What type of fastner for MDF?

always_beezeeMay 30, 2009

I am building a storage cabinet out of 3/4 and 1/2 MDF.

It will be 7'high x 6' wide x 24" deep and it will be painted. The ends and middle will be 3/4", the front and back will be 1/2", the shelves will be 3/4" and the doors will be 1/2". I have most of the stuff cut out already, then someone asked me how I was going to put it together. I said screws. Then the person said that screws might not work that well.

So my question is what type of fastner to use. Nail, screws, dowel, biscuits, glue, gum, or duck tape. I have never worked with MDF.


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Biscuits would be a good choice for most of it, though you might try other fasteners for attaching the back. Be aware that this cabinet will be very dependent on its back for rigidity and strength, so attach it well. Also, it's very easy to split MDF when screwing into the edges, so pilot them if you ever do this.

Have you considered what sort of hinges you'll use for your 1/2" doors? Most are designed for 3/4" material.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2009 at 8:07PM
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I really haven't thought too much about the hinges. I was thinking of bolting them instead of screws. The two bottom doors will be 30" x 54" and the top two will be 28" x 30". I do know they will have to be substantial because of the weight of the doors.


    Bookmark   May 30, 2009 at 8:17PM
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Screws can work into the flats of MDF, but fail into edges. Dowels + glue are the standard for 90 degree joints. If things are to be hidden, staples and glue can be used. Biscuits are less good in MDF than in ply, because the pockets in edges can still split, and if right at the edge of a flat, they can shear off. I hate the stuff. There, I said it.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2009 at 9:00PM
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What about using 2 x 2 for the interior frame work and using that to screw into.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2009 at 9:09PM
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You shouldn't need an "interior frame work" at all. A faceframe would be a good idea, both to prevent wracking (which is the biggest danger to the carcass joints) and also to support the shelves so that they don't sag.

I agree w/Casey that screws into the edges are a bad idea where significant strength is required. Small screws could be used to attach an applied back, where stresses are smaller and more forgiving, but don't use them between the shelves/top/bottom and sides. As to the benefits of dowels over biscuits... meh. The most important thing is to design the cabinet so that it doesn't rely on super-strong joints, because such joints are pretty much impossible with MDF.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 31, 2009 at 5:08AM
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Even plywood is stronger than MDF, especially when shelf loads are involved.

Do a search for 'sagulator' to find out how your shelves will behave.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2009 at 12:54PM
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Thanks for all of your suggestions. I think I'm going to go with the 2 x 2 interior frame route. I'm more comfortable doing it that way. After all, it's just a storage cabinet not one of those fancy ones with lacy curtains on it.

Thanks, Bernie

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 9:25AM
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Confirmat screws and glue work well with MDF, with pilot holes.

If I was building, I'd dado the sides to accept the shelf ends. Glue and screw.

Then at a minimum a poplar edging on the fronts of the shelves, or to purdy it up, a poplar face frame on the entire cabinet.

Hinge screws often have fine threads, they can easily work loose when driven into the "end grain" of an MDF panel. Consider face mounted hinges instead of edge mounted.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 6:50PM
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