What is the difference between real timber and MDF fibreboard for kitchens?

When it comes to choosing a suitable wood material for the kitchen, homeowners often have a hard time deciding which type to go for.

While there are numerous types of wood materials available, we will limit our discussion in this post to the two most widely used ones:  MDF fibreboard and real timber.


Medium-density fibreboard (or “MDF” as it is known) is a staple in the furniture industry. It is a high grade, composite material made up of recycled wood fibres and resins, which are machine dried and densely pressed into sturdy sheets.

MDF is used mostly for doors and cabinets, but not so much for other, more solid, parts of a construction, such as kitchen bench frames. This is because it is very susceptible to water and moisture if not sealed properly and, when affected or soaked, MDF can easily warp, expand or break.

MDF is, however, versatile and easy to paint. You can create a variety of effects and finishes with it, such as by adding laminate or dowel. A wooden look can be achieved by gluing a thin sheet of veneer to an MDF surface, for instance.

One drawback is that, over time, door hinges can get dislocated from the MDF. This usually happens as a result of doors being opened more widely than 90 degrees, pulling at the screws and slowly loosening their grip on the fibreboard. It is not advisable to use smooth shank nails or fine-pitch screws, as both do not hold very well.  T-nuts and pan-head machine screws are considered ideal MDF fasteners.

Real timber

As a natural product, real timber evokes a far more solid, earthy and warm effect. Boards or sheets of timber are typically sturdy and have a natural aesthetic appeal. Widely used for doors, tables, benches and other constructions, natural timber is a popular choice, although generally more expensive than MDF.

Real timber is not without its drawbacks though. It can be prone to crack, buckle or shrink in response to changes in heat and humidity. A level of maintenance and care is sometimes needed to keep it in excellent shape. Wooden tables, furniture and surfaces benefit greatly when polished with natural oils to prevent them drying out over time.


While MDF is seen as superior to real timber in its capacity to withstand temperature and humidity changes, its resistance to moisture and damp is generally inferior.

From the workman’s point of view, MDF dulls blades quickly compared to other wood types, but is otherwise easier to work with and more versatile in many ways. Since MDF does not contain knots or rings, cutting it is more straightforward too.

On the other hand, MDF does not have the solid, sturdy qualities that real wood does nor the natural aesthetic appeal. The natural grain and colour tones found in timber make it suitable as an attractive presentable surface, whereas MDF needs to be sealed and covered in some way, to be viable.

A real timber construction will generally last longer than MDF. Hinges, nails and screws will stay intact in wood around 10 times longer than in MDF, which cannot hold as much weight on the screw as a solid wooden door. Like real timber, MDF is vulnerable to splits when woodscrews are installed without pilot holes.

Price-wise, real timber generally costs more than MDF, as a reflection of the comparative character and quality of the two materials. Overall, optimum benefits can be achieved by a skilful mix of these materials to achieve a great blend of solidness, strength and versatility at a moderate price.

We hope we have shed some light on the basic differences between real timber and MDF. Look out for our next blog post which will cover some of the latest exciting kitchen design trends.