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Author Topic: Materials other than MDF  (Read 10288 times)

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SpatzST

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Materials other than MDF
« on: July 14, 2020, 05:08:42 pm »
The only arcade I've built was using 3/4" MDF because it was relatively cheap and easy to work with.  I am building a bartop arcade now and I don't want to use 3/4" MDF because it is heavy.  What is a suitable alternative? Could I use another wood that is 1/2"? Wouldn't even mind 3/4", but what kind of wood is suitable?

Mike A

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #1 on: July 14, 2020, 06:26:34 pm »
3/4 inch plywood.

It is much lighter.
It holds screws way better.
It is more durable.
It doesn't absorb water like a sponge and bloat out.
It is better in every conceivable way except it takes a couple more minutes to sand before priming and painting.

I don't know why anyone would ever use MDF to build anything.

SpatzST

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #2 on: July 14, 2020, 07:27:03 pm »
3/4 inch plywood.

It is much lighter.
It holds screws way better.
It is more durable.
It doesn't absorb water like a sponge and bloat out.
It is better in every conceivable way except it takes a couple more minutes to sand before priming and painting.

I don't know why anyone would ever use MDF to build anything.

Sounds good to me.

thanks

mahuti

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #3 on: July 17, 2020, 12:33:03 pm »
I like half inch oak. lighter and I prefer the way it works and sands, and finishing the edges is easier. The drawback is that I need to predrill just about everything to keep it from cracking, especially at the edges. Poplar is softer and dings easier but it is less brittle... if you intend to paint it's a good choice and easy to find.

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #4 on: July 31, 2020, 01:53:08 pm »
The big box stores usually carry oak and birch furniture grade  plywood. I'd use the birch ply if a smooth finish or art install is a priority. Still compared to MDF it's going to be about $50 + a sheet. For a bartop not bad and I also second Mike A's comparison.

Mike A

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #5 on: July 31, 2020, 02:49:31 pm »
It is funny. Whenever this question comes up everybody agrees plywood is better yet everyone keeps using MDF. Can you guys please knock it the ---fudgesicle--- off already with the MDF.

mahuti

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #6 on: July 31, 2020, 06:08:21 pm »
I still use MDF and like it.  ;D

(not for everything though)
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Mike A

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #7 on: July 31, 2020, 06:10:52 pm »
 :'(

jennifer

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #8 on: July 31, 2020, 07:03:59 pm »
 :)
« Last Edit: April 15, 2021, 09:32:48 am by jennifer »

Alejo I

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #9 on: August 03, 2020, 06:11:21 am »
I feel like the love for ply may be a bit exacerbated in here because it's a very common building material in North America (much less in Yurop) and there were American cabinets made of ply, so there's even some nostalgia factor to it. Meanwhile, MDF and chipboard are far more common in Europe and nobody has any issues with it for home usage. Plus, it has some advantages when laminating and warping is a non issue. It's just what each of us has grown used to use.

The complains about water damage and weight are kind of moot since an arcade cabinet is not something you are going to take outside or frequently move around. And if you ever need to push one down/up the stairs, you are going to need help anyway. I feel like the ply over MDF debate may hold some weight if we are talking about cabinets that are going to see some heavy use (barcades and the like), which would be far more stressful for MDF and chipboard. But for home use? They are all fine.

For what is worth, I think ply is far better in terms of retaining structural strenght, but it's not like quality MDF is bad at all, specially if you use threaded inserts for pieces that may need some reassembly. It's horrible for router work, tho.

Regarding alternatives, hardboard (HDF) could be interesting since it's extremely hard and you can even find dyed versions in a variety of colors from brands like Valchromat. It's commonly used in furniture that needs to be pretty strong but can't show any woodgrain after painting.

« Last Edit: August 03, 2020, 06:13:50 am by Alejo I »

Mike A

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #10 on: August 03, 2020, 06:20:16 am »
no.

Alejo I

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #11 on: August 03, 2020, 09:42:31 am »

jennifer

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #12 on: August 03, 2020, 10:20:17 am »
 :)
« Last Edit: April 15, 2021, 09:33:12 am by jennifer »

bperkins01

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #13 on: August 07, 2020, 10:06:07 am »
MDF is crap..  make it out of lasagna noodles..  same result..

If you don't want to use plywood (birch would be the best) - use particle board.  Its inexpensive and is still better than MDF.
But seriously - you going to spend plenty of money on a machine.. and encase it on something slightly better that corrugated cardboard?

pro tip - listen to people who have built stuff before..  not people who have never built a think and own zero tools..
 
