How To Paint MDF

  • The steps to successfully painting MDF.
  • Different types of MDF.

Learn how to paint MDF the correct way, without wasting any products or spending extortionate amounts on specific paints.

What is MDF?

MDF stands for “medium-density fibreboard”. It is a type of engineered wood that is created when hardwood and softwood is broken down into wood fibres.

Because of its gain structure, which is non-directional, MDF is the ideal wood product for building just about any wood-based object without the worry of the wood splintering or chipping. It also has a smooth surface, which makes it a well-loved material in the DIY world.

Typically, as long as you aren’t trying to create a curved surface, you can use MDF for your home DIY project or for constructing any number of wooden furnishings. For a curved surface, you would be better off using plywood because it has better flexibility.

A row of cut pieces of MDF.

What types of MDF are there?

There are three main variations of MDF on the market today. These are fibre board, particle board, and laminated board.

Of these three, the most common MDF is particle board. Fibre board has its own variations, of which there are plenty. Laminated board uses a different wood gain to typical MDF, and particle board binds wood particles together to be created. But that’s a very dulled down way of explaining them.

As it’s the most common, let’s delve into the world of particle board for a second:

Particle board is created when a variety of raw materials are processed to create various particle sizes. These are then bonded together, with resin used to bind them. You’re likely going to use particle board for things like living room, kitchen, and bedroom furniture.

Fibre board is up next, and it’s a type of MDF that is created in lower temperatures. Different types of resin and bonding agents are used to combine fibre board, and some of them can cause irritation to various parts of the body. The dust from fibre board is also a carcinogen.

Laminated board is used in a lot of building projects because it has a stiffer surface. Plywood is a type of laminated board, as is blackboard (which is often used to make chalkboards).

A stack of MDF.

What paint can you use on MDF?

Thankfully, because of the composition of MDF, it takes paint extremely well.

Both acrylic and latex paints are fine for MDF (not great, but fine). For oil-based paints, you’ll want to use a paint thinner to get the best look from that particular paint product family.

Oil-based paints are going to be a little more difficult to use than other paints, so it’s really about how easy you want your project to be, and how quickly and cheaply you want to get it finished. Oil-based will product the best finish, but it will be more time-consuming.

Standard emulsion paints are likely to make your project look patchy, like other water-based paints will.

See Also
what is latex paint

You also need to consider what finish you want on your project and if that will affect the paint that you use.

How to paint MDF

Before you start painting your MDF project in your chosen paint colour, you must use primer on the MDF. Without priming your project, you could end up with a patchy paint job that won’t look good no matter where in your home you try to hide it.

You can easily create your own primer by thinning the paint you were going to use on your MDF project. Alternatively, there are plenty of primers out there that will work on MDF just as well as they’d work on any other type of wood.

Once you’ve primed your MDF project, you should wait for it to dry before sanding it and then continuing to the painting step.

You will need approximately two or three coats of paint to give your MDF project a nice coat of colour. Always sand between each layer of paint, too. It might not feel natural to sand a freshly dried coat of paint, but it’s the best way to ensure your MDF project gains a good finish.

Once you’ve completed that final coat of paint, apply a coat of sealant. Sealant will ensure that your MDF project won’t be easily damaged – including staining and scratches. In addition, a coat of sealant will be able to enhance the colour and look of your MDF project with little work!

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