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What’s the Difference in Wood Frame Types? (Natural Wood vs. Finger-Jointed Poplar vs. MDF)

cut wood

While picture frames could be made of wood or metal, when a company makes a wood frame, it’s likely made of one of three types of material: natural wood, finger-jointed poplar, or medium-density fiberboard (MDF). But what’s the difference between the three?

The good news is that all are, in one form or another, wood. Some, such as MDF, might have gone through a bit more processing than the others, but it’s still wood. While it’s all the same material, at least in its base form, each type has its differences, in quality, cost, and aesthetic.

You may already have a preference, or you may not be aware of the differences. Either way, we’re here to demystify and make everything easy to understand. Hopefully, after reading this, you’ll have a better idea as to which style you prefer to order.

Wood Frame Comparison Chart

Natural Wood (Sold at Frame It Easy as the “Dayton“)

Dayton natural wood frame from Frame It Easy

Natural wood is exactly as it sounds; wood that has had little to no modification.

Despite this option not being as eco-friendly* as others, it’s still a very popular variety. And while it is usually more expensive, some still prefer it due to its higher aesthetic value.

Also, if you’re very picky about the grain pattern on your frame and want it to be consistent all the way around, natural wood might not be the best choice.

Since the grain pattern is natural, this means there’s no way to make it even or consistent. In addition, no two patterns are the same, and there could be unique features such as knots or grooves. So you might order the same product twice from the same vendor, and the frames would look a bit different.

This could be good or bad, depending on your preference. Some really like the unique pattern, while others don’t. You know us, though; we want you to be happy, so once you know the pros and the cons you can make your own decision.

Here at Frame It Easy, our natural wood frames are made of poplar, which is a common wood found all across the Eastern United States. It’s easy to work with, and it often is seen used in furniture and kitchen cabinets.

*While natural wood frames themselves are not recycled, by choosing material with sustainable forestry practices there is still some form of ecological consideration. Here at Frame It Easy we choose suppliers that are certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, an organization that collaborates on forest-based conservation. We also donate to the non-profit One Tree Planted to support planting new trees across the United States.

Finger-Jointed Poplar (Sold at Frame It Easy as the “Derby” & the “Granby“)

Derby finger-jointed poplar wood picture frame from Frame It Easy

This is where you might ask about the difference between natural wood poplar and its finger-jointed counterpart. Both are made of the same type of wood, so is there really a difference, at least a substantive one? Well, yes, there is.

Finger-jointed poplar is the middle ground between natural wood and MDF, as it joins recycled wood pieces together. There has been some engineering or modification to it, but nowhere near to the extent of MDF.

Finger-jointed poplar is crafted by gluing different pieces of natural wood stock together to create one cohesive beam of wood. They are adhered together by end pieces called finger joints (hence the name) and then covered in a decorative pattern wrap.

While this might sound less desirable than natural wood, it has a lot of advantages.

  • it’s more eco-friendly, as it recycles pieces of natural wood.
  • it is durable and lightweight; less prone to warping.
  • looks great on the wall and will always have a consistent color & pattern.

Due to finger-jointed poplar being an engineered type of wood, it is more cost-effective than natural wood. It is also less prone to warping and twisting, which might save you some maintenance work.

The laminate covering will also cover any imperfections/inconsistencies in the wood pieces, and have a consistent grain-like pattern on it. If consistency is your main concern, we would definitely recommend ordering a wrapped wood variety.

MDF (Not Currently Sold at Frame It Easy)

mdf wood

Medium-Density Fiberboard (MDF) is the most heavily engineered of the three types. While it is technically wood — at least at its most base level — it is made by combining smaller pieces of sawdust together with wax or resin and then wrapping it in a decorative laminate.

It’s definitely closer to finger-jointed poplar vs. natural wood, as both are made from recycled wood products and both would come coated in a consistent, decorative wrap. Hanging on the wall, you most likely would not recognize a difference between the two from an aesthetic standpoint.

MDF, like finger-jointed poplar, is also a more ecologically-friendly choice, due to the fact that you’re recycling pieces of wood, and not simply cutting down more trees to make products.

It is also low-maintenance, meaning that it is less likely to crack and warp, and also to swell if it got wet.

Which Wood Frame Type Should You Pick?

All three varieties have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s hard to say which is the best. Instead, you should ask yourself which is best for your priorities.

If you want the non-engineered quality of solid wood and don’t care about the higher cost and the potential for variation, then natural wood would be your best bet.

Maybe you’d rather have a product that is recycled and has a more consistent appearance. If this is the case, finger-jointed poplar would be your best bet.

Again, there’s no right or wrong answer, and it all depends on what works best for you.

For more info on all of our available frames, check out our frame style info pages.

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