My Arcade Cabinet Build and other projects here:
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Alejo I

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #14 on: August 09, 2020, 01:53:34 pm »
MDF is crap..  make it out of lasagna noodles..  same result..

If you don't want to use plywood (birch would be the best) - use particle board.  Its inexpensive and is still better than MDF.
But seriously - you going to spend plenty of money on a machine.. and encase it on something slightly better that corrugated cardboard?

pro tip - listen to people who have built stuff before..  not people who have never built a think and own zero tools..
I'm lazy as hell when it comes to arcade projects and not exactly a carpenter, but in the last year and half I've designed and built two entire kitchens from MDF and remodelled several ones before that while keeping most of the old structures. I think that counts. The cabinets and drawers get abused by tenants and kids each day. They are fine. And an arcade cabinet is hardly going to have it worse than a kitchen one on a rent apartment unless your friends are real hooligans.

It's all about the quality of the MDF and the surface treatment. I get that people have preferences (don't we all?) but I feel like certain assumptions are way off base when you have firms like Natuzzi using MDF for credenzas that cost more than my first car did.

In any case, opinions and bumholes   :dunno

Mike A

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #15 on: August 09, 2020, 06:12:13 pm »
No.

bperkins01

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #16 on: August 09, 2020, 11:00:45 pm »
Kitchens for tenants...  Sure..  low cost kitchens.. 
MDF is still crap.  I've done laminate counter tops..  particle board is better.

If you're going to spend a thousand dollars on a cabinet (buttons, controllers, power supply, PC, monitor, hardware, etc...)
Get the plywood.  Seriously - $63 more for 2 sheets.
And if is because you want to save money - Particle board costs less and its a stronger material.

MDF $24.44

3/4" Particle Board $18.98

3/4" Birch Plywood $55.98

For a non-professional - I'm and advanced/expert woodworker.  I've built a little of everything.. When I first started I used MDF..  its crap.  On my Mame cabinet I did use some..  Its my monitor bezel.  Perfect material for that.  100% non-structural.



My Arcade Cabinet Build and other projects here:
Centipede, Joust, Joust Cocktail, Asteroids, Galaga, Ms. Pacman Cabaret, Defender, Space Invaders Cocktail
https://bperkins.wordpress.com/

Alejo I

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #17 on: August 10, 2020, 02:44:32 am »
Kitchens for tenants...  Sure..  low cost kitchens.. 
Friggin Bulthaup kitchens ($/60,000 to $/100,000 for the cabinetry alone, easily) use MDF.

At this point I don't know if there's something about different European and American regulations concerning the glues used in MDF that is making this conversation so difficult, because I swear I feel like we are talking about completely different materials.

Mike A

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #18 on: August 10, 2020, 04:25:16 am »
Wow. That company churns out soulless horrible kitchens. They have no personality. It looks like they were designed for robots.

bperkins01

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #19 on: August 10, 2020, 06:48:06 am »
Maybe you guys in Europe get better MDF.
Our Home Depot MDF that people use to build arcade machines here is crap.
Good for one screw and then hole is useless.
It's very heavy vs. alternatives.
Swells with humidity, not just moisture.

If I paid $100K for kitchen cabinets and they had MDF - then I'm doing a bad job shopping. And they would not be for tenants.
You mentioned your not an expert carpenter - more than one expert woodworker on this thread recommended using something of better quality than MDF.

I can agree to disagree however. 
Sorry OP for the hijack.. 
My Arcade Cabinet Build and other projects here:
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Gilrock

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #20 on: August 10, 2020, 10:08:22 am »
I used MDF for my Mame control panel.  Luckily that taught me the lesson so I've used plywood for everything I've built since.  With the MDF I had problems with the threaded nuts tearing up the MDF and then your hole is screwed up.  And when you buy plywood go for the Baltic birch plywood to get a nice painting surface.

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #21 on: August 10, 2020, 10:56:20 am »
Quote
Our Home Depot MDF that people use to build arcade machines here is crap.

I can second that specific bit. I have used MDF from Home Depot exactly ONE time. It's fuzzy, awful, the worst. It's so bad, when I used a router on it, I couldn't tell if I was following a curve because the edge just puffed up and feathered as I cut. If I tried to drill a hole through it, the backside just puffed out so bad in a mound, and basically fell apart when I tried to clean the edges up. It's so loosely packed that it takes paint poorly too. It was an awful material.

