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Query about MDF


NXCALE

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Hi.

I was wondering about other's experience using MDF for a layout baseboard.

Checking online (other websites), some people say that MDF is not a good material for a layout but others just used it and shown pictures/videos of it.

 

Does anyone has experience with MDF?

 

I checked this forum and I think most of the people use plywood.

The MDF pieces (9mm and 20mm thickness) were for free and enough to make a large shelf layout so it is a nice to opportunity to try something.

 

Cheers,

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Nxscale,

 

Mdf can be a pain to use as you need to be careful to how you do your fasteners in it. You need to use good tapered and counter sunk bits to make the correct profile hole for your screws and then drive them carefully as it's easy to strip out your hole. If done carefully it can work well along with glue. Nails also require pre drilling. It does pocket drill pretty well. Practice a bit on some scraps.

 

Other issue is sealing it well it can suck up moisture, so good to paint to seal well. Also it's very heavy to work with.

 

With the 9mm for the top I would think about 12" grid for underside support as mdf can sag some with time, more than ply in my experience when thin.

 

I've used it a bunch in the past for temporary stuff dong large mock ups and it worked well.

 

One other downside is that the sawdust can be much finer when you cut stuff and you should be careful with a dust mask.

 

So if you carefully do your screwing does pretty well and then paint to get it sealed well, just won't be the lightest thing, but if not schlepping around...

 

Cheers

 

Jeff

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Concur with all Jeff says - especially the heavy part.

 

After having to jockey some massive MDF sculpture pedestals between buildings in art school, I designed/built my own using a 1" x 2" open frame with a plywood top.

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As Jeff said the stuff can absorb moisture like a sponge. I have had bad experiences with MDF even when it was sealed. MDF is heavy enough before it sucks up moisture. I have switched to 3/4 inch plywood for my bench-work/framing with 1/2 inch plywood for the deck. It cost a little more but is easier to work with and moisture doesn't affect it, well much ;)

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Yes 3/4" birch cabinet grade ply is the gold standard, you can rip it down to pretty dimensionally stable sections that can be fastened with screws with some care.

 

The stuff I love os the 7-9 ply Finnish birch. Expensive, but it really is great stuff and behaves like regular lumbar but much less prone to warping and very strong. Out new club modules will be made of this for the frame work using 12mm thick X 1.5" tall.

 

Jeff

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Thanks for the information, I did not know about the moisture issue.

But yes I read that a mask is necessary when cutting MDF and other materials.

 

Actually the MDF (at home) is sealed and in good condition but it is already quite heavy.

I think I will also get some plywood to try (and power tools).

 

I will aim to a semi-temporary thing as I still need to learn about permanent layouts.

 

Cheers,

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Hello,

 

I use 9mm MDF with bracing at 700mm.  Baseboards are 1400 (5 x Tomix long straight) x 560 (2 x Tomix long straight).  This size fits nicely across the back seat of the car.  My layout is 8 years old.  No sagging.  All MDF and bracing are painted black, gloss, oil based.  Bracing and edge pieces are 16mm x 70mm deep MDF.  The system works well for me.

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When i was a kid i had an unsealed chipboard based TT layout build by my dad for us. It was heavy but did not warp much despite being an unbraced 15mm sheet. While drilling, you had splinters everywhere.

 

Mdf is heavier and has to be sealed after drying it out and this includes the top, especially if you use water based glues or water diluted white glue for scenery. It also tends to break or crack more easily on dynamic loads, like in case of frequent transportation. Plywood requires more bracing but can be much thinner (and lighter) and takes the occasional abuse better.

 

For static layouts, that aren't moved around after assembly, imho mdf is fine, just use a good sealing paint and a strong furniture moving crew if you do have to move it.

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It is a little embarrassing but checking carefully the pieces of "MDF", it turned out that it is Melamine.

I just can say that my experience working with these materials is almost zero.

 

Anyway, is it possible to use Melamine for a baseboard?

 

I have been checking plywood for later.

However,I already have the Melamine boards at home so I could try if it makes sense.

Thanks for the previous information, this (i.e. materials for permanent layouts) is a total new topic for me.

 

Cheers,

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Melamine is just particle board or mdf (denser particle board) with a facing of plastic or resin saturated printed wood pattern paper. Works the same way mdf/particle board does, it just has the hard surface. Does help give it some layers and test to keep flat and that's the reason I use it for some jigs in the shop where I need very flat and smooth (but I always brace it well).

