Can You Use A Router On MDF? Does It Work?

Before answering the question of ‘can you use a router on MDF?’, let’s get to know the MDF first. The famous and frequently-used engineered woods in woodworking are plywood, particle board, HDF, and MDF.

Each wood has its characteristics and advantages. Among them, MDF is one of the favorites, especially for interiors. Many consider that MDF is cheaper than others. Besides, it is also denser and more durable.  

MDF is made of the wood fibers of shattered hardwood or softwood combined with a resin binder and wax. The fibers, resin, and wax are pressed using high temperatures. It results in a dense and smooth board.

Plywood is a strong material that is made up of many layers of wood veneer. It does not absorb water and liquids as rapidly or easily as MDF, making it less prone to water damage. Plywood is stainable because it has a grain.

Since MDF has no wood grains, it cannot hold screws well. Then what about cutting and routing? The consistency of the fibers allows for decorative edges and easy cuttings.

There will not be any splinters or voids, making it as woodworkers’ preference.

What can a router do on MDF boards?  

A router is a tool that can be used to shape wood into any shape you can think of, so can it be applied on dense and thick woods like MDF. Routers are useful tools for woodworking, but they can be hard to use on MDF.

Routers are used to make fancy edges on wood. Woodworkers love it, especially those who cut dadoes, rabbets, and dovetails. This can also be used to smooth out rough edges and make a flat surface.

Like other tools, routers have a set of sharp bits that move at a fast rate. With this, the main job of the tool is to make joints and shape the edges of wood.

Please keep in mind that routers can either be fixed or plunge. This has to do with how they can be adjusted.

Most of the time, routers are used on solid wood, but not as often on MDF. But if you want to get the most out of your router for all kinds of wood, I’ll show you how to do it with MDF below.

Can you use a router on MDF? 

Yes, you can. With the right router bits speed and techniques, you could turn the wood into any shape or product you want.

Like any router, on MDF, a router can be used to cut grooves and rebates, create decorative flutings, profile the edges, cut inlays, shape the MDF, drill clean holes, recess the hinges, and others.

It depends on the purpose of using the router.

Compared to other woods, edge shaping and decorative patterns are easier to apply on MDF. It also has a better result with a clean and smooth surface.

How to use a router on MDF

Using a router on MDF mostly requires similar tools and different methods depending on the goals. Despite them, here are the general steps in routing an MDF board.

  1. Prepare the required tools, materials, and safety equipment. They include the MDF boards, the router, and parts like the motor, table, and collet. For safety, a mask, safety glasses, ear protection, and helmet are sufficient.
  2. Before starting the work, make sure you choose the right router for MDF. As there are varied types of routers and thicknesses of MDF, it isn’t about the question of whether you can use a router on MDF anymore but what is the best router to work on my MDF.
  3. Clean the working table and check every part of the router.  
  4. Join the bits and plug the router. Then start mounting to get the desired design.

The best router bits for MDF

Based on their designs, functionalities, and features, routers belong to several types.

They can be plunge routers, fixed-based style routers, combo router kits, heavy-duty routers, medium-duty routers, light-duty routers, and CNC routers.

The CNC routers’ main purpose is usually to cut the wood. Hence for bits, the recommended ones are the straight plunge bits and spiral bits like the up-cut spiral, compression spiral, and down-cut spiral routers.

The more sophisticated one is the carbide flute bit. This is more pricey yet good for prolonged work and requires less sharpening. In more detail, some woodworkers use ¼” and 3/8″ routers with two flutes to get a clean cut.

Speed rate to route MDF

While using an MDF router, certain techniques are required to cut, edge profile, or create patterns.

When others wonder if an MDF router can be used, woodworkers must decide on the intended outcome and the procedures to achieve it.

The speed influences the technique, affecting the effectiveness and the routers’ durability. To get the proper speed, several factors contribute like the tool diameter, the tool geometry, including straight or spiral flute, and the flute geometry, including single or double or up-cut flute.

For a single spiral with a 3.17 mm diameter, the suggested rates are

spindle speed: 16,000 rpm

feed rate: 2,240 mm/min

plunge rate: 1,200 mm/min

For a double compound spiral with a 9.5 mm diameter, the suggested rates are

spindle speed: 12,000 rpm

feed rate: 13,080 mm/min

plunge rate: 9,500 mm/min

Are router bits bad for MDF?

MDF can be hard on router bits, so unless you don’t mind wasting money, I wouldn’t suggest using expensive carbide bits.

Aside from that, the edges of MDF are stiff because it has resin. When done quickly, this can quickly dull steel bits.

Still, I don’t think you should get the cheapest one. Most of the time, I use standard router bits that I don’t mind breaking after routing.

