This is such a common question I used to get asked often by my apprentices. After spending 26 years as a cabinetmaker, I would plane hundreds of meters of MDF every day. You need to do the same but you are wondering, can you plane MDF?
You can easily plane MDF using a hand plane, power planer, or machine planer with different degrees of effectiveness. Due to the glue content in MDF, this can have a dulling effect on the blades or cutters.
In this article, you’ll discover all you need to know about planning MDF and whether doing anything to trim or smoothen your MDF sheets is feasible for your project, and what effect it will have on your blades.
Planing and MDF: What You Need to Know
MDF can be a versatile item in your workshop although sometimes cutting it might seem daunting. But don’t stress, as it’s actually easier than you think.
Planing seems to be an option that translates from wood to MDF medium, which might make you think you should plane MDF. But before you move forward with using a hand plane or a power planer for your MDF project, you need to consider the following:
Did you know, you can cut MDF with a jigsaw? Read about it here.
Be sure to see my article on How strong is MDF? Its limits may surprise you!
MDF Features Adhesive Within Its Core Structure
This adhesive isn’t kind to any kind of blade or cutter. Consequently, prolonged use of a plane with MDF means the blade will need replacement. Since a planer doesn’t dig too deep into MDF, you can get away with planing a few times, though.
In my years of using MDF, I found that an electric planer could be used continually for over a week before the cutters required rotating or changing out.
MDF Contains Urea-Formaldehyde
This is well-locked into the board but can be released if MDF goes through any process that powders or takes apart the fibers that make up the board. Since the material can cause cancer if inhaled on a consistent basis, it goes without saying that it shouldn’t be unlocked into a breathable atmosphere by vigorous planing.
Wear a respirator for one-off projects and even use gloves to protect your skin from exposure to MDF dust.
Be sure to use the right dust collector when working with MDF. I wrote this article showing what the best dust collector for MDF is. Make sure you are not using the wrong type!
Planing fixes flaws MDFs rarely have
The last thing you must consider is that planing is a solution for problems that arise when one works with pure wood. Sometimes composite and processed wood, too, can have issues like unevenness, but they rarely happen with MDF.
What the above points mean for your project is that you should use a plane with an MDF only if it is for edge-planing and must be cautious when the work area exceeds a few boards. Surfaces like table joints might be easy to plane without problems, but the moment it gets into the territory of big cabinets and doors, you need to reconsider.
Some people hate screwing together MDF as they say it always splits! I show you how to screw MDF without splitting in this article.
Can You Plane an MDF Door?
You can plane the edges or faces of an MDF door quite easily. In fact, MDF is easy to cut. Care is needed to wear the appropriate safety equipment and regularly change the blades as the glue will dull them if you need to do a lot.
I find an electric planer is the easiest tool for the job especially when you have to take off around 1-6mm.
If you need to plane more than that, I recommend using a jigsaw or circular saw to cut the majority of waste off. You can then use your planer to finish to the line and clean up the cut edge.
Can You Run MDF Through a Jointer?
You can run MDF through a jointer, but this will risk the health of your jointer blades. The adhesive contents of MDF aren’t kind to any blade, but if the jointer has a durable blade with a high cutting surface area, you may be able to run a board through it once or twice.
Doing so any more than a few times will affect your blades. If you work with MDF regularly, you might want to know more about how the material impacts blades, so you don’t incorporate it cutting MDF into your regular workflow.
You may also think about purchasing some better blades, especially for MDF. I guess the point is that jointer blades are harder to change and set up than a handheld electric planer.
How Does MDF Affect Cutters or Blades?
MDF dulls cutters and blades by subjecting them to continual cuts of the adhesive within MDF. Since MDF involves fine fibers from soft and hardwood brought together by a plastic-like adhesive, cutting the board has a similar impact on a blade as trying to continually cut plastic.
This isn’t a concern for most people working with MDF boards because they get MDF sheets cut to size and simply connect them according to their plans. These pre-cut sheets are made to size not by chipping at larger blocks but by forming MDF within a cast that fits the specifications. This also means that twists and cups aren’t as likely with MDFs.
The fact that MDF is bound from finer fibers and isn’t conducive to blades might have some think that any processed wood composite might be tough to plane. But that’s not the case if the board has no grain.
Your jigsaw blade can still wonder of course while cutting MDF. My guide will help fix the problem. See why does my jigsaw blade bend?
How Do You Trim MDF?
MDF can be trimmed with any planer, jigsaw, or circular saw blade on the market. MDF is very easy to cut and feels soft to cut. The glue in MDF can dull your cutters or blades over time.
As I mentioned earlier, I spent 26 years as a cabinetmaker, and most kitchen items were made from MDF or particleboard. This meant that while installing the kitchen, I had to trim a lot of MDF to make it work. It’s much easier than you think and it cuts very easily.
Among the precautions you need to take are wearing a respirator to avoid inhaling vaporized glue, and wearing gloves, and having arms covered to avoid contact with urea-formaldehyde. Again, remember that this can be a one-off solution but isn’t feasible as a long-term workflow step.
Can You Plane Down Particle Board?
Particleboard can be planed down using an electric or hand planer. It is very easy to cut, although like MDF, the glue content has a dulling effect on your blades or cutters over time.
MDF is actually very easy to work with when you know-how. It can be easily cut, drilled, or planed provided you take the right steps in doing so. You just need to be aware that the glue will dull your blades more quickly than regular wood.
You should always make sure to wear the appropriate safety gear such as a mask, glasses, and gloves when cutting it.