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
This room will be used a lot we think.
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
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
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
3. Then I cut the bottom shelves of 1x12 (narrower if you want less deep
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.
On Nov 21, 9:34 pm, email@example.comNoOnSePsAtMar.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.
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
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.)
Never teach your apprentice everything you know.
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.
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
A strip of solid wood on the edge of plywood is recommended for
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
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.
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
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.
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
These bookcases were done that way.
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
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.
"Playing is not something I do at night, it's my function in life"
"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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