Conservation Issues


Postby Ian Goodman » Thu Feb 18, 2010 2:23 pm

I had a cutomer bring in aratehr large framed image that had mould growth on the image as well a the back of the frame was mdf which has a black mouldy growth in the centre of the back of the job.

The image has been dry mounted onto this terrible medium MDF and is loose, the matt that is on this job has been dry mounted also making it impossible to be able to remove this matt as it has the worst case of overcuts I have ever seen on a job.

I would like to be able to remove this matt so that I can reheat the image in my Hot Press so as to flatten the image but because I cannot remove this matt I may not be able to do this.

However I do not give in that easy with a little thinking about this I can reheat this using the foam in the press it should be able to pressurise the image, so I wil try this tomorrow.

I am not a fan of MDF in framing it does have a place and that is not in framing.

In fact it should be banned totally no questions asked.

To those who say they are proud users of MDF you must be kidding.
Ian Goodman
Posts: 40
Joined: Sat May 22, 2004 2:07 pm
Location: Ashtonfield - Australia
Location: Ashtonfield NSW Australia
Organisation: Ian Goodman Photography
Interests: Chinese Cooking.
Playing with my Grandchildren
Photoshop Training with Maitland U3A


Postby Roboframer » Thu Feb 18, 2010 2:31 pm

I've removed mounts like this, well, down to the backing paper, by making deep scores and peeling the layers away. It can be a pain if it's old and brittle though.


Postby stcstc » Thu Feb 18, 2010 3:42 pm

not sure i would want the mould in my heat press, wouldnt know what else it would get on


Postby Bill Henry » Thu Feb 18, 2010 6:10 pm

I’ve ben faced with this problem a few times in the past. What I have done is cut a new mat with exactly the same dimensions as the existing one, and place the fallout of the new mat into the opening of the old one. This is then placed into the dry mount press. Mat board will transmit heat more efficiently than foam as well as giving you a more consistent pressure on the artwork.

As far as MDF is concerned, I’m not a big fan, but mold can grow anywhere. I’ve seen old frames with Foam Board backing stored in damp basements which made me want to call out the HazMat team.

Before you risk transferring the cruddy MDF into your dry mount press, wash the back of the MDF with a 5-10% solution of household bleach and water. It probably won’t remove all of the stain, but should kill most of the spores and stuff. In any event, you may need to sacrifice a few sheets of the silicone release paper to protect the platen and the felt pad in the press itself.
Don't take life so serious, son, it ain't nohow permanent! – Porky Pine
User avatar
Bill Henry
Posts: 936
Joined: Wed Mar 28, 2007 9:38 pm
Location: Litchfield, NH USA
Location: Litchfield, NH USA
Organisation: Not so much - it's kind of messy.
Interests: Dry mounting dog hair, counting age spots on old people, playing chess with wood elves, scheming to take over the world.


Postby Art Surgeon » Mon Mar 22, 2010 5:10 pm

Everyone knows that picture restorer/conservators are shy and elusive creatures, but the mention of the shortcomings of MDF backboards by Ian Goodman has finally got me to stick my head above the parapet and join in, having kept to just reading the posts on this excellent forum for a few years. He is quite right in pointing out that the material acts as a magnet for damp and mould.
I often have framed watercolours and prints brought to me for urgent attention where the hideous multi-coloured mould has clearly been caused by severe damp penetration from the wall and straight through the MDF. Hardboard (Masonite) is usually not quite so bad.

Just how porous it is can be impressively demonstrated with the use of a powerful vacuum cleaner; Tear up a small piece of newspaper into tiny pieces. Hold a sheet of 2mm MDF upright. Switch on the cleaner and put the nozzle tightly to the board. Your bits of paper should now hold to the other side of the board, and drop off when you switch off the vacuum.
The same trick can be done with a few drops of water, which should be drawn through the board in seconds.

So I would say that MDF really is unsuitable for use on anything but the cheapest and cheerfullest end of the market, unless a waterproof barrier is put inside the frame. Melinex is ideal, or even good quality polythene is much better than nothing. This would cost pennies only, and would have the additional benefit of protecting the artwork from being contaminated by the rather unpleasant urea-formaldehyde fumes given off by the MDF.
Art Surgeon
Posts: 4
Joined: Thu Jan 24, 2008 1:04 pm
Location: Bristol UK
Location: Bristol UK
Organisation: Studio/Workshop
Interests: Cinema Theatre Reading Walking Rowing


Postby framemaker » Mon Mar 22, 2010 11:22 pm

Welcome to the forum Andrew, its good to have your extensive experience here.


Postby John » Tue Mar 23, 2010 10:08 am

Welcome to the forum Art Surgeon.

Thanks for that very useful information.

I have just conducted the vacuum cleaner experiment and can confirm that MDF really is that porous.

