Finishing an MDF desk

Let me start by saying that I am new to woodworking and have started a project to make a (very basic) computer desk with the surface made out of 3/4" MDF. I am wondering about the best way to finish it. My idea was to prime, use a latex semi-gloss, and then finally put a coat of polyeurethane to harden it. Is this a sensible approach. As I am new to woodworking projects, I just wanted to sanity check how I plan to finish this desk. If anyone could offer any thoughts or advice I would be appreciative. By the way, I would also be interested in how many coats of primer, latex and polyeurethane, in addition to sanding you might recommend. I've been doing research on finishing MDF and there seems to be many opiions on the subject. At the end of the day, I would like to end up with a decent finish that wears well.
Cheers, Geoff
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It was a decent approach 'til you mentioned the polyurethane part. Ya don't need it. Just slap a few (3 or so) coats of the latex on it. If you can, I would spray it. Just looks better. Infact, if you're gonna be in the sprayin bizzness, I'd use laquer instead. But that's just me. If yer gonna be brushing it on, use the latex and lightly wet sand with 600 grit in between coats. Of course, that's just my opinion and how I would do it. There are many paths to the same summit. SH
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I can't imagine latex paint will hold up on a desktop! Even laq isn't recommended for a work surface. For fine furniture, sure, but everyone and everywhere I've read have said that laq will get damaged by heavy use such as on a desk top. Which is why I opted for spraying poly (what a mess!) on my first desk top.
dave
Slowhand wrote:

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Geoff,
Couple of thoughts to consider:
1. The MDF surface, even with poly, will be very soft and will indent easily if you do any writing on it without a desk pad of some sort.
2. A more durable surface would be to use Formica which can be found in just about any color, simulated wood patterns etc. Do the desktop using Formica and then paint the other surfaces a matching or contrasting color.
3. Veneer the MDF and then finish with your choice of topcoats which I'll leave to others to suggest.
Bob S.

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I like Bob's idea of a Formica (i.e. plastic laminate) top. MDF makes an excellent substrate for Formica and the Formica gives a smooth hard surface (excellent as a writing surface) and you can set your coffee cup on it without worry. I have built two computer desks and used Formica on both. Earl Creel

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Thanks for all the feedback guys. Having read your comments I'm now not sure that a latex finish will be the best solution for me. Initially, my wife and I were looking for a semi-low cost way to build a custom-size desk for our office (6.5' x 3') and a way for me to try a basic wood project. We already had the latex primer and paint so I thought this would be a good solution at the time. A question of questions:
1> How expensive is Formica? Can it be cut to a custom size by anovice like myself (6.5' x 3') or would I have to get it cut at a place like Home Depot? Would the idea be to put the Formica top over the MDF? If I'm envisioning it properly, I'm thinking the Formica (I'm imagining "like a kitchen counter") is approx 1" or so thick. It sounds like a very good solution, just wondering about the cost.
2> With regards to the veneer finish and topcoat: (here's where Idisplay my ignorance :) would the process be to prime/sand/paint/sand/paint (or some facsimile of) or do you spray with veneer? Also, would the topcoat finish be a eurethane-like product or does veneer require a special (and if so what types of) topcoat. What does the end finished product look like?
Thanks for all the help and I appreciate your patience with what I'm sure are very basic questions.
Cheers, Geoff
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Geoff,
Formica can be inexpensive for plain white to "damn....", depending on what you want. A lot of times the borg has cutoff's, partial sheets etc. that they sell off for next to nothing - I've seen it go for $8 a sheet at the local borg (discontinued, special order, returns, damaged, etc.).
Yes - you can cut it. It's brittle so it needs to be supported while cutting so it doesn't crack or chip and there are instructions readily available at the borg and on the web that show and tell you how to do it. It's not rocket science.
Use the MDF as the substrate (cut to the exact size you want). Coat both the MDF and Formica with contact cement (2 coats as per instructions), place the Formica on the MDF (as per instructions), roll it down, trim/bevel edges with a router (or other tools).
You can do all the edges using Formica also but a nice touch is to use a hardwood edge around the top. The front edge could be wider and beveled down as you often see on computer desks. Look at any desks and you get the idea of what you would like for an edge treatment.
As for veneering - that may be a bit of a stretch for you right now but laminating a 1/4" thick furniture grade, hardwood ply to MDF would be like doing the Formica. This grade of ply is not available at the borg's (none that I've ever seen anyway) so you will have to find another supplier - perhaps a local cabinet shop would cut you a deal.
I know I haven't answered all your questions but you need to "go look", price the materials for the design you're thinking about and figure out if you have the tools and ability to do the job. If you really figure up all the costs (and time) in making something like this and compare it to a commercial made item, typically - buying one is cheaper. But if you can honestly say you want to get into woodworking, then the cost of any tools is amortized across all your future projects, your time in building it is considered as an investment in learning (and character building) and the standing back and saying - "We made that" - is priceless!
Bob S.

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