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Old 08-31-2010, 12:10 PM   #1
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birch ply or MDF


I am building some cabinets and built in bookshelves. Everything at this point will be painted and stick built in place.

Am I better off going with 3/4" birch plywood or 3/4" MDF? The ply is about $10-$15 per sheet more expensive. I don't mind paying the extra if it's worth it, but also don't want to spend money uselessly. I've been using the ply to build my downstairs bar because it is very solid and I really like working with it, but I've had a few people question why I'm not using the MDF.

I will also most likely be building shelveing for a two closets this winter as well, anything different there? I'll be putting solid wood face frames on everything so ends won't be seen....
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Old 08-31-2010, 12:35 PM   #2
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MDF is tougher on tools and contains urea formaldehyde resins. The dust can be harmful so wear a respirator when machining and seal all surfaces to lock in the resin. Personally, I'd use either the birch ply or MDO.
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Old 08-31-2010, 02:24 PM   #3
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I do not like MDF for building cabinets, bookcases or any casework as it is just not a material that will hold up and sags easily. MDF will not hold screws well especially the edges. It takes much more to paint MDF as it soaks the paint up. Take all the downsides of MDF into consideration and the plywood would be a better choice. MDF is also heavier which will be harder to handle. As said before MDF will eat your blades up quickly. MDF does make fair raised panels as it is pretty stable but that would be the extent of use for me.

If you know someone who builds cabinets for a living you can get them to buy some import birch for about half the cost of domestic birch plywood. Also since you are painting you can use a sanded plywood or an import used just for painting much cheaper. Just a word of caution on the import birch plywood, if you sand it you will need to hit it and get off it as the veneer is very very thin.

Stay away from plywood at the big boxes as their plywood is seconds or rejects, don't believe that, buy some and see if a lot of it doesn't delaminate or have defects in the core plys or on the face, also look for many voids. One more thing and I will shut up, the big box birch plywood a lot of times isn't birch to start with and the big box "birch" has fewer plys than the import. OK so that was more than one more thing.
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Last edited by BigJim; 08-31-2010 at 02:27 PM.
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Old 08-31-2010, 03:02 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jiju1943 View Post
Stay away from plywood at the big boxes as their plywood is seconds or rejects, don't believe that, buy some and see if a lot of it doesn't delaminate or have defects in the core plys or on the face, also look for many voids. One more thing and I will shut up, the big box birch plywood a lot of times isn't birch to start with and the big box "birch" has fewer plys than the import. OK so that was more than one more thing.
Ditto on the box store plywood. Too many voids, not enough plys and doesn't stay flat. True Baltic Birch plywood is expensive, but will give great results. The hardest part is maximizing a 5'x 5' sheet.

You could also try Apple Plywood. Supposedly better than baltic birch, sold in standard 4'x 8' sheets and made in the US. No one in my area seems to stock it.
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Old 08-31-2010, 03:37 PM   #5
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Lowes is where I bought the birch for my bar, it looks like really nice sheets. So far there haven't been many voids at all....actually can't recall any in the couple of sheets I bought. Hopefully I'm getting some good stuff as I don't know where else to go. I call the local mill yards and they send me to Lowes or H.D. to buy. Of course, maybe if I special ordered it, I would get better stuff...don't really know.

So you guys are saying pay attention to # of plys, voids and that the import birch has very thin plys. That actually makes me curious as to what I have as I barely hit one spot on some of this with the sander and I was through. Wasn't a big deal as it's being painted, but couldn't believe it was actually that thin on the surface!

My brother actually does work at a cabinet shop, as did I about 12yrs ago, and he is one of the people that asked why I wasn't using MDF. I'd ask him to see if he could get it for me, but he gets funny about that at times. Can't figure it out, so we'll leave it at that!

Thanks for the input to this point, I think I'll stay with my ply and hope I'm getting some good stuff and/or do some looking around.
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Old 08-31-2010, 04:31 PM   #6
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MDO paints very nicely, and is plenty strong enough for cabinets. I used some for a big shelf in the sun room, it has lasted 20 years without any issues. Less expensive than plywood.
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Old 09-01-2010, 12:25 AM   #7
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I agree on not using MDF. About all I use it for is templates. And, yes, MDO is a possibility.

If you go to Lowes and look at their cheap vanity cabinets, you'll likely find that they are mostly MDF. That might be where you are getting the idea from.
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