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Powder-coated MDF: a closer look

We often tell people that after 30 years in the business, we’ve seen just about everything.

What we don’t say is that some things… We see more than once.

For instance, every few years or so, someone else publishes an article about powder-coating MDF, and we start to get requests again. “We’d love to move away from liquid. How much would it take to set us up?”

Simple question—but the trouble is, it’s a complicated answer.

Over the past 50 years, powder coating has turned the finishing industry on its head. Powder-coated finishes are durable, environmentally friendly, and easy to apply on metal.

But on wood, however, powder coating has proven to be anything but simple.

Wood doesn’t behave like metal does

Wood warps. It cracks. It doesn’t conduct heat well—or uniformly. At one time, it was a living thing—and when you try to paint it, it shows. The finish ends up uneven and not properly cured.

And MDF, being simply wood particles held together with resin, acts the same way.

But there’s yet another problem with MDF. Think about how it’s typically used, and you’ll quickly realize that people who want to powder-coat it aren’t interested in painting flat boards. They’re more often looking to finish delicately turned or detailed cabinet doors, routered table tops, and so on.

Does this mean all is lost if you’re bound and determined to powder-coat MDF?

No, not at all. But you will likely have to do more work than you thought.

Want to powder-coat MDF? It’s possible… But tricky

For starters, you’ll need to use a higher grade of MDF, rather than trying to save on input costs by using a lower grade.

You’ll also need to make sure the wood stays humid enough; without humidity, the wood won’t properly maintain a charge. Which means, of course, the powder won’t adhere properly. You can get around this by applying an adhesion promoter to the board (either automatically or manually)—but of course that takes extra time and still more money.

Finally, temperature plays a role. This is wood, after all, so you can’t subject it to the same temperature levels you could if it were metal. That means you’ll need to use a powder with a lower-bake temperature, or a UV-curable powder.

And remember how MDF is made of wood particles bonded by resin? What happens to that resin when you subject it to heat?

You got it. So there’s another reason to explore higher-quality MDF—better resins will likely mean more heat tolerance.

Interested in powder-coating MDF? Let’s talk

The takeaway here is that powder-coated MDF certainly isn’t unachievable. But it definitely takes more time and effort than those magazine stories may lead you to believe.

You may need to change products and change processes. That’s less of an issue if you’re running 20 feet of board a minute. But if you’re a small shop where every dollar of margin counts, then yes… Powder-coated MDF may be out of reach.

All of that said, one of the reasons we’ve been in business for three decades is we never say never. If you’d like to explore what it might take to powder-coat MDF in your facility, contact us and we’ll take a closer look.