 

Mdf comes in a wide range from cheap particle board that sucks water right up and crumbles to high density stuff with lots of resin that can be really water resistant and flat and hard (but very heavy). This is primarily why I stay away from it as you are never quite sure how well the stuff is made until it's too late and falling apart later! Also the fastening care needs extra attention. But for some things the dense stuffs mass helps and it can be cut very smooth with some care for bits that need tight assembly. melamine does chip more with circular saws so best to use an alternating tooth blade.

 

Using melamine for your layout top could pose a problem as the plastic/resin surface is usually engineered to not have stuff stick to it so many be harder to glue scenery to, may hold well enough but with a quick test to see how stuff holds if you are gluing track or scenery down. But might also work to your advantage if only temporary and you want to pull stuff up easily later! Drilling and driving track nails or screws could be a challenge as well as the surface is usually hard.

 

If the stuff is free and you want to practice whacking together a little layout base give it a whirl! If it doesn't work no biggie it was just practice.

 

Tools would be

 

- small hand circular saw ( nothing fancy needed, even a ryobi Rechargable set from home despot works fine) or a cheap corded one)

 

- straight guide for the saw. These clamp onto the panel and you can run the saw along it to do a long rip cut or even a cross cut. These can be just a stick and a couple of clamps, or one with the clamps built into the bottom, to fancy sled systems your saw locks into and slides down the clamping guide rail. All work well but simple clamping one costs $20-40 and is easier than trying to clamp a board down!

 

- square 12-24" to get cuts square

 

- variable speed drill (again cheap Rechargable does the trick unless you doing a lot of work not needed to spend a fortune)

 

- countersink drill bit set to drill tapered screw holes with a counter sink to flush or sink the screw heads. $5-20 great investment for mdf

 

That's about it. Depending on how much you want to get into wood working you can of course start with fancier tools and they generally work a bit better, but for these things, simple and more inexpensive will work just fine and last ol w,o huge use. Expensive tools are nice, but rarely do you get the money out of them unless doing uber precise work and or lots of it! For a starter set the ryobi sets at Homedespot are great. I use mine all the time and the drill has held up for very very great abuse and work. The little circular saw does fine for the quick odd jobs and is powerful enough to go thru pretty heavy stuff on a good charge ans you go slow. Also can check the local habitat for humanity reuse store as some great tools can come thru there.msometimes old and warn,mbut completely functional and uber solid. I have a big corded heavy drill and circular saw I got there for like $10 that are scary powerful, ugly and warn, but why I need to bore a large hole thru 8" or cut a long cut 2" deep they do it w,o blinking!

 

Thing to do is just give it a shot and experiment, learn, and try. The pile of melimine sounds like something to start on and learn w.o any materials cost! If it's a disaster no big loss you learned what works and does not work for you! If the melamine is a disaster for you get some ply and play. Each material takes some getting use to and some are just not for all!

 

Cheers

 

Jeff

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Thanks Jeff for the comprehensive explanation.

 

It sounds like lots to learn so my approach would be to go step by step.

I made a list of the power tools and I will also need to check how to use a circular saw.

 

A semi-temporary layout is still my goal. One without much scenery, just to test layouts until I find an appealing one.

 

Cheers,

 

p.s. I got a driller so that is already some progress. Also checking about jigsaws.

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Check YouTube for circular saw lessons. Also some counties have lending libraries for tools and some even have someone that can do the basic safety check. Some community colleges or adult Ed programs have a power tool course as well. Luckily with a circular saw the blade is well guarded when not cutting wood, but still something to be careful with. That also why I grab the little ryobi first as its very light and easy to maneuver so safer not dealing with a lot of weight. The monster really takes two hands to use so everything has to support itself! But it will cut thru just about anything!

 

Jig saws are handy and pretty inexpensive, but not great at giving you a straight and clean line. Edges of your cut can be a little rounded They also tend to tear the edged a little more. But very good for cutting curves or little quick bits of cutoff. Also pretty safe, hard to cut a digit off with one!

 

Sounds like the melamine would work ok to do a small temp layout to play with. Always good to start simple and cheap likemthis and screw up on free stuff to learn from!

 

Jeff

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Hello,

 

Melamine or particleboard is fine, but you must edge the board with strip timber as the edges will crumble with time.  Like MDF, paint finish is necessary.

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Working with plywood (or melamine or mdf) still sounds like too much complicated

So, I bought a couple of portable/foldable tables and a second hand ikea desk (the later one for free). 

This gives me an area of approx. 3.4m x 0.7m to start testing new layouts.

 

Being all this in my garage, I need to think about how to manage insects and other things.

But for the moment, some plastic drop sheets (the ones for painting) will help to protect temp layouts from dust.

