MDF vs Solid Timber

When I conduct Continuing Professional Development with Architects, whilst recognising their inherent technical capabilities, I always pose the following questions to tweak their artistic preference:

Forget Budget, I’m going to give you a couple of choices and you tell me your natural preference:

One: Solid timber or Natural Timber Veneer? Answer: Solid Timber

Two: Natural Timber Veneer or Concept Veneer?” Answer: Natural Timber Veneer

So, herein lies the dilemma. The Design professional having a natural inclination toward the natural form versus the realities of Intent, Buildability, Compliance and Cost.


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Technically speaking, Moisture Resistant and Fire-Retardant medium-density fiberboard (MDF) wall and ceiling linings have several advantages over solid timber in many applications:

Fire resistance

Fire-retardant MDF achieves Group 1 and 2 as per NCC Vol.1 C1.10 Clause 4, Table 3 requirements as it is treated with sustainably compliant fire-resistant chemicals that slow down the spread of fire, making it a safer option for wall and ceiling linings in areas where fire protection is a priority, such as commercial buildings, public spaces, and multi-story buildings. SUPAWOOD only supply E0 and E1 rated finished products which means no risk to health for the building occupants. We guarantee low formaldehyde emissions and are certified by recognized environmental standards, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®).

Solid timber, on the other hand, is flammable, only achieves Group 3 as per NCC Vol.1 C1.10 Clause 4, Table 3 requirements, and can contribute to the rapid spread of fire, posing a higher risk in fire-prone areas.

Moisture resistance

Moisture resistant MDF is engineered to withstand high levels of humidity and moisture, making it suitable for use in damp or moisture-prone areas within commercial buildings that are subject to heating and cooling cycles. Unlike solid timber, which can warp, crack, or decay when exposed to moisture, moisture resistant MDF maintains its shape and structural integrity, making it more durable in climatically variable environments, such as offices, schools, shopping centres and community buildings.

Consistency and stability

MDF is a man-made product that is engineered to be consistent in terms of size, shape, and strength, which can result in a more uniform and stable finished product compared to solid timber, which can have natural variations and defects. This makes MDF wall and ceiling linings easier to install and more predictable in terms of performance. This consistency and stability also add to the Compliance considerations regarding Group Fire, Seismic, Acoustic and Sustainability requirements for the Architect’s project.

Design versatility

MDF can be easily shaped, cut, and molded into various designs, making it a versatile option for wall and ceiling linings in terms of aesthetics and design possibilities, whilst retaining its Group Fire, Seismic, Acoustic and Sustainability requirements for the Architect’s project.

Solid timber, while naturally beautiful, may have limitations in terms of design flexibility due to its natural characteristics and limitations.


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Design professionals are tactile by nature and hold their samples within arm's length, closely examining the texture and colour of the product. However, in reality, these products are typically installed at ceiling height in circulation spaces where there is no realistic access to close scrutiny. The Design Intent, in part, is to offer the building occupants a Biophilic Aesthetic with warm tones that make the space both attractive and a sought-after destination. The average person circulating within these spaces cannot reasonably discern the difference between MDF and solid timber.


MDF is generally more cost-effective than solid timber, as it is made from wood fibers and other materials, making it a more affordable option for wall and ceiling linings, especially in large-scale projects. Solid timber, on the other hand, can be more expensive due to the higher costs associated with sourcing, processing, and transportation of natural wood.

In terms of installation cost considerations, MDF products designed by SUPAWOOD are supplied as lightweight and modular ready-to-intall kit with the workshop drawings and fixings and are affixed to standard commercial grids used for plasterboard, thereby affording a lower installation cost as they remain in the Ceiling and Partition Contractors Package. Solid timber, on the other hand, often requires specialist framing, fixing and are usually incorporated in a Joinery Package, thereby increasing cost.

Note that the suitability of moisture resistant and fire-retardant MDF wall and ceiling linings versus solid timber depends on the project's specific requirements, the desired aesthetic, and the location of installation. It is recommended to consult with professionals and follow local building codes and regulations to ensure that the appropriate materials are used for your specific application.

Consider your budget and project requirements when making a design choice. It's important to strike a balance between performance, aesthetics, and budget considerations.

In summary, moisture resistant and fire retarded MDF is a superior design choice for wall and ceiling linings in commercial projects, Classes 2 to 9 buildings, in Australia, depending on factors such as moisture exposure, fire safety requirements, building codes, environmental considerations, and project budget.

Set your project apart by scheduling a design call with the SUPAWOOD team today to discuss how your project’s beautiful and distinctive touch can be created with quality.

Or, reach out directly:

Richard Hardwick | SUPAWOOD National Specifications Manager

+61 427 573 024

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