Can you cut MDF with a hand saw?

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MDF can be cut and shaped in many different ways. Mostly people will use power tools. However, sometimes you may not have access to a certain tool. In this case, you might wonder if you can cut MDF with a hand saw.

A good hand saw will do a perfectly good job at cutting MDF. How difficult it is, will depend on several factors. These include:

can you cut mdf with a hand saw
  • How thick the MDF is – This can range from 3mm all the way up to 32mm. Although most merchants will only stock up to 25mm (1inch). Obviously, the thicker it is, the harder it will be to cut.
  • How long the cut is – MDF sheets can be up to 2400mm in length. So, imagine cutting multiple lengths from a 1-inch board. This will not only be very hard work, but also, keeping your cuts nice and straight could be a challenge.
  • How sharp your hand saw is – A brand new saw will make this job much easier and neater. Even a slightly blunt saw will make the job much harder.
  • The skill of the person cutting – Over long cuts, it can be difficult to cut 100% straight. If you are not a professional, with lots of experience using a hand saw, it can be easy to come off your line, or for your saw blade to start tilting and ruining the cut.

So, as you can see you definitely can cut MDF with a hand saw. The real question is, do you want to?  And can you make a good job of it?

Different MDF products and how they are usually cut

MDF is a versatile engineered sheet wood. It is used in all kinds of timber products including:

  • Skirting boards
  • Architrave
  • Window boards
  • Pipe boxing
  • Flooring
  • Furniture
  • Etc.

It is relatively easy to cut, and it can also be sanded to improve the finish.

When cutting, a variety of tools can be used depending on the job. For example, when cutting skirting and architrave, you would commonly use a chop saw. By using a chop saw, you can cut the angles and mitres with ease.

For something like pipe boxing, you might use a circular saw to rip down long lengths.

A jigsaw can be used for a variety of purposes. For example, scribing to an uneven surface, notching, and cutting around things. This could apply to nearly any of the above.

For furniture manufacturing, a variety of tools found in a workshop would be used, such as table saws, band saws, etc.

When can you use a hand saw instead of a power tool?

Most of the jobs we just mentioned could be done with a hand saw if you needed to.

Cutting skirting boards and architrave, could potentially be done without any power tools. However, cutting accurate mitres and angles would be quite hard with nothing but your hand saw.

Straight cuts would not be a problem. So, cutting either skirting or architrave to length with a hand saw is an easy job. The challenge comes when you need to make cuts with precise angles. This can even be a challenge for a seasoned professional.

The solution to this, would be a mitre box. A mitre box is a plastic or wooden tool that is used to help you cut angles. The box has angled grooves cut into it. These are used to guide your cuts and help you achieve perfect angles.

Ripping down sheets of MDF

For jobs where you are using sheets of MDF, as opposed to a finished moulding, like skirting and architrave. There is a very good chance you will need to cut the MDF, to a desired length and width.

For jobs such as pipe boxing and flooring, this is almost guaranteed. Usually you would use something like a circular saw for this job. However, if you don’t have one, a hand saw is the next best thing.

The main challenge here, is achieving straight cuts. For someone with less experience this can be far more difficult.

One way you can make this job easier, is creating a guide to cut too. This could be another straight piece of wood. Or maybe even something like a level. You would just clamp these or screw them to the sheet of MDF, with the edge in line with where you want to cut.

Personally I would prefer a timber guide. This is simply due to the fact; I don’t like the idea of my saw running up the side of my level:

  1. It could blunt my saw
  2. It could also scuff and damage my level.

I have never used this method personally. Although, I have seen other people do it.

Whether you use a guide or not, really boils down to confidence in your ability to cut straight. Unless you have lots of practice, it is likely a guide will help.

Reasons cutting MDF with a hand saw can be good

There is no doubt that using power tools to cut MDF will speed up the job. However, there are one or two benefits to cutting by hand. The main benefit is less dust. Anyone that has worked with MDF, will know that the dust can be pretty nasty.

The chemicals used in its production contain formaldehyde, which can lead to eye, nose, and throat irritation. Also, in the UK and Europe, formaldehyde is recognised as carcinogenic. It is stated that it is “suspected of causing cancer”. You can read more about that on the health and safety government website (HSE) here

The advantage of using a hand saw, is it produces far less dust than a power tool. Either way you should still wear a mask when working with MDF. You should also ensure to dust down clothes outside. As well as vacuuming regularly to remove dust particles.

One other small benefit, cutting MDF is hard work and will give you quite a workout. If you want to burn a few extra calories, cutting sheets by hand will definitely help in that regard.

Conclusion

So, there you have it, you can cut MDF with a handsaw. However, whether you actually want to or not could depend on a variety of factors.

In most cases, a power tool, such as a chop saw, or a circular saw can be switched for a hand saw. Its just going to make the job a little harder.

The only real caveat to this, would be more intricate jobs, where you would use a jig saw. For example, scribing to an uneven surface. This would not be possible with a hand saw. However, anywhere you are performing straight cuts, a hand saw can do the job. Plus you will get a good workout at the same time.