What material for garage cabinets?

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Forum topic by Vrtigo1 posted 09-01-2010 10:57 PM 23038 views 1 time favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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434 posts in 3193 days

09-01-2010 10:57 PM

I know there are tons of posts on the subject, but none specifically addressing my question that I could find. I have a whole mess of 2×4 shelving in my garage, and feel the time has come to rip it out and build something better.

I want to build some wall cabinets, but am stuck on trying to figure out what to build them out of. 3/4 birch plywood seems like it would be my first choice, but at about $45/sheet, I wanted to see if there were any other good options. I’m not opposed to spending the money to do it right, but am trying to figure out what “right” is.

I’ll probably just paint the cabinets, so I was thinking about using MDF, which is about $30/sheet, but I’m not sure if there would be any problems using it in an uninsulated garage in Florida, plus from my experience it doesn’t hold screws very well.

I can also get BC pine plywood for about $35/sheet, but not sure if that would look good enough when painted, or if it would even be worth saving the $10/sheet over birch. Are there any other good options?

I’m planning on making face frames and door frames out of pine and using MDF for door panels. Am I at least on the right track there?

15 replies so far

View swirt's profile


3429 posts in 3174 days

#1 posted 09-02-2010 06:16 AM

I’d avoid MDF in a Florida garage. Way too humid.

-- Galootish log blog,

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

6303 posts in 3396 days

#2 posted 09-02-2010 06:41 AM

If you want to see what plywood cabinets look like in a woodshop, just go to my home, and look under my shop pixs. I build all of my cabinets out of 3/4” birch, put about 2 coats of a mixture of tung oil and mineral spirits on, and they look good…. It’s well worth it in the end to use good plywood… Not only looks nice, but will hold up a lot better than MDF for cabinets…...I think you’ll be a lot happier with the results….....

-- " At my age, happy hour is a crap and a nap".....!!

View Greedo's profile


473 posts in 3162 days

#3 posted 09-02-2010 01:11 PM

i have actually made mdf cabinets, with pine face frames in my projects.
and i recently finished a wall tool cabinet with pine door frames and mdf raised panels and i am verry happy with the result. but with mdf it is important that that you threat the surface, preferably with acrylic laquer. or it can swell over the years. there also exists bathroom mdf that is green, only slightly more expensive but it resists humidity.

i don’t like to use plywood, it’s expensive, it splinters, it has a grain direction wich looks silly when the grain goes across the length. and i find it’s more easy to make solid screwed glued joints in mdf than with ply.

but mdf does look quite bland, you got to like it.

View Vrtigo1's profile


434 posts in 3193 days

#4 posted 09-02-2010 02:56 PM

Hey Rick, those cabinets do look good. Bit confused though…why do you have two table saws with an outfeed table between them??? Looks like the setup for some kind of “I can cut wood faster than you” game. Heh.

View helluvawreck's profile


32087 posts in 3069 days

#5 posted 09-02-2010 03:10 PM

I’d would use the birch plywood; however it would be nice if you can get some that is good and flat. You might do better getting some from a cabinet shop supplier than from the big box people.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View CharlieM1958's profile


16281 posts in 4420 days

#6 posted 09-02-2010 03:31 PM

Definitely go with the birch ply. However, depending on ow you plan to construct them, you could save some money by using 1/2” for the sides. Using 3/4 for wall cabinet boxes is really overkill.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View TheDane's profile


5550 posts in 3865 days

#7 posted 09-02-2010 03:52 PM

I used 3/4” birch ply and French cleats for the cabinets in my garage … thought about MDF, but I avoid that stuff like the plague for anything that needs to take hard use and abuse.

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

6303 posts in 3396 days

#8 posted 09-02-2010 04:59 PM

Greetings again, Vrtigo,

Thanks for looking at the shop..thought it might give you some ideas of what the birch would look like.. The reason I have 2 tablesaws back to back is two-fold…The old Craftsman was my very first saw that
bought in about 1985-86(?). I used it all those years in my shops, and being a contractor saw, it was a 3 hp. But I always wanted a cabinet saw (and Delta).. I bought a new Delta X5, 5 hp. last year, and this sucker is a
beast…I now use it for all my main cutting of material, and decided to keep the old saw for dados and rabbits.
A few months ago I built a new cabinet system for it(you can check it out on my blog( a new look for an old workhorse)moved it to the other side of the outfeed table I built for the new one, and have them back to back…Plus

it gives me more outfeed using one saw or the other….. It does speed up the process… That’s why I have it like that….I just couldn’t part with an old friend…. Check out the blog, and you’ll see why…....That saw is dead-on accurate, too with the fence I put on many years ago…....

-- " At my age, happy hour is a crap and a nap".....!!

View Vrtigo1's profile


434 posts in 3193 days

#9 posted 09-02-2010 05:28 PM

Makes sense, Rick. I bet it’s nice not having to change out the stacked dado set.

Everyone else, thanks for the replies. I think I will go with 3/4 birch for the backs and make the rest out of 1/2” birch.

