Monday, June 4, 2012

"Heavy" Furniture = MDF Construction

I spent an afternoon at a local furniture repair store in Salt Lake a few years ago.  I had just bought my 1940s dining set for $110 at Saver's, and I wanted a professional opinion on restoring it.  The owner ended up talking and talking and teaching me a lot about furniture.

Pottery Barn Kent Bookcase, made from MDF and mahogany veneer

At one pointed, he motioned over to a Pottery Barn dresser nearby.  Apparantly, Pottery Barn customers call him often, wanting help repairing their Pottery Barn furniture.  When he asks them what the piece is made of, they usually say, "I don't know--but it's REAL heavy."  And then he knows that the piece is made of MDF and the repair will be difficult and expensive.

Ikea cabinets typically made from particleboard and "fiberboard" (MDF)

MDF is medium density fiberboard.  It is also known as particleboard.  It is made of glue and wood sawdust.  The glue weighs more than a real piece of wood, producing unbelieveably heavy furniture (My thrift Bassett TV armoire is a beast!!)


The MDF is usually the body of inexpensive furniture, and then a veneer is put over the top.  You can't see the MDF unless you tip the furniture upside down or to the side.  Because MDF swells if it gets wet, the laminated veneer on top of it comes loose and chips easily.  But you can't sand the veneer to repair it--not much--it is usually only 1/8" thick.  Repairs often involve replacing the damaged MDF, adding a new veneer and then matching the stain or paint of the rest of the piece or just re-doing the whole piece. When you have only paid $100-200 for a dresser or armoire, a repair of this sort becomes cost prohibitive.
So, now MDF becomes the makings of disposable furniture.  Sigh.

Bassett Wakefield bed, google search "Bassett MDF furniture" yields market and consumer complaints
I buy all kinds of furniture.  Almost always used, unless it is upholstery.  I've noticed, as I scan the stacks of furniture at a local thrift store to see if there is anything I want, that the MDF furniture is often not styled as classic (easy to tell when the piece is already 20-30 years old).  And the dings and water marks are-easy-to-see and hard-to-repair.

West Elm Turned-Leg Nightstand, made of  engineered wood with solid wood legs
BUT solid wood furniture is expensive.  If you buy straight from retail, that is.

World Market Oakdale Storage Console, made of Asian hardwood, and MDF with  maple veneer

In the meantime, I enjoy my 1940s dining set--unrestored.  It has scratches and sun damage.  But the guy at my local furniture repair shop says it's worth a $2800 restoration.  It is solid wood.

Dining Room No Hutch



  1. Very nice images of ur furniture and it is true that furniture restoration will make ur furniture new long time and also impress ur guest.

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  2. What a wonderful attitude about this. Thanks for posting! Leather Repairs Bolton