Which Are Better: MDF or Pine Baseboards?

Baseboards often have the same look and profile but are constructed of different materials.  MDF (medium density fiberboard) and pine are two common baseboard materials.  Which material is better?  Which is cheaper?

Answer

Pine, whether solid or finger-jointed, is a better baseboard material than MDF.  MDF baseboards are half the cost of solid pine but a little more expensive than finger-jointed pine.

Because

Pine is real wood that is stronger than MDF because of its grain.  MDF is fake wood and is weaker–little better than cardboard.

MDF Baseboards

MDF Baseboards
MDF Baseboards

Medium density fiberboard (MDF) is a mix of sawdust, wood chips, and binders.  Imagine a dried-up bowl of oatmeal.  That’s a good representation of MDF.  Ranking MDF baseboards lower than pine baseboards is pretty easy:  MDF is crumbly, heavy, and a potential victim of moisture.

Pine Baseboards (Solid, Continuous Wood)

Continuous Grain Baseboard
Continuous Grain Baseboard

Continuous grain pine is what you think of when you think of “real wood.”  It is one continuous length of wood, no joints, no glue.

Pine Baseboards (Finger-Jointed)

Finger-Jointed Pine Baseboard
Finger-Jointed Pine Baseboard

Finger-jointed means several smaller lengths of pine that are factory-joined.  In the lower right quarter of this photo, you can see where one grain ends and another grain picks up again.  This is the tell-tale sign of finger-jointed wood.

Price Comparison

A price snapshot of baseboards of the same profile and look, 8′ long by 3.25″ high:

  • Finger-Jointed Pine:  $3.50
  • MDF:  $4.50
  • Solid Pine:  $10
  • PVC:  $10

Qualifiers

There are a few reasons you may want to choose MDF baseboards over pine:

  • You Don’t Want to Prime/Paint:  MDF baseboards always come primed white.  While priming is not the same as painting, in a pinch in can serve as “paint.”
  • Cost:  MDF is cheap, but not always as cheap as it is represented.  As shown above, it is cheaper than PVC and solid pine, but more expensive than finger-jointed pine.
  • Predictablity:  Because MDF is 100% manufactured, there are no surprises that await users of natural wood, such as knots and cracks.  It is completely homogeneous.
  • You Expect to Pull It Out:  For temporary construction, MDF baseboards are easy to remove and discard.  They break up by hand into small sections.

 

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