MDF or ply for veneered box?

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10 Nov 2017
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I need to make a large veneered display case

"Large" being approx 1mtr wide.

The edges will very visible and curved (template routed) which pushes me toward MDF, however ply will have less chance of bending.

MDF seems to be easier to purchase in a non-bent state to begin with though!

I've never done veneer so am really unsure.

I would think that the thickness used will be around 22mm ish. Somewhere between 3/4 and an inch.

As I'm here I may as well also ask -

Where to buy the veneer, tools etc and any good YouTube to watch?

Thank you.
Don't let the edges push you down a certain route, you can easily hardwood edge ply and then finish with any routed profile you desire. You don't say what style this display case will take, very modern or more traditional which can influence the material.

Also if you want a veneered finish then I am assuming you have not done this before going by the fact you are asking about the tools so why not buy veneered sheet material?
Its the first one I'll be doing and would rather apply the veneer myself.

Two (three) main reasons -

When I stuff up the design, I won't have wasted as high value material

I figure the edges are the hardest bit, which I'll need to do either way, and...

It would be more satisfying to me to do the job from scratch.

I've not done any veneering before.

The box is, essentially, two curved sides - it fits up against a wall but sits on a table and some metal work between them. So it's the sides that are the large part. They may even be the only exposed wood part (I can't remember I'll have to check the notes)

I'm just on my phone at the moment but imagine a square with a circle overlaid deep over one corner and then cut out.

The square has dimensions of approx 90cm

I'm sorry it's so hazy... Again I'm on my phone and dont have the details to hand.
I think the forum would need a sketch of what you are proposing. By all means veneer the sides yourself. The great advantage is that you can pre finish the edges before veneering. However as a beginner I'm guessing that you don't have a vacuum press so you might want to consider using a ' peel and stick ' type veneer or use a contact adhesive with a paper backed veneer. Think the process through before committing the hard earned. :rolleyes:
Curiously, I do have a vaccum press, but it may not be as strong as is required.

The item is a sheet of neoprene in a sealing steel frame with a vac pump attached. I'm guessing that's the sort of idea?
I use a vacuum press for larger panels and wouldn't be without it. If veneering any flat panel which isn't going to be restrained restrained don't forget that both sides may need veneering to prevent any bowing (balance veneering). You can get away without balance veneering for small boxes. Either material would do but mdf is easier to damage on the edge so my preference might be ply.

I'd avoid buying cheap veneers from some of the usual suspects on Ebay and can recommend Reliance veneers in London unless it's less than a full sheet you need. You can always try the Wood Veneer Hub or one of the other similar outlets for part sheets. For the first attempt you'll find stabilised (paper backed) veneers a lot easier to handle and cut. We tend to select our veneer cuts and Reliance then back them for us.

Avoid iron-on veneer sheets. Best using paper backed veneer (avoid thin fleece backed inferior types) and for smaller panel sizes any D3 grade PVA works well. For smaller boxes etc you can apply by rollering the PVA on both panels (light and even coat) then positioning and working from the centre, use something like a burnishing block, a scrap of oak or similar, finely sanded would do, and press the veneer down from the centre outwards until it just starts to grab, removing all obvious air bubbles or creases. You should see a small amount of bleed out at the edges. You can the take a moderately hot iron, and repeat but don't hold the iron over one point too long as you'll ruin the glue. The idea is to heat it up then using the wooden block, rub over that spot to press the veneer and take the heat off (work only a small area at a time...first press and rub a few times with the iron then work the wooden block over that area). This works well when you get the hang of it but I'd advise trying it on a test piece first.
Let's get back to the basic question - MDF or ply for a veneered display case 1m wide (how deep?). At this stage the veneering doesn't come into it. The choice of sheet material depends on your basic design and veneer can be applied to either substrate. What loads is it going to take? Where is it going to reside? What is the method of construction? Is hardware going to be attached?
Having got your basic design you can start thinking about the details like edge design and surface appearance. Both of these are relevant when considering a veneered finish.
Beware, veneering is full of pitfalls and, quite frankly, starting up the learning curve on a comparively large project like this is not the best way forward. Decent veneers are expensive so best to start on small projects
MDF seems to be easier to purchase in a non-bent state to begin with though!
I'm not sure what you are getting at here, Julian. Surely all sheet materials are purchased flat. Are you thinking of curved surfaces made from MDF sheet?

I'm not sure I can help at this stage, but a sketch of your proposal would be a great help towards more constructive advice.
Curiously, I do have a vaccum press, but it may not be as strong as is required.

The item is a sheet of neoprene in a sealing steel frame with a vac pump attached. I'm guessing that's the sort of idea?
Considering atmospheric pressure is about 10 tons/ sq meter that ought to do the trick ! A pump will draw a vacuum of about eight tons / sq meter .You will need a strip of perforated fabric ( like washing up pads ) to allow the bag to evacuate and of course it should hold your 90 cms pieces. The easiest way to finish a curved edge is to apply a thin 4 mm strip of wood and veneer over them. A few edging G clamps are ideal for that. Otherwise you are into using some of the dedicated router bits to mill a profile in the substrate edge.
I tend to use blockboard for ' carcass ' work like this but you will have to shop around to find it. I can recommend for an excellent service.
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These days of high prices for sheet materials it would push me down the mdf route. If veneered both sides it is very stable. Getting good ply is expensive and the substrate for veneering must be perfect. The benefit of veneering yourself is "cosmetic" in that you have a wider choice of timber species and grain patterns that are not possible with solid wood; plus the scope for decorative embelishments, which as an antique furniture restorer and cabinet maker, I completly agree with. For a display case surely it is the contents that are important, other than when the case is closed. I would agree with all those who have suggested a small trial piece.
Just a thought, for large complex jobs I used to use a veneering company. In my case on the South Coast, The veneer worksop in Portslade, Brighton. They were always professional and good to deal with. Might be worth seeking out someone in your area. I remember Crispins, when they were in Curtain Rd. Shoreditch, wonderful old building with basement store rooms and great to deal with. They merged with Capital veneers twenty years ago, now in different premises in Essex.