convenient for most people, and not because we are in any way affiliated with or compensated by them for the mention.
Local Lumber Yard or Cabinet Shop
Most any lumber yard will stock 1/2″ and 3/4″ thick mdf board, and if you’re lucky, 1/4″ thick. For 1/4″ you may have to make a special order.
You will almost always get the best price on full sheets of mdf board from a local lumber yard versus the big box stores.
For example, my local lumber yard sells 3/4″ mdf for $37.41 as compared to Home Depot’s $46.00.
Lowes Home Improvement
I’ve only seen Lowes stock 1/2″ thick mdf board. Their price at the moment is $27.54 here in Tucson.
They stock 4′ X 8′ sheets in 1/2″ that sell for around $30.00, and 3/4″ that sell for about $46.00.
Home Depot also sells pre-cut mdf — including 1/4″ thick! — in 2′ X 4′ sizes.
How to Cut Large Sheets of MDF Board: The Panel Saw Panacea
Does Your Lumber Yard Have a Panel Saw?
If not, how are you going to get that 4′ X 8′ sheet of mdf home to make your wainscoting, or crown molding or baseboard?
Me at the lumber yard sales counter: “Can you rip that sheet of mdf in half for me?”
Sales guy behind the counter: “Sure, I’ll have the guys in the warehouse do it for you. It’ll be ready by the time you pull your truck around to the loading door.”
But what I saw when I pulled my truck around to the loading door was this poor guy ripping my mdf in half on a rickety old, tiny, and unsafe table saw.
My mdf looked like it had been cut in half by a drunken beaver.
That was years ago, and now I make sure the lumber yard where I buy my mdf has a panel saw.
Be Good to Your Panel Saw Operator
Have your dimensions figured out in advance. If you hand the person operating the panel saw a clear diagram of the cuts you want, you may actually notice a smile of appreciation creep across their overworked face.
When we bought the mdf board for our kitchen wainscoting, we had the pieces cut at Lowes so when we got home we could just drop them in place.
There was a bit of trimming to do, but it was quite manageable at this size.
Fun With Flat-Stock Gallery
Here’s a fun gallery of some of my molding projects that used a whole lot of mdf board in their creation. Some of these I’ve already posted step by step installation tutorials for, the others will come at a later date.
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Good luck with your molding projects!