26th February 2018

Choosing between MDF & FJ Pine Mouldings

No matter what you are looking to buy on the market these days, we all have so many choices! Even something as simple as a carton of milk can make us stop and think which one is best – lite, skim, A2, unpasteurised, full cream, 2% fat and the list goes on! The same is true for timber mouldings and skirting boards, there is no ‘one size fits all’ choice, so it is important to understand the different properties between your timber choices, and how each one may benefit (or fall short on) your project requirements.

What exactly are they?

MDF (medium-density fibreboard) is an engineered composite of sawdust, wood shavings, small wood chips and resin that is compressed together to form lengths suitable for manufacturing into skirting boards, architraves and other timber mouldings.

Finger-joined Pine is a solid pine timber where the length is created using small, individual pieces which are joined together with glue and small interlocking ‘fingers’, which create a neat zig zag effect at the join site. All knots are eliminated in this process.

What are the benefits?

MDF

  • Cheaper option
  • High face strength gives it more strength against surface damage
  • MDF has a smooth surface finish giving a flawless look once sanded and painted and less change of visible voids or splinters

FINGER-JOINTED PINE

  • Less expensive than solid wood, but has all the benefits and characteristics of ‘real’ timber
  • Less prone to twisting and warping
  • Light and rigid enough for one person to install
  • Holds nails well
  • The product has greater longevity than MDF
  • Greater longevity and significantly reduced requirement for replacement
  • It is natural wood and the beautiful grain is visible
  • Easier to install
  • Less abrasive on cutters and tools therefore less maintenance to keep blades and cutters sharp
  • No splitting when fixing through edge grain like MDF

What are the disadvantages?

MDF

  • Its high strength can make it difficult to nail by hand
  • Edge strength is lower, so outside mitre cuts must be handled with care both during installation and when installed as tends to split if fixing through edge
  • As MDF is a manmade product with no natural timber grain, nails can find it difficult to ‘grab’ and screws can easily strip, making it easier to remove from a wall surface. For best installation results, it is important to use an MDF adhesive.
  • Heavy and ‘floppy’, making large lengths difficult for one person to handle during installation.
  • Long lengths are more prone to braking than finger-jointed pieces due to the larger ‘flex’ in the material
  • Will swell creating warping and bubbling if it absorbs moisture, which is likely to happen over time. It is important to have the entire moulding pre primed (including the back face) and to ensure it is not used in wet areas, or those which may be exposed to moisture through floor mopping or steam cleaning. It is also not recommended for use in tropical and high humidity climates for this reason.
  • If you’re looking for a natural timber look, it cannot be stained
  • Although MDF is stronger, if dents or marks are made, it is more difficult to repair

FINGER-JOINTED PINE

  • Is slightly more expensive than MDF
  • As it is a natural timber, it is softer than MDF and can be more susceptible to marks

MDF Moisture Test

We are frequently asked how moisture affects MDF, so we ran a test to show you. The below image shows swelling to profile when the base of the Moisture Resistant MDF moulding was exposed to  water for just 24 hours! Note that these 2 samples were originally the same profile, in the same size.

When MDF is absorbing water in a home over time, it also affects the paint and causes bubbling, as seen in the image below which was provided by one of our client’s of the mouldings in their home prior to replacing with an Intrim finger jointed pine moulding. 

Our recommendation

Without a doubt, finger-jointed pine is a superior material for timber mouldings profiles. It is always our top pick and typically the tradesman’s choice.

The MDF Intrim use, is one of the best on the market due to it being the most environmentally friendly MDF material available, and if you are on a budget, is still quite a suitable product. If you do choose MDF, we recommend having it factory pre-primed to seal the entire surface to give it the best protection from moisture absorption possible. In wet areas, or areas with hard floors (which would need to be mopped or steamed to clean), we only recommend the use of finger jointed pine skirting boards.

You may not have an immediate saving on your initial purchase when choosing finger jointed pine mouldings, but their ease of installation and longevity and durability, will reduce your risk of early replacement and save you money in the long term.

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