How to make your own shelf using MDF

MDF, aka medium-density fibreboard, is a type of engineered wood that’s fairly easy to come by and work with.

If you want to make a shelf with the stuff but you’ve never worked with it before, it’s understandable that you might want a few tips.

Thomas Goodman, construction expert at MyJob, has talked us through how to use this readily-available and versatile material to build our own shelves.

What you’ll need

  • Spirit level
  • Screwdriver
  • Hammer drill
  • Sandpaper
  • MDF boards
  • Support timbers
  • Tape measure
  • Wall plugs and screws
  • Paint (optional)
  • A respirator mask

Step 1 – Planning and measuring

Thomas says you should begin by measuring the space where you want the shelf to go.

He adds: ‘Consider what you will be placing on top of the shelf, so you can determine where it will be best positioned.

‘If you are planning on installing more than one shelf, also be aware of how far apart they need to be spaced based on what you’re going to be placing on them.’

Step 2 – Cutting

Now’s the time to get your supplies together.

‘You will need supporting timber pieces to ensure your shelf is safer and sturdier,’ says Thomas.

‘Each shelf needs four pieces, one on each side, plus an additional one in the middle if you want extra support.

‘Support is important if you’re planning on storing heavy items on the shelf. Cut your pieces based on the number of shelves you are building.

‘MDF boards will often be cut in the size and shape needed at the store where you bought them. If the MDF boards haven’t been cut, these will also need to be measured and cut to size.’

If you do it yourself, don’t forget to wear a respirator mask and to make sure you’re cutting it in a well-ventilated environment, as the MDF will release a lot of dusty particles when it’s cut that you won’t want to breathe that in.

You’ll want to do the same while drilling too.

Step 3 – Attach the support structure

Thomas says you’ll very likely find that your shelves need to have a support structure.

‘The top of the structure needs to be in line with the top of the upper shelf,’ he adds.

‘Begin by screwing the first part of the structure to the back wall of the alcove – make sure it’s level while you’re doing it. Next, start fitting the sides and then finally fit the front strip

‘It’s a good idea to pre-drill holes in the timber to help avoid any countersinking or splitting. If you are fitting more than one shelf, repeat this process for each shelf – this will act as the frame for your shelves.’

Step 4 – The final fitting

Now, you’ll be well past the halfway point – it’s time to get the last bits of fitting done.

‘Next,’ Thomas explains, ‘fit the shelf cladding by screwing the bottom of the shelf to the supporting structure.

‘Place the top of the shelf over it and screw this in place for additional safety. Finally, screw the front panels onto the shelf.’

Step 5 – Painting the shelf

This last optional step depends purely on your personal taste.

If you do decide to give your shelf a lick of colour, Thomas advises: ‘Before painting, fill in any holes and lightly sand to give a smooth finished-off appearance.’

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