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
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
This room will be used a lot we think.
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
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
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.
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
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.
The fashion in killing has an insouciant, flirty style this spring,
with the flaunting of well-defined muscle, wrapped in flags.
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
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.
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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
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
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>.
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.
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