Closet Materials and why did I choose them?

I’ve been asked this question about a thousand times so I thought a special post was in order!

Why did I build half the closet out of MDF and the other half out of Plywood?

First, MDF is my first choice of material for painted cabinets.  It’s smooth and straight and doesn’t warp (unless you get it wet) and paints beautifully.  But, IT IS STINKIN’ HEAVY!  I had to lift and carry all the pieces of MDF and then after I built the cabinets, I had to lift the cabinet up to stand it on end.  That was too much.  So, after building the first half of my closet, my back MADE me make a change.  :-)

(The reason I didn’t switch after just a few cabinets is because I cut the pieces for ALL the cabinets on the first side at one time before I started building.)

The plywood I chose, I would not recommend and will never use for any nice cabinets again.  Workshop, fine.  House, no!  It was cheap and smooth on one side so I got it but some of the sheets were warped which I didn’t realize until after I had them home and was cutting them so I just pushed forward but it was a pain!

It’s Sanded Plywood…which is Pine…which is soft.  It’s got a smooth knot free veneer on one side and the other side is knotty and rough which didn’t matter in this situation as none of the outsides are visible in the end.

Plywood is MUCH lighter than MDF so it’s a good choice for LARGE cabinets.  I usually choose a cabinet grade plywood like Birch which has a nice, hard,  smooth veneer on both sides.  Birch Plywood is about $45 per sheet so it’s esssspensive!  Which is why I went with the Sanded Ply!

So that’s why I switched from MDF to Plywood halfway through the closet.   And, if you didn’t see all my status update photos, you would be none the wiser!


  1. my old closet system fell off the wall the other day and I have been thinking about making some shelves and doing a nice custom piece for quite awhile. I was going to use birch ply as you said its doubled sided. I’m stuck on the thickness. Should it be 3/4″ or 1/2″ thickness?

  2. Hi thanks for all the tips, but could you tell me why u left the gap between the bottom box and the top box was it just so u can use a wider face board to give it a better look and on the shelves does your face board hang lower than the thickness of the shelf…. Thanks…

  3. Mili Young says:

    OMG! You have no idea how helpful you are. I have been inspired by everything you do, and you make me think I can build anything. lol Anyways, I am also building my closets with MDF, but last night as we were putting the pieces together, a few of the screws kept cracking the MDF boards. Do you know you know what might be causing it to crack? The screws are ‘PRIMEGUARD EXTERIOR SCREWS 2″ PHILIPS HEAD.’ It would be wonderful to hear from you. =] Thanks!

    • Wood screws for wood projects. I love the SPAX screws because I don’t have to predrill. If you are using regular wood screws you need to predrill to avoid splitting. Also, don’t drive a screw to close to the edge of a board. 2″ at least.

      • Mili Young says:

        Thank You so much! I will look for these screws then. My other question is, how can I add the support pieces to the back of the boxes without screwing them too close to the edge of the board? Is there another way to support it? Our boxes don’t have a backdrop, just 4 pieces of MDF attached to each side of the layers [ top, medium, bottom] [I hope I am making some sense here lol] thanks again!

        • I don’t quite understand. You can schedule a consult with me on my appointment calendar on “services” page and we can video chat to discuss your questions.

  4. Loretta Powers says:

    What type of wood did you use for faceframes on the drawer fronts? I like the beadboard for the insert but if I wanted to use a wood insert what type of wood would you suggest? Did you hand paint the drawer fronts or spray them?

    Love this site – so much inspiration!

    • I hand painted everything. I used poplar on the drawer fronts. If you created them like mine (according to the tutorial) any 1/4″ panel would do. If you are painting, masonite would work. My handle is in the poplar not the beadboard. If you had your handle in the middle of the drawer front you would have to support that panel.

  5. I’m thinking of doing my own closet, I would like to use the better wood but would go with the plywood smooth on both sides. I have a closet that is 10 feet on both sides with 6 feet between both sides and the ceiling is 8 feet. I want to do it where it’s 7 feet tall and no crown molding at the top but around the top of the shelf as decoration. What would you recommend?

  6. What about the lighting? What lights allow you to see how your cloths and colors will really look at the office and outside in the sunlight?

  7. That’s a really cool bookshelf! 50×90 is going to be huge and depending on the size and quantity of the inside boxes, it could be a LOT of material. If you use MDF it will be very heavy. If you are only building one, it wouldn’t be too hard to use MDF and have someone help you lift it up and move it. But then again, if you are only building one, you may not mind spending the extra money for a nice plywood.

    The other thing to consider is that piece doesn’t have a faceframe on the inside shelves. If you use plywood, you’ll have to cover the ends with some kind of veneer before painting. With MDF, you can paint up the ends really nicely after either filling with joint compound or, my personal technique, prime with water primer to raise the “grain” and then sand smooth. Then you can paint and it should be perfectly smooth.

    You will probably need 2 sheets, I’m guessing, so an extra $10-15/sheet may not blow your budget. You will not be able to use the cheaper sanded ply because both sides will be visible. (Unless you double up on 1/2″ but that may end up costing more than going with 3/4″.) Good Quality Cabinet Grade Plywood paints up well so I guess it all comes down to how much you want to spend (or save) and whether or not you have someone that can help you lift and move your piece if it weighs a ton. Good luck. I’d love to see your finished project!

    • Thank you :) Stuff for me to think about! I can’t start for a bit because the garage needs to be cleared out some, but I have a friend that will help with that in a few weeks. It sounds like I’m now making 2 because a bookcase just broke in my bedroom. One will be downstairs, but the other upstairs, so it sounds like the upstairs one might be hard to get mdf up there. Hmmm, I like the sounds of the ease of the mdf for painting, but that I probably couldn’t assemble the upstairs one in the garage, but not sure I want to do a spray gun in my 6yos room. Maybe I’ll end up with plywood upstairs and mdf downstairs and learn a lot quickly(ish). Or make it in two pieces -ugh more thinking :)

  8. Ok, so I’m nearing building my first thing. I want to make some open bookshelves like:

    The sizing is going to be different though, probably closer to 50″w x 90″h with the weight vs ease of use, which would you use for that project?

  9. Ok girl wow! If it were summer and there were flies around, my mouth would be filled to the brim. I just had it hanging open the whole time I was watching your video. So your husband has to find it either sexy or intimidating that you can do what you do! Wow, you keep going girl and how about you swing on into Iowa and whip me up one of those, please!


  10. I have to say that I “LOVE” tools, but have really never felt confident in using them without guidance. Until I found you!! Now, who needs the husband? I re-did my bedroom while he was in Los Angeles for the bowl game, and used a whole bunch of fun tools!! Thanks Sandra!!

  11. Sandra thank you for the run down on wood choices, I have yet to build a piece with MDF because I’m deathly afraid of the weight issue but your smoothness comments are making me think otherwise. And I agree about the birch versus sanded cabinet grade, it’s all in the price.

  12. you deserve a medal!

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