Question about MDF . . .

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Forum topic by copythat posted 04-03-2018 05:22 AM 1236 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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167 posts in 1214 days

04-03-2018 05:22 AM

Has anyone used this product to construct wall cabinets for the shop?

I was thinking about using it for wall cabinet carcasses and then using solid wood for the remainder of the construction. Any thoughts (good or bad)?

-- Rob

14 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4256 days

#1 posted 04-03-2018 05:34 AM

MDF is fine but long shelves may sag. The
material is inherently ugly imo and the edges
must be banded or filled prior to painting.

It is cheap and heavy by the full sheet.
Ultralight MDF can be bought which is a lot
lighter. At HD if they have it in stock you
can have a sheet ripped into 16” widths
if you don’t want to mess with ripping it
down yourself.

The shaping, filling and priming they’ve done
on the shelving material has value but it’s
a lot cheaper to buy it by the sheet.

It’s also really easy to cut and route. It doesn’t
splinter or chip out and little effort is required
to push tools through it.

View CaptainKlutz's profile


2257 posts in 2102 days

#2 posted 04-03-2018 09:38 AM

The versions sold at my BORG are junk particle board, not MDF?
They are nothing more than particle board with one rounded edge and a coat of primer on them. They sag worse than regular MDF, and require top coat to seal the wood.

IMHO – Those bull nose shelve boards have single purpose. Short (<18 inch wide) shelves in painted cabinets. Commonly used in contractor grade built-in junk shelving in a closet, where several thick coats of latex paint hides the ugly wood, and adds extra strength to keep fasteners from pulling out. :)

This may be sacrilege to post on wood working site BUT:
If all you want is cheap particle board/MDF shop cabinets, go buy wall cabinet parts from IKEA.
If you add up costs of buying BORG melamine coated particle board, hinges, MDF & spray paint for flat overlay doors; it will cost about same as IKEA carcass and cheapest plain white door (HĂ„GGEBY=$5 for 15×30 door); and only work required is assembly. Can save a couple of $$ with IKEA cabinet by making your own shelves using the wood shown in OP, as IKEA sells shelves disproportionately higher compared to rest of cabinet parts.

Best Luck.

-- I'm an engineer not a woodworker, but I can randomly find useful tools and furniture inside a pile of lumber!

View Bumpy's profile


40 posts in 1089 days

#3 posted 04-03-2018 11:18 AM

I have used MDF for many years. Previously for both shelves and casework. With a hardwood edge (1 1/4) on the shelves, no issue with sagging.

Due to the weight (105 lbs per sheet) and the dust, I dont use much of it any longer.

Currently at 33.50 per sheet for MDF, as compared to NZ Pine at 38.00 per sheet, the pine plywood is a no brainer.

View jerkylips's profile


495 posts in 3178 days

#4 posted 04-03-2018 03:06 PM

depending on what kind of shop you have – if it’s heated/conditioned or not, etc., I think I’d be concerned about moisture. As mentioned above, I’d go with plywood.

View William Shelley's profile

William Shelley

609 posts in 2077 days

#5 posted 04-03-2018 03:30 PM

I avoid MDF, particle board, and OSB like the plague. If you want shelving, see if your local home depot carries “Radiata Pine” plywood. My local stores do, and it’s about $30 for a sheet of 3/4 that is something like 11 or 13 plies. The face veneer on the stuff home depot sells is way too thin but that doesn’t matter for shop shelving.

This is actually cheaper per sheet than 3/4 MDF and won’t sag anywhere near as much.

-- Woodworking from an engineer's perspective

View BurlyBob's profile


6912 posts in 2874 days

#6 posted 04-03-2018 03:35 PM

I have agree with William Shelley about MDF, Particle board and OSB. I totally detest all three. IMO 36” is the max length for a shelf without additional support to avoid sagging.

View oldnovice's profile


7517 posts in 3976 days

#7 posted 04-03-2018 04:22 PM

I will concur with all above about MDF!

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View ArtMann's profile


1462 posts in 1424 days

#8 posted 04-03-2018 10:14 PM

If you want the truth about MDF, go Google “Sagulator” and play with the sag calculator. It will give you a good feel for its capabilities. MDF has its place and is adequate for many applications. It is made much stronger by facing the shelving with 1X2 or similar solid wood molding. MDF is not similar to either particle board or OSB but it has its limitations.

