Floor to ceiling, wall to wall bookcase advice....

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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. They 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 by 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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I made some wall-to-wall full height shelves and used birch plywood some years ago but I finished them with watco, not paint. I used regular pine 1x12s for many of the shelves, the rest are also ply with some edge banding that believe it or not I ripped from some old pallets. Pretty sure it's maple. MDF is a good bit less expensive, but I'd be leary of using it for shelves unless you keep them pretty short (like 24 or maybe 30") or very lightly loaded, or incorporate upright supports into your design. Longer MDF shelves will sag if fully loaded with books.
I do have a freestanding mdf bookshelf in an upstairs room with 42" shelves. When they started to sag, I grabbed a few old oversize books nobody was reading and crosscut them to height on the tablesaw, so that I could jam them into the bookshelf near the center for an additional vertical support.
I wouldn't go so far as to say MDF can't be made to work, but take a look at some 20 or 30 year old MDF furniture sometime, and very likely any larger pieces will have some noticeable sag. I guess this would be a good time for someone to make a joke about "the bigger they are the more they sag with age...
--
Better to be stuck up in a tree than tied to one.

Larry Wasserman - Baltimore Maryland - lwasserm(a)sdf. lonestar.org
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Larry W wrote:

Heck of a good idea. You could even tear out 50 or so pages and imbed a wooden support.
As for finding "oversized" books, I often see free encyclopedia sets on Craigslist.
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If the shelves will only ever hold light Nick-Nacks than MDF might be fine. If you are going to load them with hardback books, then MDF will be a real problem in a year or two, you can make the shelves so they can be taken out and turned over quarterly, and you will have less of a problem.
I use 1 by what ever for my shelves for books. For built in Floor to Ceiling (I have about 60 linear feet of them in the house - about 420 linear feet of shelf). I build them the following way.
1. I anchor a pair of 1x4's (for 12 inch deep shelves) at 2 foot intervals. One at the wall and one at the front edge of my shelves (less the depth of the kick plate). I run them floor to ceiling and anchor them into the floor and into the ceiling (Sometimes I have run plywood on the ceiling and floor to tie into the joists).
2. I rip a 2x6 to 2x4 for the kick plate and put it down along the length of the front and cut pieces of 2x4 to go at the back along the wall.
3. Then I cut the bottom shelves of 1x12 (narrower if you want less deep shelves)
4. I then use a variety of 1x to make verticals. I stand the verticals at each end of the bottom shelf and pin them to the 1x4's. So if I want a 7 inch shelf - I use 1x8 to cut my verticals. For tall shelves, I use 1x12 on end.
5. I lay in the next shelf and pin it.
6. I repeat to the top of the bookcase.
7. I get moulding from the lumber yard and cover the front of the ends of the shelves - floor to ceiling.
My shelves hold Annuals from 3 professional societies - each volume is in the 8 to 12 pound range. They are packed solid.
In 21 years, I have not had a problem.
Hope this helps.
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On Nov 21, 9:34 pm, snipped-for-privacy@sdf.lNoOnSePsAtMar.org (Larry W) wrote:

Laminate the shelves from 2 layers of MDF, then apply the formica. It's the skin layers that provide resistance against bowing, the flakeboard just holds them apart -- pretty hard to stretch or compress formica, even harder when the layers are twice as far apart.
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Anywhere near London? There's this luan plywood which comes as thick as 1".
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My primary considerations for material choice would be weight and tendency to sag. It seems the composite materials such as MDF or plywood have a larger tendency to sag than 1x material. In fact, we've got several book cases built out of 1x12s that show no signs of sagging. They're also significantly lighter than a plywood or MDF bookcase would be.
If you still want to use MDF for the shelves, you may consider using a plywood back. This would allow the shelves to be secured at regular intervals from behind as well as from the sides, and will reduce the likelyhood of sagging. You may find it's cheaper to use a piece of 1/8" hardboard and 1/2" sheathing grade plywood rather than buying better quality plywood just to paint it. (The hardboard is to provide a smooth paintable surface. I don't trust its ability to hold screws.)
Puckdropper
--
Never teach your apprentice everything you know.

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How big is the wall?
Allen
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"The Henchman" wrote:

--------------------------------- IMHO, you will live to regret MDF.
It sags, swells if it ever gets wet, and in general, a PITA to use if fastners are req'd.
I'd look at poplar, primed and painted white.
As a benefit, be easy to make your shelves adjustable.
Lew
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Lew's right. Any kind of fastener into the end grain of MDF is not going to be strong. (There are ways, but who wants to go through all that work.)
I like the suggestion of poplar.
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Second that motion!
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For shelves, MDF is terrible (it sags with moisture changes), and plywood is second-rate. Solid wood is best. For case sidewalls, floor-to-ceiling, solid wood is expensive and plywood is tougher (won't split). MDF is least capable of taking the hardware pins or brackets or whatever to support the shelves. For a back to the case, MDF is fine.
Instead of buying decorative facings, one usually chooses an attractive wood grain for plywood, or uses a paint treatment on less attractive woods (maple, birch, softwood plywood are good for painting). A strip of solid wood on the edge of plywood is recommended for appearance.
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The Henchman wrote:

