Alternatives to MDF - I can't stand the dust!

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  • fjhuerta
    Super Senior Member
    • Jun 2006
    • 1140

    Alternatives to MDF - I can't stand the dust!

    Well, my wife can't stand the dust, but if she can't do it, then neither can I (apparently).

    In all honesty, MDF smells horrible when it burns, and it seems the dust is a bit dangerous to anyone's health.

    I was wondering if any hardwood could be a suitable alternative. I haven't been able to find plywood with a nice enough grain.

    If maple could be the answer, I'd be a very happy guy indeed.

    Opinions?
    Javier Huerta
  • Hdale85
    Moderator Emeritus
    • Jan 2006
    • 16075

    #2
    Well usually the alternative is birch plywood (13ply) or any high grade cabinet quality plywood that is ~13ply. You could use real plyboo but it's quite expensive

    Problem with real hardwoods is they expand and contract depending on the weather. But many have used hardwoods here so it's certainly doable.

    Comment

    • chrismercurio
      Senior Member
      • May 2007
      • 116

      #3
      Originally posted by fjhuerta
      Well, my wife can't stand the dust, but if she can't do it, then neither can I (apparently).
      In all honesty, MDF smells horrible when it burns, and it seems the dust is a bit dangerous to anyone's health.
      I was wondering if any hardwood could be a suitable alternative. I haven't been able to find plywood with a nice enough grain.
      If maple could be the answer, I'd be a very happy guy indeed.
      Opinions?
      I like prototyping in MDF because it is cheap. If you use tools that have vacuum systems ala Festool it can cut down on the dust but I agree it is nasty stuff.

      Like Dougie said, BB and bamboo ply are great options with the multiplier being 2-3xMDF for BB and 10xMDF for bamboo ply. If you offset your time with the money spent on materials I like Bamboo ply best. What I have purchased in the past has been dead flat and easy to finish. The splinters are the worst I have ever had though. BB is a great compromise.

      Chris

      Comment

      • Hdale85
        Moderator Emeritus
        • Jan 2006
        • 16075

        #4
        Plyboo is incredibly dense and stiff though. Fantastic stuff.

        Comment

        • Paul Ebert
          Senior Member
          • May 2004
          • 402

          #5
          Hardwood expands and contracts across the grain, for the most part. So, if you made the top, bottom and sides so that the grain went from side to side rather than from front to back, the expansion and contraction would only change the depth of the cabinet.

          You would still need to deal with the baffle and the back. These could be done in BB. That's probably about the best you could do. There are woods that do not expand and contract as much. I don't remember which, but seem to recall they are exotics like rosewood. I do not believe that maple is one of them.

          Comment

          • jbateman
            Member
            • May 2005
            • 37

            #6
            Originally posted by fjhuerta
            I haven't been able to find plywood with a nice enough grain.

            Opinions?
            If you're referring to the appearance of the plywood, you can veneer over it just like you would with an mdf substrate.

            Comment

            • WayneW
              Junior Member
              • Jul 2009
              • 11

              #7
              I have made several enclosures from hardwood, and if you don't get too big, the swelling & shrinking are not a problem. I typically do a 1.5" thick baffle and the sub-baffle is usually MDF. Baltic Birch plywood is a great material to use as well, but I wouldn't shy away from Oak, Cherry, Walnut, Birch or Maple plywood. Spend a little time filling any voids with some good putty prior to glue up and you end up with a nice strong enclosure. If you look, sometimes you can find veneer core plywood. It has a core of plywood, and a layer of masonite below the veneer on each side. As we all know, masonite is actually HDF, but the layers are only about 1/8" thick so the dust is minimal and gets mixed in with the plywood.
              YMMV

              Regards,
              Wayne

              Comment

              • bobhowell
                Senior Member
                • Jul 2008
                • 202

                #8
                Originally posted by Paul Ebert
                Hardwood expands and contracts across the grain, for the most part. So, if you made the top, bottom and sides so that the grain went from side to side rather than from front to back, the expansion and contraction would only change the depth of the cabinet.

                You would still need to deal with the baffle and the back. These could be done in BB. That's probably about the best you could do. There are woods that do not expand and contract as much. I don't remember which, but seem to recall they are exotics like rosewood. I do not believe that maple is one of them.
                This is what I do and I have had great luck. I have used a lot of poplar, which is cheap. Stain it with cherry color and you will have CHERRY, to all but the most discerning eye. Top, Bottom and sides, with endgrain always glued to end grain. I have used MDF for baffles but I am going to use solid wood now for up to 9" baffles. I will bolt them on as Zaph does and expect that to allow enough movement. The width is the only issue; the length is immaterial here.

                I use cheap oak or birch plywood for the back. I like the look of contrasting black baffles so I am planning to stain some of them black with black dye.

                This past year I have found the price of wood down and the quality way up. I go to one place that supplies the local cabinet makers and have found loads of WIDE CURLY MAPLE for $2/BF or a sq foot. Thats 3/4 to 7/8 thick, finished on top, bottom and one side. Poplar is $1.30-.50. and also comes in 5/4 which is 1-1/8" thick. I bought a 12' long board 7/8" thick, and 12.5" wide for $25. I was beautiful curly maple. I made three subs and posted pics. here some where during the last 9 months.

                As for strength, wood is superior to MDF and equal to BB. The cheaper oak/birch is still strong. I read on SL's site about experiments 25-35 yrs ago about using 1/4 and 3/4 plywood. Tar and sand made up quickly for the 1/4 plywood. I got some 1-1/4" foam damping material from PE by mistake and it has a 1/4" layer that is very dense. I think it is used in auto installations. I bet you could use it with 1/8 plywood and be ok!!

                Have fun

                Bob

                Comment

                • chrismercurio
                  Senior Member
                  • May 2007
                  • 116

                  #9
                  Originally posted by bobhowell
                  This past year I have found the price of wood down and the quality way up. I go to one place that supplies the local cabinet makers and have found loads of WIDE CURLY MAPLE for $2/BF or a sq foot. Thats 3/4 to 7/8 thick, finished on top, bottom and one side. Poplar is $1.30-.50. and also comes in 5/4 which is 1-1/8" thick. I bought a 12' long board 7/8" thick, and 12.5" wide for $25. I was beautiful curly maple. I made three subs and posted pics. here some where during the last 9 months.
                  Where do you live?

                  Originally posted by bobhowell
                  As for strength, wood is superior to MDF and equal to BB. The cheaper oak/birch is still strong. I read on SL's site about experiments 25-35 yrs ago about using 1/4 and 3/4 plywood. Tar and sand made up quickly for the 1/4 plywood. I got some 1-1/4" foam damping material from PE by mistake and it has a 1/4" layer that is very dense. I think it is used in auto installations. I bet you could use it with 1/8 plywood and be ok!!

                  Have fun

                  Bob
                  I experimented with BBC damping of cabs which equates to multiple layers of roofing felt and an adhesive to bind them to your panels. It works well for damping as long as dealing with a toxic substance doesn't bother you too much. If you dig around, the BBC paper is available with measurements.

                  Comment

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