MDF, Medium Density Fibreboard

MDF dust
Fine dust off a router.

I have been sawing up and planing a few sheets of MDF recently and even though I have used a decent enough dust mask, one with two replaceable filter cartridges, I have noticed a fair bit of throat irritation.

I have been using it in the plain form "Lamipanel", "Craftwood", "Customwood", and the melamine coated sheets from various manufacturers for years.   It is fairly cheap and easy to use.  The only real material for cost effective wardrobes and kitchen cupboards.

Except that I believe out of the many materials we use in home renovations etc. MDF is fairly high on the scale of things we should take special thought about when we are using it.

rotary roof vents
Roof vents on a warehouse.

About 15 years ago we installed these 600 dia. rotary air vents to this warehouse roof.  The company that was leasing the place were selling panel products, mainly MDF.  I assumed that the new vents were to remove the hot air and cool the place down.  That the existing passive ridge wasn't doing enough.

I left Poul on the job  to start cutting the holes in the roof and I went to get some more materials.  When I returned Poul was sitting down with his head in his hands.  He felt sick.  It took him an hour or so to recover.  By way of explanation he said to me "stick your head over one of the holes".

I could not believe the fumes coming out of that roof, an intense smell of Formaldehyde.  Any sort of lingering over the holes caused watery eyes and coughing.

We finished the job, very slowly, and got paid, but it would be a different story today.
I think the manager of the business was fully aware of the fumes that were coming off the product he was selling, which was the real reason for fitting the vents, but he chose not to tell me when I priced the job for him.

Exactly the same policy that the parent company, a huge multinational, had to the public at large!

Since that time I have thought a lot more about safety on the job.  I don't like leaving guys working on their own. Certainly on roofs.  Accidents can come out of the blue.  I was lucky that day that nothing serious happened.

So, don't let me stop you using MDF.  I still use it.

This was an extreme example, material straight from the factory and concentrated in a confined roof space.

Just be aware that there are safety concerns with it. As the old saying goes, "forewarned is forearmed"

  • Use a good quality dust mask.  The dust is extremely fine unlike the sawdust off timber or plywood.  Remember that this very fine dust almost certainly has formaldehyde in it which is a known carcinogen.
  • In a workshop situation keep your dust extraction in good condition.
  • In a situation like I am working in now, clean up the dust frequently and dispose of in plastic garbage bags.
  • Don't use power tools on MDF indoors.  I work outdoors in an open carport and hose the place down every evening.
  • The unsealed sheets I am using will all be painted to seal them.

Before I started writing this I did a quick Google  to check out MDF and to find out if it was indeed formaldehyde that I remember smelling.  It sure was.  Also that formaldehyde is lighter than air and so was concentrated at the top of the roof where we were cutting the holes.
The beauty of the Internet these days is that manufacturers can't pull the wool over our eyes like they used to do.  We have the information at our fingertips.  Check it out, don't take my word for it.


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Please Note! The information on this site is offered as a guide only!  When we are talking about areas where building regulations or safety regulations could exist,the information here could be wrong for your area.  It could be out of date!  Regulations breed faster than rabbits!
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