 

I still have the pieces of melamine although the idea about working with wood and power tools is just there for now.

 

Cheers,  

Edited by nxcale
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That's a great solution to start with, gets you up anf going fast. If you feel like you need a base other than the table top that 1" extruded stryene foam insulation board works well and let's you run wires thru and under it then. You can always raise it up off the tables a tad with some small blocks of wood to allow an area to run wires. Easy to drill holes in it to run wires. You can pin track down to it with straight pins thru the track nail holes to hold it place temporarily. Usually comes in 2'x8' sheets (with rabit joints so you can connect panels together easily) or 4'x8' sheets. Cuts easily with a big serrated bread knife.

 

Bugs are usually not an issue until you do scenery and may put down some stuff they may like to munch on...

 

Jeff

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I have an idea which could help you if you don't want to work with wood too much: Find a shop that is willing to cut plywood to size for you. I found a nice wood, paint and metal shop that is open until 9PM on weekdays (so i can get to them after work) and willing to cut any size of plywood as long as it's rectangular and given in cm. This allows me to order complete ttrak modules in kit form very cheaply and pick them up a week later (even cheaper if you order more than one at a time, around 3 usd per single module, including the M6 leg screws). I also get screws and other metal parts from them. Then i drill 4 holes in the legs for the screws, glue the parts together and finally paint the module. Ideally no cutting required, just a bit of sanding before painting. The tracks and scenery are glued on top of this, with scenery built up from scraps of wood, step resistent foam sheets, paper and styrene sheets.

 

If you really want to avoid wood, then step resistent foam sheets are really good as a base, you can cut them with a hobby knife and once glued together in multiple layers with water resistant wood glue, they are hard as wood. You can literally jump on it and it still holds. (i tried it) If you want underboard cabling, then having one sheet on top and a few strips glued under the edges will work and you can finish the sides with glue and paper or styrene (the 1mm kind, you can cut with a knife or scissors).

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Thanks for the info Jeff and kvp. Insulation foam is available in my local warehouse, I think I will give it a go soon.

The idea of finding a shop to cut the plywood is a good one, I will need to check around.

So, I will start with temp layouts on the tables/desk then move to foam and then possibly move to wood.

 

Cheers,

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I've used MDF for ten years now, no bracing on a 900x900mm layout other than a 25x12 brace around the outside. The brace is more to protect the point motors than for strength, the board was only painted on top for decorative purposes.

 

The track is nailed down, point motors screwed on...

 

No warping, no moisture problems... perhaps the only thing is that it's not in a shed/loft/other unheated space... Or did I get lucky and by Nasa quality? That would be unusual coming from Homebase!

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All scales,

 

Well at that span I'm a bit surprised the mdf did not sag a bit in the center, but if 3/4-1" the it can be pretty sturdy and stuff of 10 years back is better than current home despot materials! It can be hard and flat and melamine (plastic faced mdf is used for flat stuff, just has to be sealed well along the edges and water kept away if possible,

 

Have you looked across it to see if there is any sag?

 

Moisture can be the big issue with mdf. Painting the top helped seal it against any scenery moisture and if in the house and low humidity swings then it will hold up well. Seasonal humidity swings can get it like most woods, but if your a has a good dehumidifier built in (most do these days) and it doesn't get too dry in winter cold, then it can do well.

 

Ive just never really liked working with the stuff. High grade stuff works well enough but the weight and the care with screwing on it and he hardness to do somethings like small nails and screws just make it not my go to at all. Also the dust from sawing can be very powdery and hang in the air and seems to statically coat everything in the shop when ive used it differently than regular wood sawdust. Again my goto for structural stuff is the 7-11 ply Baltic birch ply. Pricy, but in the end cheaper than dementional lumber these days and very straight (a lot of the home despot dimensional lumber will really warp when ripped down after you have started with the 1 in 10 boards you can find there that are reasonably flat!) as I don't think there is great care in their kilning and then boards can get soaked in transport to the store as well.

 

The one thing that has stayed pretty good is the Lunan 4mm undelaminant ply. Still pretty cheap, but harder than all the cheap regular plus and cheap birch ply, has a thicker skin and looks decent. It's a lot darker than birch, but looks a bit dark hardwoodish. Found it works well for module/layout tops on top of Baltic birch framing. Downside of using the Baltic birch for framing is you need a table saw to rip up your strips and great if you can pass them thru a planer to get both edges smooth, clean and parallel and all exact same width (I get lazy, would be better to get one side flat and clean onnthe jointer and then the other side on the planer, but usually the Palmer does fine by itself)

 

Jeff

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