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 3052 days

#10 posted 09-02-2010 06:07 PM

Industry standard is 3/4 or 5/8 materials for the case, 1/4 for the back. I don’t think you’d get a good joint between the face frame and the case if you used 1/2 material for the case. Further, you’d likely have issues with whatever shelf support system you chose for the inside.

Melamine products are a natural for this project. No painting, as has been noted, and the light colors will really contribute to the overall brightness in your garage, something that becomes more important as we age. Another beauty of MM and MDF is the lack of grain—it makes for more effiicient use of the material.

The best way to deal with the exposed edges is edgebanding, which can be done low-tech with your basic thrift store Mary Proctor iron. Good matching paint is an option.

If you apply the 1/4 back without a rabbet in the case, you have covered that edge; the faceframe covers the front, so all you need to edgeband is the top and bottom edges of the sides.

I’d suggest you look for an alternative to the pine for faceframes. It doesn’t like to stay straight and is not fond of holding hinge screws. I am not sure what would be the right choice in your part of the country.

Regarding the comments about particle board and mdf holding screws, the answer to that is don’t use them. Biscuits are a great way to joint the case pieces. (If you don’t have that facility, rabbet the sides (1/3 deep) and use pin nails.) Use Extend glue, slather the four pieces together, clamp, and then apply the already-built faceframe and clamp it. (You can also biscuit the ff on, but it’s not really necessary. If you do, cut just the bottom rail and one stile—let the rest land where they may and just glue them.) The 2 1/4 nailers go inside the back, top and bottom for uppers, and the 1/4 back (any material—you’ll never see it) over that. Done!

My apologies for the windiness of this reply.

-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View dbhost's profile


5767 posts in 3434 days

#11 posted 09-02-2010 06:25 PM

I have had VERY bad experiences with MDF in coastal Texas. Florida can’t be much better. I know good quality plywood is a bit on the spendy side, but it is well worth it. Cheap plywood however, will have you cursing the day you walked into the lumber yard!

Not sure if they are in Florida, but I have found Sutherlands to have good birch and oak cabinet grade plywood.

-- Please like and subscribe to my YouTube Channel

View TYT300's profile


1 post in 819 days

#12 posted 09-17-2016 02:25 AM

I only have experience using plywood (Birch) but was considering MDF for a new garage cabinet project. I’m strongly leaning towards plywood. Don’t mind the cost, just want to be sure the project yields good results when it’s done…don’t want to have to re-invest later to replace. Since my project will be birch plywood instead of pine, I’m assuming my painted finish will have better results.

Plywood 1

View woodbutcherbynight's profile


5709 posts in 2611 days

#13 posted 09-17-2016 03:00 AM

How deep will the cabinets be? If you want solid wood gluing some together to your width might be an option. Now if you want something to look furniture grade this gets pricey but I just got done with three cabinets 18 inch deep for a neighbor out of HERE IT COMES…... white wood #2 from the Borg. Homeowner requested, not my choice. But they are flat, and took paint well.

If not, spend money on some good birch ply and edge them with some wood of your choice and it should look good ad hold up for years.

my 2 cents worth anyway I would admit most of my shop cabinets are recycled from older homes, back when they used wood not MDF or tree barf like they do now. (laughing)

-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

View realcowtown_eric's profile


617 posts in 2139 days

#14 posted 09-17-2016 03:08 AM

import shop birch 3/4” ply would be my choice,

And although the “industry standard” metioned before is 1/4” back, I just always use 5/8 or 3/4” back.

I’ve repaired a few too many of those “industry standard 1/4” back” failures to put any trust in them, and besides, by the time you get fussing around with 3 or 4 sheet stock sizes, setting up etc, you don’t use any space…. (EG 1/4” back plus a flimsy 1/2” nailing strip, yer at 3/4” anyway. So you can just use a 3/4” back and put as many screws as you want. One of my neighbours was injured when the uppers failed and fell on her and I have my own story to tell some other time

If you use 5/8” material, 1/4” back. 1/2” nailing strips, gotta make cut diagrams for each size, set up seperate dados/rabbets, and I could never figure out why folks would fuss like that. To me, cut to size, set up a dado and cutt all the dados at once….one size fits all and waste is minimized.

And besides, if yer cutting square you don’t have the sloppy fit of that 1/4” back that allows racking of cabinets.Make em square, install them level and bob’s yer uncle. . Key is absolute squareness. Not hard to achieve

If not square you got a mess!

Price wise, import shop birch is sometimes even less than 5/8 mcp or 3/4 MDF. Watch the prices of small suppliers, and use the match and beat aspect of the bib borg pricing promises!

Eric in

-- Real_cowtown_eric

View MT_Stringer's profile


3183 posts in 3433 days

#15 posted 09-17-2016 03:32 AM

3/4 birch for the sides. No back; 3/4 inch french cleats.

Cabinets are 14 inches deep.

-- Handcrafted by Mike Henderson - Channelview, Texas

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