Can you use a router on MDF? While routers are versatile woodworking tools, they can be tricky to use on MDF. After all, MDF is compressed wood, and it can easily sustain damages when exposed to high-powered tools. But in this post, I will share how you can make use of the router in trimming and cutting MDF properly.
How does a router work?
Wood routers are known for producing fancy edges. It’s a favorite tool among woodworkers, especially those who are cutting dadoes, rabbets, and dovetails. This is also useful in routing rough edges to produce a smoother and even surface.
Like other tools, routers use a series of sharpened bits at high speeds. With this, the tool’s main purpose is to create joints and shape wood edges.
Take note that routers can either be fixed or plunge type, which basically differs on how you can adjust them.
Routers are often used on solid wood but not much on MDF. But if you want to maximize your router for all wood types, I discussed below how you can do it with MDF.
Is it possible to use a router on MDF?
To answer this question, it’s important to know the characteristics of MDF first. MDF or medium-density fiberboard is a composite material made of compressed wood fibers. But unlike particleboards, MDF has smaller fibers and a denser profile, making it stronger than the former.
With this composition, MDF has no wood grain. The best thing is that it’s compressed with such high levels of pressure that it has little to no voids to which plywood is notorious for.
MDF has a smooth surface that can be easily painted, sealed, or primed. You can also use it as a substrate for various veneer materials. However, it can’t be stained since there’s no grain and the wood fibers act like a sponge.
But the question is this: can your route it? Technically, yes, you can route an MDF stock. Thanks to its smooth edges, most routers will pass through it smoothly. The fibers are also tiny, which prevents knots and snags, which is pretty common when routing plywood.
One of the biggest strengths of MDF is its consistency. Its compact profile makes it worthwhile to cut. It also takes smooth curves without crumbling or splintering. In fact, you can make detailed designs on MDF using other tools like jigsaws, band saws, and scroll saws.
However, you should also know that MDF is heavy. It’s cumbersome to work with, especially if you’re planning to route a huge slab. But with the right technique, you can use a router table or hand router for this purpose.
Also, you have to practice extra caution when routing an MDF material. You should wear a mask and eye protection as it will produce tiny particles that can be inhaled. I suggest wearing a particle mask to avoid lung irritation.
Tips when using a router on MDF
If you’re new to routing MDF, the following tips will help a lot in achieving good results:
- Use a wider board. It’s easier to route a wider board instead of MDF strips. Then, after you’re done routing the part you need, you can cut it later on using a table saw. This way, you will have better control over the stock, especially if you’re using very high speeds.
- Use the right bits. The sky’s the limit to the bits you can use on routers, but there are specific types that suit MDF. Personally, I use straight plunge bits whenever I’m cutting MDF and chipboard. You can also use spiral bits to route MDF. This also works for both solid wood and plywood.
- Install the bits properly. This is quite basic, but improper bit installation will easily ruin an MDF stock. Make sure that it’s snug and installed properly to avoid excessive vibration that will damage both the tool and workpiece. Also, make sure that your bits are sharp.
- Get a feather board. If you’re making MDF moldings, you should use a feather board. This will hold the stock in place for a smoother and accurate result. I suggest using an extra-long MDF so that you can feed the workpiece through the end. You can cut it later on.
- Clamp it up. If you’re routing MDF edges, I suggest clamping them into an elevated shelf. Never perch the router without any safeguards, as it will become catastrophic if the tool tips and falls.
- Mind the speed. Even if MDF can withstand routing, it can still break if you use excessive speed while routing. It should always match the type of bit you’re using. For example, if you’re using a 1-inch bit, speed shouldn’t be faster than 20,000 rpm. Slower speeds are also much better if you haven’t routed MDF before.
Does MDF split?
MDF is dense, but it can still split and sustain damages. In fact, it has a low tolerance to tension and bending. And if exposed to nature, its risk of splitting increases.
Moreover, MDF has a modulus of elasticity that’s only half of that of plywood. This is because medium-density fiberboard is made with small fibers bound by strong glue. Since the fibers are small and don’t offer much hold to each other, they can easily break.
Is MDF bad for router bits?
MDF can take a toll on router bits, so I won’t recommend using expensive carbide bits unless you don’t mind such a waste.
Aside from that, MDF has resin, which makes the edges stiff. This can easily dull steel bits, especially at high speeds.
Nevertheless, I don’t recommend getting the cheapest one. I usually stick to standard router bits that I don’t mind getting busted after routing.
What is the best way to cut MDF?
When it comes to the safest and most efficient way to cut MDF, nothing beats a jigsaw tool. It cuts through MDF like butter as long as you sharpen it well.
A jigsaw reduces the risk of splitting or chipping MDF. I recommend cutting slowly to avoid damaging the MDF fibers, especially for thin sheets.
If you don’t have a jigsaw, a circular saw also works. You can use a speed of around 3,000 to 3,500 m/s at a blade with a minimum of 60 teeth.
If you’re frustrated over chipped MDF, you should invest in standard carbide blades. These are tougher and will cut through MDF easier as long as it’s sharpened properly.
Can you cut MDF with a Dremel?
A Dremel router works for MDFs, but I would reserve this on sheets that are only 5 mm thick. Anything thicker than that requires a more powerful saw or cutting tool. As mentioned, you can use either a jigsaw or circular saw for thicker MDF.
Also, if you’re working on a wide board, a Dremel alone will take so much time cutting. Save yourself from the hassle and use a real saw instead.
Do you need a mask to cut MDF?
Yes, it’s important to wear a particle mask since cutting MDF will result in the production of fine particles. These particles contain high levels of formaldehyde, resin, and other chemicals that are harmful to your health.
Aside from wearing a mask, you should also wear eye protection to prevent the dust from getting into your peepers. You can also use face shields for woodturning, but you should still wear a mask.
Can you use a chisel on MDF?
MDF is probably one of the worst materials to chisel. This is because MDF has ground-up fibers that will only get destroyed when chiseled. It will also break apart in a non-uniform manner, which defeats the intention of chiseling in the first place.
Can you use a router on MDF? Yes, you can do so, but with the right choice of bits and speed. However, make sure that you wear protective gear as MDF will produce fine particles when cut, which is harmful when inhaled.