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Why Plywood over MDF for Furniture?

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Forum topic by wilschroter posted 05-20-2022 11:28 AM 657 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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wilschroter

212 posts in 2019 days


05-20-2022 11:28 AM

Planning on building some nightstands that will be veneered and wondering why you folks choose plywood vs. MDF for building the carcasses? I’m planning on assembling mainly through dados and glue, so I don’t really need much holding power with fasteners.

MDF is obviously cheaper and seems a bit more universally flat, but I’m guessing there may be some things I’m not considering. As I’m looking inside of more of the furniture I own, I keep seeing MDF everywhere!


11 replies so far

View Lazyman's profile

Lazyman

9779 posts in 2881 days


#1 posted 05-20-2022 12:24 PM

MDF is not as strong structurally or as stiff as plywood, especially horizontally and fasteners usually take a little extra care when needed. If the pieces are veneered, then particle board is what I most often see on mass produced pieces, especially table top for the structural parts of some assembly required pieces. For painted pieces, where you do not want or care if it looks like wood, MDF can yield a really nice smooth finish.

I choose plywood because I hate working with MDF. I find the fine dust just too annoying. Particle board is a little better than MDF in that respect.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Rich's profile

Rich

8289 posts in 2083 days


#2 posted 05-20-2022 01:23 PM

Weight is a big factor. There are premium hardwood veneer sheet goods with MDF cores, so MDF in and of itself isn’t a bad option, but it’s very heavy.

Regarding fasteners, screws driven in the face of MDF are very strong, but into the edge, not so much.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

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Madmark2

3485 posts in 2082 days


#3 posted 05-20-2022 07:20 PM

Pilot holes in any MDF/particle board product.

Used marine ply for counters as underlayment for laminate sheet goods (WilsonArt, Formica) Instead of veneering ply, why not use veneered ply? It just can’t tolerate sanding, but then again neither can “real” veneer. (Is “real veneer” an oxymoron like “genuine imitation leather”?)

-- The hump with the stump and the pump!

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Loren

11550 posts in 5141 days


#4 posted 05-20-2022 07:44 PM

You can get plywood with MDF layered in there too. I’ve used it. There’s MDF under the veneers so it’s very consistent and said to stay quite flat. If you call your local plywood supplier they can fill you in on what they carry.

If you mop up against the base of MDF furniture it may swell. I haven’t seen this personally but I have seen discoloration of shellacked wood furniture due to something like bleach in the water from mopping. I’d put a solid wood strip on the bottom if I were making something in MDF that was going on a hard floor.

If doing the miters like you did on your recent project I think MDF cores will out perform plywood. You still might need the screwdriver trick tho.

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MrRon

6333 posts in 4737 days


#5 posted 05-21-2022 10:03 PM

Quality furniture will always use plywood, not MDF, at least to my knowledge. The first thing I look for when buying any furniture, is whether MDF was used. I also look for joint design. Dovetails and rabbeted joints indicate quality workmanship.

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MrRon

6333 posts in 4737 days


#6 posted 05-22-2022 06:21 PM



You can get plywood with MDF layered in there too. I ve used it. There s MDF under the veneers so it s very consistent and said to stay quite flat. If you call your local plywood supplier they can fill you in on what they carry.

If you mop up against the base of MDF furniture it may swell. I haven t seen this personally but I have seen discoloration of shellacked wood furniture due to something like bleach in the water from mopping. I d put a solid wood strip on the bottom if I were making something in MDF that was going on a hard floor.

If doing the miters like you did on your recent project I think MDF cores will out perform plywood. You still might need the screwdriver trick tho.

- Loren

Before there was plywood, large panels were made using boards with rabbet or T&G edge joints. You will see that on period furniture. Plywood surely saves time but has limitations unlike the old methods. I knew a German woodworker who never used plywood on his furniture, but always used jointed boards. A lot more work, but traditional.

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SMP

5392 posts in 1399 days


#7 posted 05-22-2022 07:43 PM

Mdf will work for a nightstand as long as you make sure nobody ever puts a drink on it. Or you could make it half sized and then spill a cup of water on it.

View Eric's profile

Eric

5763 posts in 1367 days


#8 posted 05-22-2022 08:21 PM

For quality furniture or cabinets, I would use plywood over MDF, not a fan of the Ikea stuff. I recently build some cabinets using 1/2” plywood, which had 7 layers and primed. Purchased at lowes, yes it cost more, but more stable and takes fastners. If you are worried about seeing the plywood edge you can always attach a banding strip. Or go with solid wood and joint the boards for your panels.

-- Eric, building the dream. the "Loft"

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Madmark2

3485 posts in 2082 days


#9 posted 05-22-2022 08:26 PM

I’m not a fan of ply goods or MDF for any kind of top. As a panel insert, great, but as a top I prefer solid wood. This way it can be sanded and refinished multiple times. One wet glass, cig char, good ding or scrape and the veneer is shot. Tops are a wear surface and NEED to be durable.

This stand uses ply for the panel inserts at the top and sides, but solid wood for the top and frames.

-- The hump with the stump and the pump!

View WoodenDreams's profile

WoodenDreams

1624 posts in 1404 days


#10 posted 05-22-2022 11:27 PM

I consider furniture made with MDF, throw away furniture. The first time you move it around in the room, it falls apart. Just ask anyone in the military that moves from base to base. It doesn’t withstand the move.

The main drawback if feel. When you place a glass of water on the MDF even with wood veneer, the condensation under the glass, the MDF will soak up the condensation and the MDF will, as one may say – swell or distort. Now you have looks like bubble of lumps on the surface.

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Axis39

631 posts in 1091 days


#11 posted 05-23-2022 01:46 PM

It might also depend on what you can get….

I needed 1/2” walnut for a cabinet project recently… Not to be found. in fact, core-ply walnut sheet goods in half inch were not to be found anywhere nearby. So, I had to use MDF core for things I wouldn’t normally have done. I really wasn’t happy about it. But, in the end it looks fantastic.

If I can avoid MDF, I do so…. Just because it is not really high quality construction. But, it is stable, and usually flat. And, when it’s the only game in town….

-- John F. SoCal transplant, chewer uppper of good wood

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