Melamine vs MDF

Melamine and MDF are two of the most popular engineered wood products used in woodworking. Both are popular for use in building kitchen cabinets and shelving and are highly popular in modern kitchen construction.

Let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences of melamine vs MDF, so you’ll be able to make the right choice when it comes to whatever project you’re working on.

What is Melamine?

Melamine is often confused with plastic coated particle board, wood board, and other materials. Melamine is actually the name for the polymer resin on the outside of kitchen cabinets.

However, the term “melamine” is often used to refer to composite boards with a melamine resin surface coating. These composite boards can be made from a variety of materials including particleboard, plywood, and even MDF itself.

Melamine creates a durable, smooth surface that’s easy to clean and essentially waterproof. This makes it an excellent material for kitchen cabinets as well as table and desk surfaces.

The melamine coating can be color matched to any décor, so it works particularly well for kitchen cabinets.

Melamine Uses

As mentioned previously, melamine boards are used extensively in kitchen cabinets and shelving. Melamine is cheaper than plywood, doesn’t need to be painted, and holds up well to the high heat and moisture environment of a kitchen.

melamine board cut into strips
Melamine board cut into strips. [Image source]
Melamine is also a popular option for whiteboards. In fact, most modern whiteboards are made of melamine.

Modern kitchens often feature melamine as the primary material for countertops and cabinets, and because of its low cost, it’s often used in place of plywood or solid wood. Melamine can also be colored to look like wood grain and is often difficult to differentiate from wood without a close examination.

Melamine Pros and Cons

Melamine features a smooth, easy-to-clean surface that makes a fantastic choice for kitchen shelves and cabinets. This surface is one of melamine’s strongest selling points, as it’s resistant to scratches, stains, heat, and even fire.

It’s essentially waterproof as long as the surface has no cracks or holes in it. This is key for kitchen and bathroom applications as these areas are exposed to plenty of water and heat.

Melamine is relatively cheap, especially when compared to MDF, plywood, and solid wood.

It is not all sunshine and rainbows though, melamine does have several downsides as well.

First, melamine does not handle heavy loads well and will bend over time if placed under a heavy load. It’s also heavy, so using it for upper cabinets can be a bit of a pain.

What is MDF?

MDF – which stands for medium density fiberboard – is made from wood fibers glued together using resin, heat, and pressure. The tiny wood fibers are broken down into tiny pieces, and then mixed with resins and waxes, and then pressed into shape under high heat.

MDF is dense and somewhat heavy, and has a completely smooth surface with no wood grain.

It’s a form of engineered wood and does not swell with water or absorb moisture over time like natural wood. It’s often confused with particleboard, as they have a similar appearance, but the key difference here is that MDF is a more refined and durable material.

Unlike other engineered wood products, MDF does not have a wood grain, which means it needs to be painted if used on the exterior of a cabinet or other visible veneer.

MDF Uses

MDF has a wide range of uses including cabinets, shelves, speaker boxes, and flooring. MDF doesn’t absorb moisture and resists warping so it makes a good choice for shelving, cabinets, and storage.

paritally constructed mdf cabinet
Partially constructed MDF cabinet. [Image source]
It’s also commonly used for electrical panels and other applications that require a non-conductive material.

MDF is easy to work with using standard woodworking tools and can be cut, drilled, and shaped with regular old tools. It can also be painted and varnished easily, and as it doesn’t expand or contract like other wood products, it’s less likely that the paint chips from expanding and contracting.

As there is no wood grain, it works well in situations where you want a completely smooth and blemish-free surface. MDF also makes a good alternative to plywood, as it’s less expensive and even easier to work with.

MDF Pros and Cons

MDF is inexpensive and makes a good alternative to plywood. Its smooth finish makes it superior to plywood for applications where an ultra-smooth surface is needed.

MDF is also easy to paint, takes to paint well, and because it doesn’t expand or contract unless it’s exposed to high humidity, the pain is less likely to chip and crack from the wood expanding or contracting. It’s also insulative, so it will work well in situations like electrical panels and other electrical applications.

MDF is easy to work with as it’s uniform, lighter than solid wood, and can be cut, shaped, and drilled using standard woodworking tools. The same can’t be said for melamine boards, which will require you to purchase special blades and jigs.

When it comes to the downsides, MDF has its fair share. It’s difficult to repair, and is more prone to dents and scratches than melamine board. If it gets dented or scratched, you won’t be able to repair it without a lot of work, so this makes it less than ideal for countertops and other high-traffic surfaces.

Some MDF grades do contain a small amount of formaldehyde – which can be a concern if you have health concerns or small children around. You can also purchase a low-formaldehyde version of MDF if this concerns you.

When to Use MDF vs Melamine?

When it comes to melamine vs MDF, both are engineered wood products – but they are actually quite different. Melamine is used for cabinets and countertops due to its scratch-resistant protective coating, it’s essentially waterproof, so it works well in applications where a high level of moisture resistance is needed.

Due to these qualities, melamine board gets used extensively in modern bathrooms and kitchens. It’s easy to wipe clean and is stain-resistant, making it an ideal countertop material for those on a budget.

MDF on the other hand is strong, durable, and very easy to work with. It doesn’t require special tools to work with, and can handle load bearing better than melamine can.

You can also combine the best of both worlds, with MDF that’s coated in melamine. This will give you the waterproofness of melamine with the load-bearing abilities of MDF.

Featured image source.

Denis Gardner

I've loved tinkering and fixing things for as long as I can remember. So, naturally, I gravitated towards DIY and home improvement when I bought my first home. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or messing around with my newest tool!

Leave a Comment