When it comes to the art of wood burning, you should always put safety first. And this is true whether you are a master of the craft, or a newbie to this hobby.
Now, there are three very simple precautions you need to take before you start burning your next pyrography piece.
First, you need to make sure you only work while wearing a face mask that can specifically filter out smoke. Second, you need to make sure the room you are working in is well ventilated.
And third — and possibly most importantly — you need to make sure the wood you are burning isn’t going to release toxic fumes.
The last thing you need are dangerous fumes filling your workshop. But, when it comes to wood burning with a material such as MDF, you risk doing precisely that.
So, in this post, you will learn what really goes into the manufacture of MDF. You will also learn why this engineered wood usually isn’t safe to burn.
And keep reading to discover which affordable hardwood makes for a safe pyrography canvas.
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What Is MDF Made From Exactly?
MDF is an engineered wood, meaning that while it contains wood shavings, it’s not wholly natural. Instead, this composite material is made up of wood strands packed together using a strong adhesive.
And it is the adhesive used in MDF that is particularly interesting, because of what it contains. You see, the glue used to bind MDF together is called Urea-Formaldehyde (UF), and it contains formaldehyde resins.
So Does That Mean MDF Has Formaldehyde In It?
The glue used in this dense material certainly does. And because of MDF’s density, (compared to other manufactured woods such as plywood), it contains a lot of glue at that.
And this can be a problem — at least when MDF is first manufactured — because of the health risk of formaldehyde.
This substance is hazardous to our health if it gets on our skin, or if we ingest it. However, it is at it’s most dangerous when it is a vapor.
Which is why freshly made MDF boards are much too risky for us to be around. Especially while MDF glue is still drying and off-gassing.
And What Is Off-Gassing?
Off-gassing refers to the gaseous fumes that come off solvents, glues, and paints as they dry.
The technical term for those fumes are ‘Volatile Organic Compounds’ (or VOC’s for short). And VOC’s can linger in the air for a lot longer than you’d think.
Formaldehyde glues can off-gas for months on end. However, when we by MDF boards from the store, they’ll have already spent plenty of time drying out. Which is why store-bought MDF doesn’t impact the air-quality of your home when you use it.
If Off Gassing Is Not A Problem, Can I Burn MDF?
Well, if you burn MDF you risk melting that Urea-Formaldehyde adhesive. And as that UF glue starts to bubble, it will smoke and release fumes.
In other words, burning MDF risks releasing formaldehyde fumes once again.
And that is not a good thing for the air-quality in your workshop. Or, more importantly, for your personal health.
Is There A Formaldehyde-Free MDF I Can Use Instead?
There are some MDF boards you can purchase that have no formaldehyde added to them. They are called Zero-Added Formaldehyde MDF.
These specialized MDF boards are manufactured so that their formaldehyde VOC levels are next to nothing. However, they are very expensive, and buying these alternative-glue MDF boards will burn a big hole in your pocket.
So, if you want wood to draw on, you are much better off using an affordable natural solid timber instead.
And What Is The Best Type Of Wood For Pyrography?
Natural solid basswood is your best option by far. Not only is it affordable and easily accessible, it’s wood grain is perfect for wood burning designs.
The fine uniform grain of this hardwood is very light and pale. So, basswood provides the perfect canvas for the dark lines of your artwork.
What’s more, this wood isn’t saturated with resinous tree sap or pitch. So, when you burn it, tree resins aren’t going to bubble and mess up your intricate art.
You can learn more about basswood, (and where you can buy basswood for pyrography), by checking out our post here: Is Basswood A Good Wood For Pyrography?
To Wrap Up, Here Are The 3 Key Takeaways From This Post…
1). MDF is a densely packed manufactured wood that has a lot of Urea-Formaldehyde (UF) glue in it. And, Urea-Formaldehyde contains formaldehyde.
2). Do not burn MDF. The formaldehyde in Urea-Formaldehyde is a dangerous substance. And it is at it’s most toxic when it is a vapor.
3). Instead, the best type of wood for pyrography is Basswood. This natural solid wood does not contain dangerous compounds or toxins. And it’s pale uniform grain makes for a great canvas for your art work.
Formaldehyde | American Lung Association