Floor to ceiling, wall to wall bookcase materials

Tight budget, and I'm a novice diy'er.
My wife wants my to build a wall to wall bookcase that is floor to ceiling. There will actually be 3 sections because we want the end sections to have workstation or desks. These units will be fastened to the wall. My wife and her family suggested I make everything out of MDF which is cheep, easy to treat and easy to buy decorative faces and mouldings for.
However I'd like to seek opinions on how long 5/8" or 3/4" MDF will last if two adults and two kids use this type of configuration for 20 or 25 years or hopefully 40 years?. What's the life span of MDF for this type of application? We are in Ontario Canada so air conditioning 3 months a year and forced air heating for 7 months a year from a humidity standpoint. Is there plywood that is affordable and nice to prime and paint and that we can nail some mdf moulds to? Melamine is prolly out of the question cause of looks and it's really tough to paint ( it's a home office library, not a kitchen)
This room will be used a lot we think.
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On 11/21/2010 9:07 PM, The Henchman wrote:

Back in stone age, we used to make working bookcases out of 2x10s or 2x12s, with the uprights notched to accept the shelves. Using 2x for the shelf allows a LONG span without sagging. Depending on size of 'desk' needed, you could either double-width one shelf using cleats on the bottom, or triple-wide it with addition of an angled stiffleg going back to the upright members. Think bastard offspring of a picnic table and a garage workbench.
All this sounds crude, I know. But if you can find decent lumber, and work carefully, it can actually be quite attractive. Stain or paint to suit your taste. And the best thing is, you don't need fancy tools- sawhorses, clamps, straightedge, speed square, and a good skilsaw will do it. Where fasteners are needed, long cabinet or deck screws (NOT drywall screws).
As to how to hold to wall- I built a lot of these for people in rental quarters, and actually just did a jam fit against ceiling (or between 2 walls) using styrofoam sheet and shim wedges. But if kids are in house, I'd do a backer board along top edge between the uprights, and lag it into the studs. If it looks like a ladder, kids WILL climb it at some point. They can't help it.
Other will disagree, but I'm not convinced MDF is a good structural material. Fine for side and back panels that fit into rails and aren't being twisted, and it does take paint well, but it is still of the chipboard family. I'm old-fashioned- any right-angle joint needs to be actual wood, IMHO.
--
aem sends...

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Having had such built in bookcases, I too would use wood. And probably stain it rather than paint it.
    Una
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It will last 10 year s as long as you never put a book on it or otherwise utilize it. Otherwise, it will sag and look like crap in a short time, weeks with a good load of books. Day with a decent span. .
MDF has poor flexural strength and is a rather poor material for shelves. I can't think of a worse material other than cardboard. I'd use plywood and put a wood face trim piece that will add good looks and structural rigidity.
Go here and plug in the numbers and see how much stronger plywood is http://www.woodbin.com/calcs/sagulator.htm

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Nyet!!!! It will be a sagging mess before long. MDF doesn't have the strength of even simple pine shelving and you will hate yourself for using it.
-- Bobby G.
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On 11/21/2010 11:41 PM Robert Green spake thus:

Ackshooly, it *might* work--if you reinforce the shelves, say with aluminum or steel angle stock underneath. I've done this, and it works. Don't know, however, if this would still fit within the "tight budget" parameter, or whether it would make things worse esthetically. The bottoms of shelves aren't visible until they're above eye level.
Solid wood would definitely be preferable, but would be more expensive. Didn't someone else suggest plywood? With solid-wood facing, it would be strong enough and look good.
--
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with the flaunting of well-defined muscle, wrapped in flags.
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This is another vote for real wood or expensive plywood trimmed out. By expensive I mean $45-50 per 4x8 sheet. Birch for painting, oak for staining.
In addition to all the other issues MDF does not play well with condensation from beverage glasses and the occasional spill. Kids = both.
If paint is your choice use oil based.
--
Colbyt
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About 20 years ago my wife was in a rush to get a bookcase in the spot where I kept promising a 12' built in. 'Lets just buy a pre-made 4footer- and when you have the time you can build a nice one.' I had looked at lumber & was considering cherry. I knew about what the lumber would cost- and figured I"d be tinkering with it for about 3 months.
We went to a warehouse store & looked at knock-down 'furniture'. I couldn't believe how good it looked, or how cheap it was. I could fill that space completely for less than a single 4' section would cost me in lumber. So we did. Those shelves have been full of books and stuff for 20+ years and look as good as they did when I put them in. [in 1/2 day] The Mrs. has long since forgotten that I was going to build real wood shelves there.
These are MDF but each shelf has a stiffener in front and back.
I don't think I'd try to make MDF shelves myself- but we've bought some more of the knock-down ones since. I'm looking at my latest piece & maybe it is just that my eyes aren't what they once were- but I couldn't tell that it isn't real cherry without scratching the surface off.
Jim
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wrote:

Yes, indeed. We have almost a dozen IKEA Billy bookcases, oak, some with the glass doors on them, and they are really great. Some shelves do sag just a little because spouse has put very heavy books in them, but most are just great. No sign of anything bad where the coffee cups go back in after dishwashing, when they usually aren't quite dry <grin>.
--
Best regards
Han
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I also have some Doxy MDF shelves that have been in use for over 20 years.
Better still I can tell you how to prevent the sagging. Buy some 3/8" steel curtain rod or better yet the shiny brass plate Aluminum one, add some tension socket ends. These work as book-ends and support brackets.
If anyone needs pictures I will post them.
--
Colbyt
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