MDF, YUCK! Decent ply for painting - birch would be fine - isn't all that much more expensive especially considering the time you will spend building, regardless of the material.
If you really want cheap, build frames of 1x2 or 1x3 and glue 1/8 hardboard to one or both sides. Those will be *much* stronger than MDF and provide wood that will hold fastenings well. I've used these on numerous cabinets around my house, frames were ripped out of "whitewood" 2x4s, stiles were doweled to rails by laying out all, drilling through and inserting dowels from the outside and cutting off excess dowel. If you plan to insert shelves into grooves in the verticals, make sure there is a horizontal 1x2 there.
--

dadiOH
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AKA torsion boxes. Hollow core doors are a familiar example, shit^H^H^H paint grade 3/32" Phillipine "mahogany" over a cardboard honeycomb and a 1-3/8" frame. I've used them for computer desks with no sagging, despite being loaded with a computer and a 1 foot thick layer of papers.
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First, forget MDF as a finish material. It will sag, swell with moisture, won't hold nails/screws, etc.
Second, factor the intended life span of this project into your "budget". Even if you spend an extra $100 now, that's only $5/yr over the next 20 years. Less if you think it will last longer (it should if built properly).
My choice is 3/4" birch plywood. You can find it at any home center for around $40-50 a sheet right now. Rip it lengthwise to 11-1/4" wide strips. You can use these strips for the sides of the cabinets, or cut them to length for shelves.
Build a simple box, as high as you want (up to the 8 foot length of the plywood), and a maximum of 3 feet wide. Any wider and the shelves are likely to sag. You can build as many "boxes" as you need to span the room. I would divide the space evenly, so each box is the same width, though you might want to leave an inch or two on each end you can scribe a filler to fit the wall. Or, build it close to the full width and use trim to cover the gaps at the sides.
I would use 1/4" plywood for the back. Normally I would inset the plywood into rabbets cut in the sides/top/bottom, but since this will fill the wall, you could just glue and nail it to the back of each box.
Then drill a series of 1/4" holes along the insides of each cabinet for shelf pins. There are a variety of jigs to make this easier, or you could use a piece of pegboard as your jig.
You could make face frames out of poplar (again, relatively inexpensive and available at all home centers), to strengthen the boxes and cover the end grain of the plywood edges. I recommend using pocket screws to build the face frames, as they're strong and easy to make with an inexpensive jig (I think Lowes sells them now). Glue/nail strips of the poplar to the front edge of each shelf also, then cut to fit inside your case.
I would choose stain and poly over paint, as I think it looks better and will hold up better to the wear and tear of dragging books in and out. But finish it however you wish.
If your boxes are over 5-6 feet tall, I would probably add a fixed shelf in the middle to help keep the case from bowing in or out. Then just have adjustable shelves top and bottom.
Good luck!
Anthony
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You're getting a lot of great advice already. I'll just add in a couple things... I'm also in the solid or plywood camp. Resist the MDF urge. If you go with plywood, you can do 4 feet shelves if you add hardwood facing.
These bookcases were done that way.
http://mikedrums.com/bookcases.jpg
The shelves are 3/4 ply with hardwood facing front and back. I probably could have gotten away with just the front, but they have a lot of heavy books and scrapbooks, so better safe than sorry. Plus, they're reversible. :-)
Another advantage of the hardwood strips, is the look. You can put a decorative profile on them if you choose. The added thickness, IMO, gives the shelves better scale. These were rabbeted and glued.
--

-MIKE-

"Playing is not something I do at night, it's my function in life"
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Mike:
You're the third drummer I've met on Usenet. Though I don't have a reason for that, after looking at your photo, I do have a reason for saying "good job".
Regards,
EH
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On 11/22/10 3:52 PM, Edward Hennessey wrote:

Thank you. There are a lot of musicians on usenet and at least one other drummer in this group. Thankfully, I'm a better drummer than woodworker. :-)
--

-MIKE-

"Playing is not something I do at night, it's my function in life"
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HerHusband wrote:

Sound advice! If he doesn't follow these instructions then he shouldn't build one.
--
"You can lead them to LINUX
but you can't make them THINK"
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"The Henchman" wrote in message
Tight budget, and I'm a novice diy'er.
-----
Thanks to everyone for the advice. I really wanted to avoid MDF but my wife's family were fanatical about me using it so I had to investigate why. thanks for the firepower. I work for a fastener and cutting tools company so I appreciate the concerns raised on fastening.
I invested $25 into Taunton's Built-Ins book for some ideas and and standard sizes to consider.
Still not decided on lumber or plywood but Birch is very paintable and Maple is very stainable correct? Lumber would be popular right? Do all of these have to be finely sanded before primer?
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