MDF or Solid Wood for a Face Frame

MDF is nice for paint-grade door panels, but not so suitable for face frames. October 15, 2009

I have a paint grade job coming up that will be made out MDF. These units are over 8 feet tall. These will be face frame cabinets and are 48 inches wide. They will be made in two sections to minimize sagging. My question is, should I use MDF face frames? Using MDF seems easier but I wonder if the edges may be more prone to damage, and also may be more difficult to prime. It's certainly easier to rip a 4 x 8 sheet of MDF than to pick, plane, joint, rip and sand solid wood.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
The answer depends on how long you want them to last. If you want to just knock it out and don't care what they look like next year, then use MDF. If, on the other hand, you actually want them to last, I suggest using solid wood. You don't really even need to plane anything as most suppliers will provide your stock to your dimensions.

From the original questioner:
Does your answer also apply to making the case out of MDF? Should I be using 9 ft birch plywood to enhance durablity?

From contributor A:
Yes and no. In terms of durability, yes, the plywood is a more durable product that, with everything else being equal, should outlast the MDF or particle board construction. I'm guessing you are looking to hit a lower price point however, in which case using particleboard or MDF will do the job. Personally, I prefer plywood for boxes and particleboard for panel doors where I need them to stay flat. I'm not a fan of MDF as I don't trust it to hold fasteners well, and it's heavy.

Face frames are a different story as they generally suffer from more wear and tear, especially at the edges. It also makes installing hardware more iffy when using hinges, stops, or catches that attach to the face frame.

From contributor B:
I only use MDF for paint grade panels, face frames are paint grade poplar or some soft maple for the best.

From contributor C:
MDF is great for paint grade panels. It's flatter and paints better than anything else. It's not so great for face frames, especially if you're hanging doors off of it. Narrow strips of MDF are prone to splitting from nails and screws, and it takes about 5 coats of paint to make the edges look good. Poplar or soft maple are good, economical choices. I also use alder sometimes with good results.

From contributor D:
Another vote here for maple or poplar face frames. We did a paint grade kitchen 15 years ago with poplar face frames, and if I had it to do over, I'd use maple. It's pretty banged up now.