Closet built-ins... MDF or Ply?!? - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
 
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post #1 of 8 Old 01-23-2015, 12:55 PM Thread Starter
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Closet built-ins... MDF or Ply?!?

So, I've read a lot about different ways folks tend to approach built-ins, and I can't seem to find a definitive viewpoint on this question. Hoping someone can provide some insight.

To provide some background, I'm going to be building two built-ins for my kids. Each will have three vertical sections in an 8' closet, with the widest section running about 32" (that's one hanging section in the larger closet, which has two shelves). The whole thing will be about 18" deep, I'll be using dados for all the shelves, and finishing with ~2" poplar trim on the fronts both for looks and strength. I'll also be building out some drawers in the future. Rough designs are below.

Closet 1 (2 potential layouts):


Closet 2 (2 potential layouts):


Right now I'm leaning towards 3/4" NAF MDF, both given it's stability, appearance (like smooth), and the costs. However, I don't want to cut my nose off to spite my face, and am a little concerned whether it's got the right strength for some of the weight that will likely be on the hanging rods, etc.

Thoughts? Anyone have experience with using MDF vs Ply? Thanks in advance for any insight or guidance.

Best,
Rick
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post #2 of 8 Old 01-23-2015, 01:07 PM
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I would go with plywood, kids climb and mdf is just not strong enough to hold up, not to mention it is the pits cutting with all the dust and dulling the blades. It doesn't hold nails or screws well either.

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post #3 of 8 Old 01-23-2015, 01:53 PM Thread Starter
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I would go with plywood, kids climb and mdf is just not strong enough to hold up, not to mention it is the pits cutting with all the dust and dulling the blades. It doesn't hold nails or screws well either.
Thanks for the follow-up, great point about the climbing. My hope was that the poplar would help in that regard (structural strength on the fronts). Any thoughts on drawbacks to using plywood?

One concern I have is smoothness/texture, though hopefully I can find a reasonable priced birch that's fairly smooth. The other is warping/bowing... I've heard that can be an issue with ply, though I'm not sure how much of a problem it would be with 3/4" (which I'm assuming should be pretty stiff).

-Rick
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post #4 of 8 Old 01-23-2015, 02:50 PM
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Thanks for the follow-up, great point about the climbing. My hope was that the poplar would help in that regard (structural strength on the fronts). Any thoughts on drawbacks to using plywood?

One concern I have is smoothness/texture, though hopefully I can find a reasonable priced birch that's fairly smooth. The other is warping/bowing... I've heard that can be an issue with ply, though I'm not sure how much of a problem it would be with 3/4" (which I'm assuming should be pretty stiff).

-Rick
3/4 birch will be rigid enough. Your panels will probably be small. I think MDF is probably $15-$25 cheaper than birch from HD or Lowes. If budget is not an issue, you can look for laminated plywood but will have to have someone order it.

I used white 3/4 melamine for my built-ins. You can edge them with solid wood or use the iron on banding. $35 per sheet at HD. If you want color, ask a local dealer to order it. I've brought brown and gray a few times.
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post #5 of 8 Old 01-23-2015, 03:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rtilghman View Post
Thanks for the follow-up, great point about the climbing. My hope was that the poplar would help in that regard (structural strength on the fronts). Any thoughts on drawbacks to using plywood?

One concern I have is smoothness/texture, though hopefully I can find a reasonable priced birch that's fairly smooth. The other is warping/bowing... I've heard that can be an issue with ply, though I'm not sure how much of a problem it would be with 3/4" (which I'm assuming should be pretty stiff).

-Rick
If you can find a cabinet supply who will sell to you ask them for import Birch, it has a thin veneer but does pretty good with paint.

You can also get sanded plywood, then use sand-n-seal on it then sand and paint, it will be smooth. MDF soaks paint pretty bad where plywood will also but nowhere as bad.

Plywood shelves over 48 inches will need a stiffback or support under to keep from sagging. I use a stiffback even on shelves that are just over 36 inches, if books are stored, they are heavy and can sag a shelf easily. (not that you are using the shelves for books)

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post #6 of 8 Old 01-23-2015, 04:27 PM
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See if you can find a source for MDO (medium density overlay) it is a plywood core with an MDF veneer. Good for that flat face with the strength of ply.

Other thoughts. Id give preference to MDF for face frames to solve exposed edges.

Id look to ply or MDO for most of the rest. Wont sag, will take abuse, if you need to drill adjustable holes for pegs it will be stronger.

Only downside to MDO/Ply is cost and exposed edges, so I try to work around that with MDF and decide when its worth the cost.
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post #7 of 8 Old 01-23-2015, 06:06 PM
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3/4 birch will be rigid enough. Your panels will probably be small. I think MDF is probably $15-$25 cheaper than birch from HD or Lowes. If budget is not an issue, you can look for laminated plywood but will have to have someone order it.

I used white 3/4 melamine for my built-ins. You can edge them with solid wood or use the iron on banding. $35 per sheet at HD. If you want color, ask a local dealer to order it. I've brought brown and gray a few times.
Me too. I pay like $22 for a 4x8 sheet at HD in canada. The particle board is lighter and more rigid. And the big bonus is no painting. 😆
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post #8 of 8 Old 03-03-2015, 10:18 AM
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Check with a local plywood supplier for prefinished panels. They are very nice to work with.
One near me had shop grade 48.5 X96.5 x 3/4 maple with a hard conversion coat. They are ~$54 and save so much time.
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