On the flipside, when I buy MDF at Lowes it has none of those problems. It still has the other shortcomings of MDF, but it's night and day compared to the stuff at Home Depot specifically.

I use MDF for a variety of things, but I don't consider it a structural material. I love it for it's ability to be shaped quickly and easily. For anything structural, I use plywood, often birch.
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jennifer

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #22 on: August 10, 2020, 01:05:30 pm »
 ;)
« Last Edit: April 15, 2021, 09:33:43 am by jennifer »

Mike A

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #23 on: August 10, 2020, 01:12:32 pm »
Prototypes? Got any pics?

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #24 on: August 10, 2020, 01:31:41 pm »
 :)
« Last Edit: April 15, 2021, 09:33:58 am by jennifer »

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #25 on: August 10, 2020, 01:40:53 pm »
 :)
« Last Edit: April 15, 2021, 09:34:14 am by jennifer »

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #26 on: August 10, 2020, 01:47:42 pm »
 :)
« Last Edit: April 15, 2021, 09:34:26 am by jennifer »

Mike A

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #27 on: August 10, 2020, 01:53:36 pm »
I look forward to seeing pics of that. It sounds like an interesting project.

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #28 on: August 10, 2020, 02:03:23 pm »
 :)
« Last Edit: April 15, 2021, 09:34:45 am by jennifer »

Gilrock

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #29 on: August 10, 2020, 04:32:38 pm »
Pretty much anything but the cheap plywood.  I used Red Oak for my Robotron.

Alejo I

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #30 on: August 11, 2020, 02:57:48 am »
In defense of plywood, it's much easier to fix a serious screw-up with putty. That's something it has over any other material.

As far as alternatives go, I'd like to cast a vote for Valchromat. It's 30% stronger than normal MDF, comes in a variety of solid colors dyed through the entire material and can be finished like actual wood. It's not cheap and I believe it's harder to find in the US (although Amazon carries it from time to time), but being MDF-like, it's extremely good if you want to get original with curved router bits/CNC as it's splinter-free and allows for some pretty extreme shaping.





Again, it's a pretty specialised material, so it may not be the best alternative for a normal build. Unless you are Arroyo.

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #31 on: August 11, 2020, 10:59:35 am »
 :)
« Last Edit: April 15, 2021, 09:35:12 am by jennifer »

RandyT

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #32 on: October 18, 2020, 01:53:19 am »
As long as money is no object, just use MDO.  Gorgeously smooth and paintable surface with plywood underneath.  It's quite likely the actual material used for real arcade machines.

MDF is the poor man's MDO.  Much easier to finish and make pretty, painted indoor structures with than plywood.  But you can't just start driving screws into it all willy-nilly. You need proper planning, special fasteners and a CNC machine doesn't hurt.

It's also not all created equal.  There are tons of varieties from many manufacturers, and it comes in many densities and styles.  Just because someone used the cheapest stuff and doesn't know how to work with it correctly, doesn't mean it's a poor material.  To me, nothing looks cheaper than seeing wood grain through paint, and I just don't like how long it takes to finish plywood to get rid of this appearance.

But the way I see it, it's your cabinet.  If it looks good to you, costs what you can afford, and stays together, you built it with the right material.

DaveMMR

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #33 on: December 30, 2020, 11:13:41 pm »
Adding my 2 cents kind of late in the game here but whatever.  I hate MDF. There. I said it. 

I know some woodworkers enjoy working with it since it's inexpensive, it machines beautifully and it looks great with even the sloppiest of paint jobs. But they're also not building human-sized boxes with weird angles.

The money I saved building my first cabinet out of MDF was lost having to buy more material because of mistakes I wasn't able to fix like I could with plywood and random damage incurred simply by moving a sheet a few centimeters across the garage.  Hell, a minor water spill rendered pieces of my MDF practically unusable.  And I most certainly didn't enjoy MDF in my snot for weeks after. Yes, I wore a dust mask. Doesn't matter. It finds a way inside. Thank goodness I had cheap tools at the time because removing that dust sometimes was near impossible.


And, finally, when the cabinet was done it was incredible difficult to move, even with three people. Got to the point where I just decided to destroy it instead of moving it a third time.

Some good suggestions up there. I don't have anymore to add. But don't be tempted by the price. MDF has it's place but for a cabinet, go with the more expensive but friendlier alternatives as mentioned.





