MDF or Pine crown moulding (4 1/4" charleston)?

janesylviaFebruary 11, 2013

I'd like to buy 4 1/4" charleston crown moulding. I saw the pine one looks better than the MDF one due to its much sharper and clearer lines. But the interviewed contractor suggested MDF, saying the wood one would warp when temperature or humidity changes.
Which one should I choose, the MDF or pine crown moulding (4 1/4" charleston)? I also considered the 3 3/4" dental ready (without putting in the teeth), which has very clear dividing lines, but the contractor said it does not look good.

Thank you very much.

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Wood has been used for hundreds of years as ornate mouldings including crown mouldings much larger than 4 1/4". If installed properly there should be absolutely no issues with "warpimg".

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 8:12AM
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I agree.

Properly installed crown of any material should never "warp". But with seasonal humidity, the joints could open up if they are simply butted together. In my world of trim, caulk is not allowed.

Coped corners versus mitered corner joints could help keep things tight.

Scarfed and glued running joints with backing versus simple butt joints can help too.

And as always, back priming helps stabilize wood movement.

I don't have a personal bias against MDF for crown. It's up high which pretty much eliminates any dings due to abuse. But it's not a one-size-fits-all material. Sometimes it's a better choice...sometimes not.

If your room has great lighting and you'll be able to tell the difference between the softer profile of MDF versus the sharper profile of a natural wood, and if that feature is important to you, then by all means go natural.

Is MDF "safer" with regards to humidity-induced movement? I'd say it is. Especially compared to a fast-grown softwood with large grain that wants to move. That might be a deal breaker if you were talking about an 8" wide crown milled from a single flat sawn plank. But 4" crown? There should be no worries with a proper and conscientious installation.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 11:26AM
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MDF changes dimension also.

It is a lower percentage than solid pine, but changes in every dimension.

Solid wood has no appreciable change in length.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 11:28AM
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Thank you very much for all the responses above, especially for mongoct's very detailed information.

Yes, the contractor said with prime wood crown, there is a 50% chance of opening at the joints when humidity or temperature changes. He might not know the tricks of how to do it properly.

The rooms have great lighting during the day because of the patio doors. I will have LED recessed lights installed there. So I prefer the sharper profile of pine moulding.

If the wall is not strictly straight, would MDF be better than pine?

Really appreciate your help.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 3:05PM
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The joints that open/close with humidity/etc. are the corner joints. Scarf joints(joining pieces to pieces) can be glued/nailed.

Mitered joints can open because of the joint being essentially free.

Inside corner joints should be coped, not mitered. That negates much of the movement and minimizes the spaces if movement does occur.

Outside miters can be glued/nailed, but given enough movement, the wood will over come the nails.

Knowing the area of the country and closeness to the ocean would help with determining the weather(humidity/etc.)

There is another option, one that works well for crown molding. Plastic materials. No movement to speak of, so that problem disappears. Painting it makes it look no different from painted MDF and only slightly different than painted wood.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 12:53AM
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Handymac, thank you very much for the detailed information. I only saw MDF or wood crown materials. I always thought plastic materials look cheap and avoided that. But if they look no different from MDF, and would not move, I'll take a look at the real materials.

I don't know if the general contractor would be able to do coped corners and scarfed running joints properly.

I am living in the south SF bay area, so the climate is mostly dry.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 5:04PM
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If a contractor(or his workers) cannot do scarf joints and coped corners, they cannot be a decent trim carpenters.


Those are some of the most basic knowledge required.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 10:10PM
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Handymac, thank you very much for your help.

Even with coped corners versus mitered joints and scarfed and glued running joints, the corner joints of pine crown moulding might still open due to humidity changes, while MDF materials would not. But these proper installation techniques can minimize the chance of possible opening. Is my understanding right?

Thank you very much.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 1:28PM
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Correct, but wood has been used in this manor for hundreds of years with little or no issue. The real reason people like to use MDF is that it looks better than the FJ moulding that became all the rage and is much cheaper that solid wood. Anybody who tells you otherwise is blowing smoke as that was the entire reasoning behind MDF moulding.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 2:26PM
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