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  1. #1
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    plywood vs. MDF in cabinets

    What are the advantages and disadvantages of using plywood/MDF in cabinets?

    I am building several cabinets. I plan to use MDF because I can make a lot of cabinets for a little money. However, I find that after every project I always wished I had used better wood. Usually I build with pine because I can't afford better, but then when I look at the finished piece I wish I had spent the extra 50 or 100 dollars for wood that would match my effort and time.

    I know that MDF has a perfectly flat surface suited for painting afterwards. It doesn't have any bow like plywood. On the other hand, it seems to dent easily with the slightest bump, meaning that it might not hold up in a free standing cabinet. Also, I plan to use Miller (through) dowels, which may very well show through in a paint job.

    Plywood cost more, but finishes better. The Miller dowels could be chiseled flat and the whole piece could be finished with just a stain. Plywood also posses more rigidity and might hold up better over time.

  2. #2
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    RE: plywood vs. MDF in cabinets

    hi, MDF weighs a ton,and the dust is horrible,you get dirty when you work it.Plywood is a lot lighter,cleaner,and smells better,and holds screws,nails,dowels,better.Plywood would repair better.MDF has it uses but for cabinets i would choose plywood,cost wise it isn`t that much more. Carl

  3. #3
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    RE: plywood vs. MDF in cabinets

    Carl has you covered. Go with the plywood.

    MDF is really only useful to me for jigs and patterns. It's also common in trim and base molding ... but for cabinets, if it's gonna get even the least bit wet, go with ply.

    Since you're using miller dowels (which aren't all that cheap, compared to other joinery methods), I'd say you wanna feature 'em when they're in there.

  4. #4
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    Annapolis, MD, USA.
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    RE: plywood vs. MDF in cabinets

    On these same lines what would you use if you wanted a melamine (or some similar surface) interior? I have seen cabinets for sale like this but not sheet good to make them.

  5. #5
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    RE: plywood vs. MDF in cabinets

    Around here, you can get Melamine on particle board at all the BORGs as well as the lumber yard. At the BORG they usually have both 24x96 and 48x96 sheets. Weighs a TON, though.

    EDIT: It's not my favorite material for cabinets. Especially kitchen cabinets. If particle board gets wet, it swells up like a baloon and goes all brittle. Very bad mojo.

    I've never seen melamine plywood around here, but I know it exists. That'd be my choice if I were building kitchen cabinets. Melamine on plywood with end panels of something nice that matches the room and faces.

  6. #6
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    RE: plywood vs. MDF in cabinets

    At the Big box stores you can also get 1/8" and/or 1/4" one sided Melimine. So you could line the inside with the 1/8" stuff and have your ply on the outside. I don't know if that would warp the ply or not having it only on one side though.

  7. #7
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    North Granby, CT, USA.
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    RE: plywood vs. MDF in cabinets

    I was building some for the shop and was going to go with MDF (for cost) but found "furniture grade" plywood at one of the big box stores. Not sure what it was faced with -- I'm guessing pine, but it was perfect for what I needed and only around $4.00 more a sheet.

    In addition to the other comments on MDF's weight and nasty dust the plywood was better for the pocket screws I was using to put them together.

  8. #8
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    I am not real crazy about MDF but it definitely has its place. I used MDF to top off a utility work bench cause as you say its smooth and fairly cheap and I just happen to have some laying around that I needed to find a use for.

    I find that you really have to watch for tear outs ,etc, when you put screws into MDF. If I'm building a shop cabinet or tool stand I prefer plywood. Plywood also seems to take moisture a lot better.

    To help MDF more resistant to water you can brush a few coats of white glue on the surfaces. The glue creates a barrier and water will bead up and evaporate as opposed to soaking into the MDF and weakening it.
    Last edited by Shop Dude; 11-22-2012 at 08:41 PM. Reason: typo

  9. #9
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    MDF has its place and can actually be very serviceable when proper fasteners are used. Say what you like about Ikea but it can't be disputed that they have certainly perfected the fastening means for their products.
    Frank C

    Sawdust Making 101
    http://sawdustmaking.com

  10. #10
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    MDF actually makes the better surface for taking veneers. Plywood can become uneven and is not as flat or smooth, or solid. Plywood takes fasteners easier and is generally more forgiving in harsher conditions that may be damp.

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