Ond

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #34 on: March 15, 2021, 05:22:00 pm »
I had a read through this thread, wanted to add some comments/observations.  I totally get the criticisms of MDF and the preference to use furniture grade plywood etc over it, however...  MDF can be a really good choice as well in making cabinets.  I regularly use all kinds of timbers MDF, different grades of plywood, solid timber - hardwood, softwood, whatever.

I agree absolutely with Alejo I's comments.  MDF in combination with the right surface treatment yields really nice results.  It is grain free and can be shaped really well.  Whilst it does not hold screws well, can de-laminate when subjected to pressure along its edge, absorbs moisture and swells and has a binding agent which is a toxic lung irritant it still has desirable features over other materials in certain instances.  It works really well with fillers like Bondo and high-build automotive primers.  I've found (much to my annoyance) that plywood can warp underneath a finish and distort it.  This never happens with MDF given the same treatment.  Panels that are glued with MDF glue are really strongly joined together especially rebated joinery.

On kitchen cabinet builds.  Here in Australia MDF is generally not used to make kitchen benches or cabinets, instead high density (chip) particle board is used.  The same stuff they used in making original arcade cabinets.  Cheap loudspeaker cabinets are made of the same stuff.  High quality speaker cabinet makers choose thick MDF to build with as it has excellent acoustic properties and is better for rounded off edges.

Should you use it to build your cab from?  Maybe.  If you intend to laminate your cab or just use a roller paint treatment I would say no, go with a reasonably good plywood instead.   If you want to produce shaped forms, curved edges or cut-outs and intend to seal and spray paint the surface, MDF is an excellent choice.  You need to use proper PPE with MDF, that's kind of a no brainer.

It does NOT look great with a sloppy paint job, it looks terrible, kinda fuzzy and rough!
« Last Edit: March 15, 2021, 06:46:05 pm by Ond »

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #35 on: March 17, 2021, 12:20:21 pm »
... instead high density (chip) particle board is used.  The same stuff they used in making original arcade cabinets.

I've seen this stated a couple of times, but I don't believe this was the case until late in the game when they started trying to cut costs.  Both my original Defender and Galaxian cabinets used MDF laminated plywood, also known as MDO.  MDF->Medium Density Fiberboard, MDO->Medium Density Overlay.  MDO is also the material used by professional sign makers for outdoor signage, due to it's durability and near perfect surface uniformity.  Again, if cost is no object, MDO is the material of choice for painted, standard panel based designs.  MDF comes in as a close second for indoor (dry) environments when finish is important.

IMHO, the hate for MDF is misplaced.  Like all things, different materials have their different places, depending on the attributes desired by the builder. 

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #36 on: March 17, 2021, 12:54:11 pm »
I've build cabs out of plywood, MDF and MDO.

For plywood I only will use birch or thermal laminated birch.  It's very durable, easy to paint and readily available. 

MDO is awesome but very dusty when cutting.  Very smooth surface, great for painting, cuts without slitting the ends and very durable.  May be a bit more difficult to find. I had to order it through a local plywood supplier.

If I had to pick I would go with MDO>Birch plywood>MDF

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #37 on: March 18, 2021, 12:53:56 pm »

A couple more things to add about MDF. 

It's a great material for a control panel surface.  It's density goes a long way in reducing the "drumming" noise that can be an issue with thin and lighter density material.  And in a world where heavy CRTs and bulky cabinet structures tend to no longer be the norm, the extra weight of the material can add much needed ballast and stability to free-standing cabinets.

Ond

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #38 on: March 18, 2021, 04:25:48 pm »

A couple more things to add about MDF. 

It's a great material for a control panel surface.  It's density goes a long way in reducing the "drumming" noise that can be an issue with thin and lighter density material.  And in a world where heavy CRTs and bulky cabinet structures tend to no longer be the norm, the extra weight of the material can add much needed ballast and stability to free-standing cabinets.

Absolutely! It's density and acoustic properties make it a choice material for speaker cabinet building as well.  If you want a really tough control panel with the properties of MDF, coat the upper surface with a thin layer of fiber-glass and then fine finish. 

mameotron

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Re: Materials other than MDF
« Reply #39 on: April 29, 2021, 02:29:32 pm »
I'm surprised nobody mentioned MDO plywood.  I have to order it from my local Home Depot, but I never have problems getting it.  Kinda pricey but really smooth and durable.

https://www.andersonplywood.com/mdo-medium-density-overlay/