The invention of MDF was relatively recent, especially when compared with plywood (ancient Greece) and particleboard (ca1948), with what could be called the first board being produced in the US in 1966.

This was allegedly the result of a “technical accident”, rather like Post-It notes! So that makes two indispensable products in the modern world which were invented by accident!

The first commercial production of MDF took place in 1974, when the brand ‘Medite’ MDF was launched onto the market from a purpose-built production line in Medford, Oregon, US (now owned by Roseburg Forest Products).

Now the furniture industry had an alternative to particleboard.

Soon, due to the versatility of the continuous press, we also had the high-density panel HDF and the revolution that was laminate flooring; and ultra-thin HDF. Other products developed were a 3D mouldable board and moisture resistant MDF, opening up further new markets.

However, the acceptance of this new panel type was not an easy process in the early years.

When it first hit the market, there was much scepticism about the board and its possible uses. Perhaps it was too closely associated in the industry’s minds with hardboard, a non-structural and not very stable product totally restricted to use in dry environments and predominantly available only in 3.2mm thickness, although there was some availability of 6.4mm panels.

Hardboard was also a wet-process board, which brought its own complications – not least environmental ones.

At this time, the vastly preferred panel for furniture and building use was of course particleboard. Even the edge-mouldability of MDF, together with its much smoother surface straight off the press, was slow to convince the doubters.

Nowhere was this reluctance to accept MDF over particleboard more evident than in China. However, as we all now know, this changed and China’s production capacity had begun to overtake that of all other regions by 2005, going on to an annual capacity of over 45 million m3 by 2018. At this point in time, Europe and North America combined had ‘only’ reached 33.4 million m3.

A number of Chinese industrial companies, mostly in markets totally different to wood-based panel manufacture, had suddenly seen MDF as a new ‘gold mine’ in which to invest their considerable mountains of cash.

However, this article is supposed to be about Europe and North America, so I will now confine my comments to those regions.

North America

North America’s capacity reached 6.379 million m3 (est) in 2020 – a much less spectacular number than in Europe, as we shall see, considering that MDF was invented in the US.

Figure 1 shows the capacities for the US, Canada and Mexico from 2010 to an estimated total for 2020.

From this it is clear that the US is by far the larger producer of the three, but that its production capacity stayed largely stable at around 3,600,000m3 from 2010 to 2018 when it rose to 3,632,000m3. By the end of 2019, capacity had risen to 3,932,000m3 and the estimated total for 2020, or soon after, is 4,182,000m3.

The significant player in the increase in US capacity is Swiss Krono with its new HDF/ MDF plant at its facility in Barnwell, South Carolina, which started production in August 2019. The new CalPlant 1 rice-straw plant is also in the mix for 2020.

Meanwhile, Canada’s MDF capacity hasn’t changed since 2014, standing at around 1,388,000m3.

However, Mexico’s capacity jumped from 74,000m3 in 2015 to 764,000m3 per year in 2016 and to 809,000m3 in 2017, where it has remained. This increase was due to three new projects becoming operational during 2016: Proteak in Tabasco (280,000m3), Masisa in Durango (210,000m3) and Duraplay in Hidalgo del Parral (235,000m3) and ramping up their operations over the next year.

See Geoff Rhodes MDF survey in this issue of WBPI for all the details on North America (and Europe) during 2019/20.


Between 2000 and 2019 (the latest year for which we have data so far), the production capacity of all Europe went from 10.768 million m3 to 27.614 million m3.

Figure 2 shows snapshots of the distribution of capacity throughout Europe in 2010, 2015 and 2020 (est) and clearly illustrates the changing importance of eastern European countries compared with western European countries.

For the purposes of this illustration, in ‘western Europe’ I am including Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.

Eastern Europe comprises Turkey and all other states in ‘eastern Europe’, regardless of whether they are EU members or not. In 2010, it can be seen that east and west were pretty much in balance. By 2015, eastern Europe had started to edge ahead, with 13,400,000m3 against 11,001,000m3 in the western countries. However, by 2020, we can see that eastern Europe has far outstripped the west, with a difference in total capacity of 7,660,000m3.

Turning to Figure 3, ‘east European capacity growth’, for more detail, it can be seen that Turkey is the clear leader, followed by Russia.

Major projects planned in 2016 in Russia included Kastamonu in Tatarstan (495,000m3) and Yildiz Entegre in Vladimir (424,000m3). Yildiz Entegre also planned 400,000m3 in Pitesti, Romania for 2020 (not shown in Fig 3).

In Turkey in 2016, planned new capacity came from Camsan Bodurlar (420,000m3), SFC Kronospan (300,000m3) and Starwood Bursa (400,000m3).

In 2017, SFC Kronospan planned 300,000m3 in Turkey and Russia added Atayles in Siberia (200,000m3) and Pavlovskiy DOK in Novosibirsk (350,000m3).

In 2019, AGT’s mill in Antalya (300,000m3) was added to Turkey’s expectations. Turkey’s ascendancy is all the more surprising when one considers that the country has very poor wood raw material assets.

In summary, one can see that North America, the birthplace of the ‘wonder panel’ MDF, has shown only modest enthusiasm at best for production of it, although Mexico, after a slow start, suddenly came awake in 2016.

Europe, on the other hand, has enthusiastically embraced MDF, with total capacity for the whole continent growing by around 50% between 2010 and 2020 (See Figure 4).

Meanwhile, eastern Europe’s share of that volume, compared with western Europe as defined in this article, has grown from moreor- less 50:50 in 2010 to lead at around 60:40 in 2020(est).

Coronavirus Effect

As I write, the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic has meant that the future for all of us, in everything, is now totally unpredictable and MDF producers must be as badly affected as anyone.

When will people be buying the furniture/ building the buildings/fitting out the stores that once gave MDF such a bright future?

Nobody knows, but we live in hope of a return to strong markets, some time!