Plywood vs MDF

Discussion in 'My Favorite Mods, Tips, Tricks (and Blunders!)' started by Ironwindow, Oct 12, 2017.

  1. Ironwindow

    Ironwindow New Member

    Oct 6, 2017
    Looking at completely rebuilding the cabinets in my pup. The MDF or particle board cabinets and counters that are in it need some help. I figured if I was going to take them completely out, I might as well make them new.

    Thought about building the new ones out of plywood because it's more durable and I can use a thinner board that's lighter and stronger than the 1/2 and 3/4 inch particle board that's in there.

    What are the pros and cons (besides price) of plywood and MDF?
  2. Halford

    Halford Well-Known Member

    Sep 28, 2011
    Santa Clarita, California
    I think the MDF made for the popup has special feature that allows it to breath and let out water... Not exact sure but I do not paint underneath though.
  3. Wakita46

    Wakita46 Member

    Mar 15, 2013
    Particle board is weak, heavy, easily ruined by water, and doesn't hold screws well. I hate the stuff. Go with plywood.
    Adam H and xxxapache like this.
  4. Ironwindow

    Ironwindow New Member

    Oct 6, 2017
    I agree
  5. tfischer

    tfischer Well-Known Member

    Particle board & MDF has its uses but I don't think pop-ups are a good one.
  6. TRR

    TRR Active Member

    Nov 3, 2014
    Alabama USA
    For the camper manufacturers, MDF has the advantage of being less expensive and more stable. (By more stable I mean that it's less likely to be warped or bowed and there are no knots, voids, etc.) And it often provides a smoother surface than plywood, and comes with the laminated printed surface veneer installed from the factory, meaning that it's fast to just cut it out and slap it together with the plastic trim to cover any exposed edges. No stain/finish need be applied. I can readily understand why they like to use it when mass-producing campers. I would too.

    But if you're working on your own PUP and can take the time and have the skills to build new cabinetry out of good quality plywood that you finish correctly, you'll wind up with a stronger, more durable, and (if you did it right) much prettier end result.
    Fbird and crackerJack like this.
  7. Boatnman

    Boatnman Well-Known Member

    Jan 19, 2017
    western Colorado
    You can also purchase wood veneer MDF.
  8. xvz12

    xvz12 Active Member

    Apr 6, 2017
    New Plymouth, ID
    i work in a trim & moulding manufacturing facility, we make mouldings, window parts, interior trim etc, out of various species of wood, & MDF. Mdf is heavy, even looking at water ruins it, & it's strength is depressingly deceiving, it will snap in two with little to no warning....not something I would want in my pup. I do have MDF as workbench tops in my little workshop, but it is 1-1/2" thick, well supported from underneath, & heavily varnished to protect it. YMMV.
    Fless, xxxapache and durhamcamper like this.
  9. GrueMaster

    GrueMaster Member

    May 22, 2013
    Saint Helens, Oregon
    I use MDF for templates when woodworking because it is very easy to shape with a power sander. Beyond that, scrap the crap.
  10. tfischer

    tfischer Well-Known Member

    My woodworking assembly table is MDF with a hardboard layer on top it’s held up for nearly 15 years and I’d say is a perfect application for the stuff. But it’s very heavy
  11. Boatnman

    Boatnman Well-Known Member

    Jan 19, 2017
    western Colorado
    Most cabinets that have a wood appearance are made using a variety of wood products. The face frames and doors are made of solid wood (doors can be wood veneer plywood or MDF if they are a flush panel), side panels are MDF (with a secondary plywood panel applied if it is exposed), bottom & adjustable shelves are MDF with a printed paper or thin melamine surface & edge, and plastic laminate countertops use particle board as the substrate.

    So which product is "better" depends on which part of the cabinet you are using it for and what you are trying to achieve. The quality of the product is also very important. Just because the sheet of veneer plywood is flat when you purchase it doesn't mean it will remain flat after cutting it into smaller pieces.

    The original cabinets in a PUP were only meant to last long enough to get through the warranty.
  12. Ironwindow

    Ironwindow New Member

    Oct 6, 2017
    Really didn't know there was that many kinds of wood used in the cabinets.

    Gonna get my uncle to make the new ones for me, he's a carpenter and electrician by trade.
  13. Boatnman

    Boatnman Well-Known Member

    Jan 19, 2017
    western Colorado
    That's probably a really wise choice. Unless you're skilled at woodworking and have the proper tools and equipment, cabinet making can be very challenging.
  14. Ironwindow

    Ironwindow New Member

    Oct 6, 2017
    I'm a mechanic... I can fix anything with an engine but am me to cut a board and I'm useless
  15. Theblindlady

    Theblindlady Member

    Jul 13, 2012
    Akron, Ohio
    I started out using mdf but because of the weight, I changed over to "Blond wood". Sort of a plywood with a nice smooth side to finish. Also came in 1/2". That worked out great. Nice looking and nice and light weight.
  16. 2scars

    2scars New Member

    Jan 22, 2018
    Richmond, Virginia
    If you are using MDF, please wear a mask. I used to work on movies and a lot of props and wood like BS was made with the stuff because it is easy to work and cut. A LOT of dust that isn't remotely good for you. If I get to the point that I am rebuilding cabinets in my PUP, I will likely use baltic birch plywood, it has no voids, but only comes in 3x5 sheets. Really good plywood, industry standard for nice cabinetry. If weight is a issue for you you might get away with some 1/2" luaun.

  17. CamperLover

    CamperLover For evil to triumph, Good men do nothing

    Jul 28, 2015
    [QUOTE="Ironwindow, What are the pros and cons (besides price) of plywood and MDF?[/QUOTE]

    OK as someone how repairs, rebuilds, camper and schoolies. Do NOT use any fabricated wood product. ie mdf participial. Now a days newer products in wood treatment preparations and better quality with hard woods. There is no advantages to using prossesed wood. MDF and participial still is heavy and it is ruined by water. Biggest kicker is the water in the wood and the glues create a petri dish for mold and rot. Do you really want your kids and what not to breathe in the spores. Hard wood is the only way to go. It lasts longer, more sturdier, and a better canvas for paint and wallpaper whatever.

    I always use real wood with the gripper primer sealer. At the store I added 3 oz of mold inhibitor for added measure. I promise you will be a ton happier in the long run.

    FYI I paint top bottom and sides to keep moisture out. Never once had a problem. extra work yes, but your efforts will be rewarded.

    Don't get me wrong. I don't agree with sealing with things like flex seal and what not. The Gripper primer sealer wont destroy the wood. Out of all the rebuilds I have done. Not one has had a problem.

    Good luck.
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