Routing MDF tips

  • Always wear safety equipment, especially a mask. As MDF has no wood grains, routing and cutting could result in abundant small dusty wood particles. Inhaling those particles is bad for your lungs.
  • Route the MDF outside. Still related to the wood particles, they are prone to get blown away and become dust in a room.
  • Always use countersinking drill while driving a screw into the edge. Though MDF is amazingly smooth for edge profiling, improper drilling can cause cracks and splits.
  • Can you use a router on MDFbefore checking the tool first? No. Check the routers and the bits first, then clean them after work. Dirty bits cause damage to the workpiece and the router.
  • Instead of MDF strips, it’s easier to route a wider board. Then, after routing the part you need, you can use a table saw to cut it to size. This will help you control the stock better, especially if you use high speeds.
  • You can use any bit you want with a router, but some work best with MDF. When I’m cutting MDF and chipboard, I use straight plunge bits. MDF can also be routed with spiral bits. This works for both solid and plywood wood.
  • This is pretty simple, but if you don’t install your bits correctly, you can easily ruin an MDF stock. Ensure it fits well and is installed correctly, so it doesn’t shake too much and damage the tool or workpiece. Make sure your bits are sharp as well.
  • You should use a feather board to make moldings out of MDF. This will keep the stock in place so that the result is smoother and more accurate. I think you should use an extra-long piece of MDF to feed the piece of wood through the end. You can cut it later on.
  • If you are routing the edges of MDF, I suggest you clamp them into a higher shelf. Don’t put the router on a perch without any protection because if it falls and does damage, it will be a disaster.
  • Even though MDF can handle being routed, it can still break if you do it too quickly. It should always be the right size for the bit you’re using. For example, if you use a 1-inch bit, the speed shouldn’t be less than 20,000 rpm. Slower speeds are much better if you’ve never routed MDF before.

Advantages of routing MDF

  1. The smooth surface result which is good for painting
  2. Cheaper cost
  3. Won’t cause any burn marks
  4. The very consistent texture that causes no splinters or voids
  5. Has no warps, cracks, or bends in changing humidity and temperature
  6. An environmental-friendly product

Disadvantages of routing MDF

  1. The resin and wax in MDF could make routers dull through time
  2. Create plenty of dust and dangerous to health
  3. The corners are easy to crush. One drop could create bad damage to the result.
  4. The MDF particles tend to absorb water.
  5. MDF is so heavy and sometimes difficult to work with.

Routed MDF products

Despite its pros and cons, many might still question whether MDF is durable. 

Can you use a router on MDF? Can you use it for the exterior?

Well, the wood industry still has a high demand for MDF. Usually, MDF products are sold for cabinetry, doors, furniture, shelving, flooring, surface for veneers, machining applications, flooring, moldings, and speaker boxes.

Since it is prone to absorbing water, the final products still need certain layers of veneer.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you use a hand saw to cut MDF?

Since the surface of an MDF board is pretty hard, it’s not easy to cut it with a hand saw, so experts don’t recommend it.

Can screws be put into MDF?

You can make a perfect hole in an MDF board with the right drill and screw something into it. MDF panels can hold screws and most natural woods, but first, you must drill a pilot hole.

You can also use spiral grooved dowels, coated staples, and ring shank nails to join these pieces of wood.

How Much MDF Does Weight?

The weight depends on the size of the board, but MDF usually weighs between 55 and 95 lbs.

Can you CNC MDF?

Because of its properties, MDF is a great material for CNC milling. It is easy to machine and work with, stable and uniform, and can be finished to a high degree.

CNC cutting is cheaper than laser cutting, one of the main reasons people choose it over laser cutting. CNC cutting machines are less expensive to buy, and they also use less electricity.

Can CNC cut MDF?

CNC router bits with two spiral flutes that go up are a good choice for cutting MDF. Two large grooves make it easy to get rid of chips and keep bits balanced as they turn.

They can also handle high temperatures. When CNC routers are used to cut MDF, productivity goes up a lot, and waste of raw materials goes down.

MDF can be used outside?

MDF is waterproof and can be used in places with a lot of moisture, but you shouldn’t use it outside. If you want to use it outside, you should make it more waterproof first.

No matter what method you use, you should know that MDF is resistant to moisture but not to water or to being waterproof.

It can still swell and warp if it directly interacts with the elements. Painting the MDF board is the only way to make it waterproof.

Do you need to seal MDF?

MDF should always be sealed to stop water from getting in. MDF is a type of composite wood that is used in buildings.

Medium density fiberboard is what the letters stand for. MDF is made by putting wood chips together with glue and a lot of pressure from hydraulic rams.

Is plywood stronger than MDF board?

When it comes to strength, plywood comes out on top. Because MDF is weaker than plywood, it tends to droop or fracture when pushed on.

That’s why it’s important to reinforce it if you want to use it to build shelves or other heavy furniture.

Can a router be used to cut MDF?

The chip load for each CNC router is different, and the chip load for cutting various materials is also different.

The N2LX622 with 6mm CED is good enough for cutting 1.8-1.5cm MDF. N2LX415 is for cutting MDF with a thickness between 1.2 and 0.7 cm; you can use N2LX3 instead.

Can you route MDF?

It is possible to route MDF using a specialized router; however, a few procedures need to be completed first.

Do MDF boards cost less than plywood?

Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is usually cheaper than plywood, but it is not as hard and can bend under heavy weight.

MDF doesn’t do well with water, so it’s better for things like furniture that stay inside.

Conclusion

Please keep in mind the straightforward instructions, and don’t forget to select the appropriate materials for the boards.

It would be best if you got more practice with MDF and routers to become an expert in constructing a beautiful edge there.

When you attain that skill level, nothing can stop you from accomplishing your goals.

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