Over a decade ago, a friend gave me several 12 inch wide left over primed MDF boards that were used for trim in his house. I used it to construct a 72 inch tall tool storage tower with 16 inch wide shelves. Many heavy electric hand tools have lived on that shelf ever since then. There has been no sag.

View mtnwalton's profile


62 posts in 1634 days

#9 posted 04-04-2018 04:05 AM

Years ago I had access to lots of MDF. We used it for the top layer of stage decking of theatrical performances. . I built a couple cabinets 4’ wide by 5’ tall about 2’ deep with drawers on 8” casters to hold stage supplies. The MDF worked fine for doors, and carcass. I edged it and was careful with hinge placement etc. Very heavy but used it for years backstage, moving it in and out for performance schedules.

This was at a time when I had more energy than money. I built it in a basement and slid it up the stairs. Halfway up I wasn’t sure I’d make it. Fear took over. MDF was available so I used it. Of course Baltic Birch or a good quality plywood would be my choice now.

View copythat's profile


167 posts in 1214 days

#10 posted 04-04-2018 04:26 AM

The cabinet I am planning to build is like the one in the picture, except mine will be 22” wide X 44” high X 12” deep. I was going to trim the face in hardwood, construct the drawers and tambour door of hardwood, and make the false back panel (3/4” thick) of hardwood to support a mount for my CNC monitor and keyboard. It is going to be my first cabinet cut primarily on my CNC.

I appreciate everyone’s input on the MDF issue.

-- Rob

View therealSteveN's profile


4652 posts in 1182 days

#11 posted 04-04-2018 05:39 AM

Years ago LOML wanted shelves similar to those done by shelving companies in our closets, The Big Box had several designs that she liked, and wanted an assortment. The Big Box were also outrageously priced even though they were a fraction of what companies like California Closet wanted. We ended up going to Menards, and bought shelving just like you have pictured. We made cuts with the track saw, so as not to crinkle the edges too much. You could easily use a plywood shoe, and a circular saw. There I would suggest taping the areas to be cut, and make the cuts into a piece of that pink board insulation, We used Confirmat screws, and had no blow out, and now something like 12 years later they are still sound, square, and holding a load.

At the time she used this search to eyeball what she wanted. They had quite a few the local stores didn’t have.

If you expect to carry much of a load on them, I would suggest not having any spans longer than 15, 16” that you don’t have a support, or a hardwood strip under the front edge to act as a stiffener.

-- Think safe, be safe

View HammerSmith's profile


341 posts in 692 days

#12 posted 04-04-2018 06:22 AM

As much as I hate MDF, I have to admit, sometimes it’s pretty good.

The dust is terrible when you’re working with it, it’s super fine… And it won’t survive much moisture either.

But… If the final product lives in a place where it’s protected from water, it can last for a real long time. I refinished a big dining table from the sixties that basically had an MDF top, a wood veneer for the finish surface, with solid nosing all around, and it was still fine… But it lived in a protected place the whole time... There were some rings from wine glasses and such, and they didn’t all come out, but it refinished nicely and the veneer was still perfectly intact. No peeling at all. I was impressed!

MDF is great for veneer finishes, and it’s great for speaker cabinets too. It’s super dense and super stable…

With all that said, I guess it would be fine for panels inside of a frame on wall cabinets… but I would still prefer to use birch plywood (unless I needed that “super stablility” feature of MDF)... I really hate the dust that MDF makes, and Birch is much lighter to boot…

-- ~Jim

View HammerSmith's profile


341 posts in 692 days

#13 posted 04-04-2018 06:26 AM

... and yeah, for the shelves I would just use solid lumber, or “at least” real plywood.

The nosing will make any shelf stronger, but MDF is a bad starting point for that kind of stuff.

-- ~Jim

View HammerSmith's profile


341 posts in 692 days

#14 posted 04-04-2018 06:38 AM

pps copythat, know that MDF doesn’t hold screws good at all.

It might hold fairly, kinda, almost, ok on the face… _But for going into the edges you’ll want longer screws, and they must_ be nicely pre-drilled.. Otherwise the MDF likes to split. Pre-drill ‘em kinda loose for MDF..

Or staples. Lots of staples.. MDF takes staples well, since it doesn’t have any grain.

-- ~Jim

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