MDF V.S. Veneer Core Panels – When is it better to use MDF?

One of the questions our salespeople are trained to ask a customer when quoting material is “What are you doing with it?”  One reason we ask this question is to insure we are selling you a panel with the proper core.  Veneer core, MDF core, lumber core, and combination core each have their own place in manufacturing.  When ordering raw materials choosing the proper core could save time and money during the manufacturing process.

For the following applications, it is our opinion that MDF core panels are a better option than veneer core panels:

  • Finished wall panels: It doesn’t matter if a veneer core panel is an import or a domestic, the wood grain from the cross bands below the face veneer will telegraph through to the face veneer when the material is finished.  This telegraphing can create a wavy look to your finished panels that may be highly noticeable when put on a wall. Because MDF is a smooth surface there will be no telegraphing through to the face veneer when finished, creating a more consistent finish.  We typically recommend 1/4″ MDF core material when a customer is quoting wall panels.
  • Painted panels: Once again, it comes down to finish quality.  The smoother the cross bands or face, the better the painted surface will look.  We recommend priming the MDF first in order to insure equal absorption of the paint.
  • Custom layed-up panels: Because of its smoothness, glue spread onto MDF will adhere evenly to your face veneer or laminate insuring that the panel will not have any bubbles.  If veneer core plywood is used as the substrate, the dips and valleys in the face will cause the glue to spread unevenly. When the glue dries, the face will pull away from the areas without glue, creating bubbles in the face.
  • Cabinet Doors: Because of the nature of the product, veneer core plywood may warp when cut-to-size. Therefore, if making slab doors, MDF core material is highly recommended. The Architectural Woodworking Institute also specifies that veneer core panels should not be used for cabinet doors because they are likely to warp.

Combination Core Plywood (pictured above) – The best of both worlds!

Combination core panels replace the outer cross bands with MDF, making this panel the best of both worlds:

  • Excellent finishing and painting qualities.
  • Better screw holding capabilities than MDF.
  • Lighter weight than MDF.

Please keep in mind that at Quality Plywood, cores can be specified on any panel, no matter the size of the order.  Yes, the lead time will be longer and the cost may be higher than using stock inventory but using a custom panel produced with the correct core will help insure that your client is satisfied with the end product.