Melamine vs MDF (Pros & Cons) – Comparing Materials

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As a woodworker, you may find that you have to work with several different materials other than wood. One of the non-wood materials that you may come across is melamine. Another different type of material is MDF (medium-density fiberboard). Both these materials form wood-like boards, and we can use them for a variety of woodworking applications. They are extremely popular for making shelves and cabinets and form an intrinsic part of modern kitchens today.

In this article, we take a closer look at melamine vs MDF and study the pros and cons of each material. We also highlight how each type of material is most useful. Although it is difficult to pinpoint whether either of these two materials is superior, we will attempt to compare the differences in both materials. As a result, you should be more precise about how and where to use either material whenever required.

MDF. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Melamine Vs MDF: A Detailed Study

What Is Melamine?

Melamine. Image Credit: Trevor Cox

The organic compound melamine comes from a chemical substance called cyanamide. It works has fire retardant properties because it releases nitrogen on combustion. A reason why melamine is so popular as a durable material is that it is highly resistant to scratches. Melamine also shows high resistance to oils and mild acids. It can withstand heat to a great extent as well.

Melamine had some bad publicity over the years due to specific health-related issues. This is because it was added to food substances. Even the safety of using melamine for tableware also came under fire. However, in this article, we are only discussing melamine as a material used for construction, so, that aspect does not have any relevance here.

When we discuss melamine in woodworking, rather than the compound, we refer to melamine as melamine coated boards that we use in woodworking projects. Melamine boards typically have a substrate like MDF or plywood, covered with melamine.

Uses Of Melamine

We are aware of melamine that makes up kitchenware. However, a lesser-known fact about melamine is that it finds wide applications in making shelves and cabinets. Although particleboard presents a useful alternative for building furniture products, it isn’t that attractive. Hence, by using melamine boards instead, you get a more attractive but viable option which is cheaper than plywood.

We use melamine in carpentry in the form of sheets made of MDF or some other base material. Due to its high-gloss, scratch-resistance surface, melamine makes the perfect material for creating whiteboards. Today whiteboards form a part of standard office furniture. But you probably didn’t guess that most whiteboards are melamine!

Another useful application of melamine is for manufacturing floor tiles. Melamine floor tiles make glossy, scratch-resistant flooring, easy to clean, less prone to staining and relatively cheaper than stone or porcelain.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Melamine

One of the first advantages of melamine that comes to mind is its scratch-resistant properties. It also does not stain easily. And to top it all, it is easy to clean. Melamine board provides a highly-level surface, which makes it an excellent material for making kitchen counters.

However, melamine has a few disadvantages as well. The first disadvantage of melamine is that it needs to be attached to a substrate. Due to this reason, if the substrate is of poor quality, then you can expect poor performance from the melamine as well.

Another downside is the tendency of melamine board to warp and bend under load. Hence, you may not be able to use melamine successfully if you are likely to subject it to heavyweights for a prolonged period.

What Is MDF?

Medium-density fiberboard
Medium-density fiberboard. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is what we call a wood composite. People commonly confuse MDF with particleboard. Although an inexpensive construction material like particleboard, MDF is a more refined material. We create MDF from fusing sawdust and glue together.

Because we make MDF from wood fibers, it doesn’t have a grain as in regular wood. It results in a smooth, homogenous finish to the material. Its color can vary depending on the dyes and pigments used to color it. You can use the same tools for plywood to work on MDF. You get MDF in a variety of different thicknesses and sheet sizes.

Uses Of MDF

MDF forms the perfect outer layer for furniture as a viable alternative to wood veneer. MDF makes a good filler material as well, and we can make light furniture from it, as well. It also provides an excellent means for making cabinets, shelves and speaker boxes. We can use MDF for flooring as well. Due to its softness, MDF serves as the perfect material for temporary structures like tradeshow booths and theatre sets.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of MDF

MDF is an inexpensive alternative to plywood. Since we create it from recycled wood, it is an eco-friendly option. MDF, in combination with wood veneers, can look like the real thing. You will find it easy to paint it in different colors, and it is easier to shape than wood.

You don’t have to deal with the complications that you get with knots and grains of regular wood. If treated appropriately, MDF can be termite-proof, fire-proof and water-resistant. MDF also exhibits a fair degree of resistance to humidity and change in climatic conditions. Due to its softness, you will find it easy to cut and shape MDF

However, a few disadvantages do exist with MDF. If it gets chipped or damaged, you won’t be able to repair it. If you are looking for the aesthetics of natural wood, you will not find it in this material. MDF is less child-friendly than regular wood, and it tends to emit small quantities of formaldehyde while processing. It does not hold the screws easily.


When you first started reading this article, you may have had some grey areas regarding melamine vs MDF. With the information that we have provided, we hope that you are now clearer about these two materials. Both melamine and MDF serve as adequate substitutes for conventional plywood or wood. However, each material has its advantages and disadvantages.

It is essential to know more about each material to use them in your woodworking projects. Each material also calls for a particular way of handling it. Hence, when you know more about each type, you will be able to get the best results. We hope that by using the information provided here, you can use melamine or MDF to the maximum benefit.


Featured Image by Wikimedia Commons