Never too old to learn. :)
User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 1884
Joined: Sun Apr 27, 2003 9:00 pm
Location: Belfast
Location: Ireland
Organisation: EstLite
Interests: 10


Postby Ultima Thule » Tue Mar 23, 2010 11:10 pm

As another rather silent member, and certainally no conservator, I would reiterate the failings of MDF. Despite my workshop being heated and dry I became aware of a damp smell around my store pile of backing offcuts last year. They were the usual mixture of 2mm hardboard, the various incarnatio ns of Corri-cor and Mdf,and some had ben lying around for months, if not a year or two. Upon closer examination the MDF nearly all hadthis odour, wheras the card and hardboard was taint free and did not appear to have gathered moisture. The result of this was that every bit of MDF in the shop was binned, not that I liked it anyway, and used it as little as possible; now not at all.
Ultima Thule
Posts: 55
Joined: Tue Sep 30, 2008 10:50 pm
Location: scotland
Organisation: retail framer
Interests: reading ,real ale, music


Postby prospero » Wed Mar 24, 2010 3:11 pm

If I may chip in with a few observations......

I tried the vacuum cleaner test and yes, it does draw moisture into the board. I also tried it on a piece of Artbak and it does the same.

Tried another experiment:

Dripped water onto a piece of MDF and a piece of Artbak. After a few minutes the water had soaked into the Artbak and created a patch soggy enough to push my finger though. The surface of the MDF had started to break up and could be rubbed off, but the water didn't penetrate as far and I couldn't jab my finger though.

Conclusion? Well draw your own. :)


Sure. Mould will grow on MDF. It will grow on anything given the right conditions.


Has anyone any evidence that the fumes that MDF gives off does any damage to artwork? OK, you may not like the stuff but we are talking preservation issues here and not operator comfort. The thought occurs that as formaldehyde is widely used to preserve things, it actually aught to inhibit any bacterial action. Don't quote me on that.

Acid content.

Anyone actually measured this or has any technical info regarding? I'll venture to say that it is no worse than the average frame. If good mounting techniques are used, why should this be a problem?

Here's another experiment.....

Hold up a piece of MDF and stab it with a screwdriver. Then hold up a piece of Artbak and do likewise. You may say that's an extreme example. Who goes around stabbing frames? (Probably more people than climb inside frames with a hoover.)

Just for the record I do add a sheet of cellophane under MDF. I'd do the same if I used Artbak.

That's my fourpenneth. No offence intended or criticism implied. It's just that I feel it is unfair to highlight the possible shortcomings of one thing without doing the same with the alternatives.
Watch Out. There's A Humphrey About
User avatar
Posts: 10408
Joined: Tue Jun 05, 2007 5:16 pm
Location: Lincolnshire


Postby mikeysaling » Wed Mar 24, 2010 7:52 pm

ok - if you have a frame 3 x 2 feet that is - full of medals what backing do you use ? mdf seems easiest but what else can you use? all other boards ive look at are a bit flimsy for this size! - this is a genuine question cause all this talk (negative) about mdf has got me thinking!

when all is said and done - there is more said than done.
User avatar
Posts: 1557
Joined: Mon Mar 08, 2010 4:53 pm
Location: braintree essex
Organisation: sarah jane framing
Interests: astronomy medals photography


Postby Ultima Thule » Wed Mar 24, 2010 11:35 pm

What I have used for backings this size, dependant on the weight of the contents etc., include 2mm hardboard, Art Bak,ply, fome board, as suitable. I find hard board more rigid than MDF for sizes such as these, and a barrier of some form is between the less savoury of these.
Ultima Thule
Posts: 55
Joined: Tue Sep 30, 2008 10:50 pm
Location: scotland
Organisation: retail framer
Interests: reading ,real ale, music


Postby Roboframer » Wed Mar 24, 2010 11:52 pm

I'd say 3x2 ft isn't too big for a 5mm foam board back, as long as, or especially if, there is also a 4 ply under-mount.

All depends on what level you want to frame to - if it's a large cheap/easily replace-able/don't-give-a-stuff-about thing that is framed against the glass and probably dry-mounted why worry about MDF?

If it's a large valuable thing and you've mounted it front and back with the best there is and glazed it with UV glass, then there are indeed very high quality boards that are just as rigid as MDF if not more so - but they cost a packet.

Click here - scroll down for the 'double wall' stuff

Or even better!

Point is - stuff exists outside of our normal trade catalogues/publications - just a case of warranting it.


Postby mikeysaling » Thu Mar 25, 2010 12:44 am

ok i'm interested in alternatives - what is as sturdy as mdf/hardboard 3 x 2 but to fit my standard 5mm inner frame rebate and allow turn buttons on back for removal. suggestions anyone

my schematic of frame

mike1.jpg (45.81 KiB) Viewed 15533 times
when all is said and done - there is more said than done.
User avatar
Posts: 1557
Joined: Mon Mar 08, 2010 4:53 pm
Location: braintree essex
Organisation: sarah jane framing
Interests: astronomy medals photography


Postby Roboframer » Thu Mar 25, 2010 1:03 am

I gave some alternatives and there are others too - but maybe they are more subject to crushing at the extremities, especially with frequent removal, or maybe some aren't - but most will cost far far more than MDF either way.


