MDF Raised Panel Doors

MDF works well for five-piece cope-and-stick raised-panel doors. Here, craftsmen contribute advice and tips. August 29, 2005

I have to make some paint grade raised panel doors, and I am wondering if I could make all of the five piece doors out of MDF. I know this would be heavy, but would this be strong enough? I usually make paint grade stuff out of poplar rail, stile then, and put a MDF panel inside. Now I need to put a RP and thought about the whole door in MDF? Is this just wishful thinking or could I get by?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor F:
I think that only one piece faux raised panel doors are strong enough. You cant expect to run a cope and pattern on 2.25" MDF and have the life of a wooden cope and pattern joint. MDF is weak in small sections.

From contributor W:
Many companies use MDF for five piece doors. If you are using euro hinges you will want to use the ones with the plastic dowels.

From contributor B:
If you are doing pain grade, you may want to consider hard maple stiles and rails. They sand out beautifully and your finish will look like glass. Its well worth the slight extra cost.

From contributor H:
I agree with Contributor Ws advice. I will also add that for any door that will be finished in any way, the only way to go is Blum Inserta or similar hinges. These hinges pop in and out in a second and are as strong as the dowel hinges. The time they save is well worth the extra cost and you can ship your doors flat and wrapped and install instantly on site. Customers love the screw-less look and are impressed by the efficiency of the system. There is also no risk of splitting any hardwood or damaging a finish when you insert them.

From contributor K:
I have never really had a thought to do this kind of door, but in todays market why not. So to expand the question, if someone where to build the entire door out of MDF, would you glue the panel to the styles and rails to make it seem like a faux style door? Or would it float like a solid wood panel door?

From contributor S:
You should strongly consider the wear on you cope and stick cutters. MDF is going to take quite a toll on them. You might consider insert tooling if you're going to machine that much MDF. As far as mounting the panel, I would glue it hard. This should strengthen the joints considerably.

From contributor M:
To contributor K: To answer your question on gluing the panel to the styles/rails, I don't see why not. The information I was reading in a woodworking book said that MDF has a 0.1% movement, so I wouldn't think it would split the joints. The boss at my shop says the same thing. We use maple for the styles and rails and MDF for the center. As for solid MDF panel doors, we use solid MDF from our door supplier - his CNC makes nicer one-part raised panel doors than I would on a five-part.

From contributor H:
Contributor M is right in that the cost is less to buy a one piece door, but the look of the five piece door is nicer than the one piece, even the square corner models. For an arch door I would use a one piece, but you do have more flexibility in design if you make them yourself. You can also do fine adjustments on the fly to match drawer faces above two Dorset very fast when you make your own doors. There are many door manufacturing that make five piece MDF doors as well.

From contributor P:
I've made a ton of MDF five piece doors. I glue the center panels and they are great for paint grade work (there is no movement). I like to use a refined MDF called ranger board. It cuts very clean and sands nicely. I've made a dozen kitchens with these doors and I do use the Blum Inserta hinge.