Fairly new to serious wood working and have a couple quick questions about a project I'm planning, hoping someone with more experience can provide some insight.
I'm planning to build something very similar to the image below in a back hall:
My questions are as follow.
1) What's the best way to do the paneling if you don't want to put a half round or bead board over the panel edge (square finish)? Most folks seem to cut panels to fit, but it seems like that might leave gaps. I can't just do a giant panel along the whole wall (which is what the folks who lived here previously did elsewhere) because the end is open (it would show). Not a huge issue, but I was thinking of routing out some kind of lap joint for each panel so that they disappear under the stiles... does that make sense?
2) It seems like the most economical option is to use NAF MDF for everything, but are there any concerns with MDF vs Ply? I'll be painting everything, but I'm particularly concerned about the bench (see picture) since we'll have shoes, jackets, and other potential incidental water. Should I use ply for the bench support and MDF for everything above that (wainscoting)?
3) I've read about the benefits of pocket screws for the wainscoting framing, which makes sense. However, will that work okay with MDF? Does MDF have the strength for screws to grab? I have both a brad and finish nailer, should I nail it instead?
4) What size material do most folks recommend? My jam at the door is 5/8", so should I use 1/2" MDF for the stiles with lap joints/inset panels? Or should I just go with 3/4"? Will that 1/8" be really apparent (about 2' apart)?
Thanks in advance for any advice or help, kind of suffering some analysis paralysis as I look to iron out the details.