Postby robbiez » Thu Mar 25, 2010 2:32 pm

I use 1 pallet of MDF a week @ 96p a sheet. There are no alternatives at that price and that do the same job.
Posts: 93
Joined: Wed Nov 07, 2007 2:39 pm
Location: Bedford
Location: Bedford
Organisation: Picture Framer
Interests: Picture Framing


Postby Nigel Nobody » Thu Mar 25, 2010 9:31 pm

Roboframer wrote:All depends on what level you want to frame to - if it's a large cheap/easily replace-able/don't-give-a-stuff-about thing that is framed against the glass and probably dry-mounted why worry about MDF?

Spot on Robo!
Sheeesh, I haven't had a job like that since 1985! No wonder I have no use for MDF!
Nigel Nobody


Postby Dermot » Thu Mar 25, 2010 11:26 pm

Haven’t had or haven’t bothered to take a job that MDF could be used on……..the answer could make a big difference to what is implying.

I would find it extraordinary that a full service framing shop would not have had a call for MDF in a period of 25 years.


Postby Nigel Nobody » Fri Mar 26, 2010 3:19 am

In my early days when I didn't know better, I used MDF as a backing. I lied about the 25 years. It's probably closer to 20 years.

Some of those old MDF backed frames have come in from time to time for a new mat, or a new glass and just seeing the consequences after many years is quite enough to make me resolve not to use this stuff in any frame, ever, even if all the other backings in the universe were not available!

I don't tend to get temporary, throw it away jobs. People must go elsewhere for those. They have plenty of choice. Most of the 'cheap' framers in the area use foamboard backings anyway. That's quite a step up from MDF IMHO!

Some of the posts on this topic have pointed out the disadvantages of MDF and I'm not going to re-iterate those.

There are other types of backing and I don't know of one that absorbs moisture and grows mould as much and as badly as MDF. Excluding all others reasons, that would be enough for me!

I don't want to get into another round of the same old arguments and the same old reasons why and why not! It's been done to death already!

It's not a matter of "having a call for mdf". People don't specify types of backing and even if they did, I wouldn't supply it, because I choose not to use it.
Plain old foamboard is not that much more costly to buy anyway!

Each framer runs his own business the way he wants, buys what he wants to buy and uses whatever he wants to use!
Nigel Nobody


Postby Not your average framer » Fri Mar 26, 2010 10:55 am

In most cases, unless you are a contract framer where price is more important than anything else, the cost of the backing board as part of a framing job is a trivial proportion of the overall price. I'm not sure that the cost arguement is normally a viable one.

Where extra rigidity is an important issue, I use CombCor from Brittania Mounts. It's 5mm thick, triple fluted, thick facing layers and very, very rigid indeed. If fact, I think it is more rigid than 2.5mm MDF. In the white faced version (the cheapest one) and when I last bought a box, it worked out at £2.65 + VAT per sheet.

I also stock 4mm Correx, 3mm / 5mm / 10mm foamboard, standard kraft core and Simons BACK 10.

The alternatives to MDF are just so much easier to work with.

P.S. If cheapness is the main issue how many of you have looked at the bulk prices for Simons BACK 01. I think that one weighs in at about £1.22 + VAT per sheet.
Mark Lacey

“Life is short. Art long. Opportunity is fleeting. Experience treacherous. Judgement difficult.”
― Geoffrey Chaucer
Not your average framer
Posts: 8160
Joined: Sat Mar 25, 2006 9:40 pm
Location: Glorious Devon
Location: Devon, U.K.
Organisation: The Dartmoor Gallery
Interests: Lost causes, saving and restoring old things, learning something every day


Postby Art Surgeon » Fri Mar 26, 2010 2:31 pm

As Prospero's wild experimentations demonstrated so effectively, most other backboards can also get wet and soggy, so if the artwork is in any way important a "damp-proof course" of polythene or Melinex inside the frame is always advisable.
By the way, I wouldn't advise Cellophane for this as it isn't fully waterproof. (See Wikipedia.)
Thinks: I wonder why I'm saying all this and talking myself out of a job? After all, damp and spotty prints and watercolours are my bread and butter.
Art Surgeon
Posts: 4
Joined: Thu Jan 24, 2008 1:04 pm
Location: Bristol UK
Location: Bristol UK
Organisation: Studio/Workshop
Interests: Cinema Theatre Reading Walking Rowing


Return to Outgassing

  • Advertisement

Picture Framer's Trade Directory
Picture Framer's Oracle

Members Map Header
Members Map
More info
Resources Header
Contact Forum Admin
How to include an image in your post
Cove Box Designer
Download Designer
General supplies
UK Medals
Framers Forum Live!
Support Header
Advertise Header
Forum Banner Ads