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I'm planning to build a workbench/storage cabinet for my garage. Because of limited space (the width is only 420mm and the length 1,700mm), and the fact that it will only occasionally be used as a workbench and then only for mostly light duty work, I've decided to build it as shown in the drawing below rather than constructing a 2x4 frame as is most commonly done. However, I'm not sure whether to use plywood or MDF. It would need to be stronger than a typical storage cabinet.

Based on further research and comments, it seems plywood would be a better choice for the base of the cabinet/workbench and maybe MDF for the benchtop? The thickest available plywood where I'm at is 25mm which should give me the required strength.

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    What type of work do you plan to do on this bench? The type of construction might work for some things, and is woefully inadequate for others.
    – Ecnerwal
    Feb 3 at 4:12
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    you could use a furring strip as a rib under the shelves to prevent sag. It should be just thick enough to run vertically like a floor joist and screw into from the top of the shelf surface.
    – dandavis
    Feb 3 at 4:42
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    I would keep MDF off the floor in the garage to avoid water but otherwise use whichever is cheaper. Painting plywood can get expensive. I know that from experience. Not sure about MDF, but if I went with MDF I'd buy it laminated to save both the work and expense of painting and to keep water out of it. OTOH if you want to leave it unfinished, plywood would be best because MDF will soak up water and moisture. [ Adding: looks like everything laminated is particle board so laminated MDF may not be an option. ]
    – jay613
    Feb 3 at 15:33
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    Plywood, in general, is stiffer than MDF and has better screw-holding strength. You would not need to double up the plywood to match MDF strength. @dandavis comment about furring strips is esp. important for MDF. Plywood could probably holdup for the spans involved, depending on the weight stored on the shelves.
    – Llaves
    Feb 3 at 16:17
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    2x4's laminated with through bolts, bolted to 4x4" posts. That's how you make a workbench if you want to be able to put a lawnmower on top of it and beat it with a sledge hammer.
    – Mazura
    Feb 4 at 2:14

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One factor to consider: If there is any risk that the work area becomes damp, I recommend avoiding MDF (unless it is thoroughly sealed) -- it swells and warps like crazy. I have recently suffered this myself in some incompletely sealed MDF shelving in a moisture-prone area and there is little alternative but to replace it.

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    in light of this, i would recommend buying some cheap open-box flooring to cover the work bench with. I got a box of composite flooring, about 24 sqft, for under $10. It's much easier to clean than mdf or wood or paint, looks decent, and is a durable finish.
    – dandavis
    Feb 3 at 4:39
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Both! I built a workbench over some cabinets in my shop and the bottom layer was 3/4" plywood and the top layer was 3/4 MDF. Because I wanted this particular workbench to be good looking, I covered the MDF with laminate. Turned out very stout and decent looking.

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  • Is this referring to the whole structure of the workbench or just the top surface? It seems like the latter, while OP seems to be asking about the former.
    – TylerH
    Feb 3 at 14:15
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    @TylerH The OP could be asking both. I just mentioned how I built the surface. If he's also asking about side panels, then def. plywood...much better than MDF Someone mentioned buying flooring which I, perhaps mistakenly, thought would be for the top surface, so I gravitated to the answer I gave. sigh, carry on and shop up! Feb 3 at 16:38
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I built my workbench over shelf units and used second hand kitchen counter top. This is of a fiberboard construction but is designed to be used in wet and potentially messy areas. Plus the top coat is so robust that anything I get on it (paint, glue etc) comes off with a scraper.

I build a crafting table indoors for my wife in the same way but used new counter top from B&Q (UK big box DIY store for friends who don't know). It was the cheapest they had and still looks great 3 years later, and is just as robust and hard-wearing.

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    This is an excellent suggestion! Be aware of two things: 1) Kitchen counter top may not come in the depth desired. 2) Kitchen counter tops (in the US, at least) usually have a curve leading to a vertical backsplash at the back and a raised edge at the front to keep spills from running off. This means that a long board can't be supported, partially off the edge in front, without raising up off the workbench everywhere else. Just something to consider. Won't be an issue for some, will be for others.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 3 at 12:12
  • @FreeMan Agree on depth issue (in the US, nearly all standard (stocked by big stores) kitchen countertops will be ~ 24" depth) and backsplash. But the front raised edge is not nearly universal. My old kitchen had it (1956, replaced in 2000) but my new kitchen counters (2000, custom cut from stock counters by Big Orange) does not have the raised edge. Feb 3 at 13:59
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    @FreeMan European countertops are often just bullnose ends - no raised edge like you commonly see in NA. They're falling out of fashion here too - annoying for rolling pins and cutting boards, etc.
    – J...
    Feb 3 at 14:00
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My lightwork workbench is 12mm plywood with same width supports and metal legs - it's used primary for soldering and light tinkering jobs. Second workbench is 30mm plywood on metal legs used as a computer desk. It survived multiple coffee/tea spillages. Garage grade bench is old wooden table with MDF on top. MDF degrades over time rather quickly but it can suck in oils ie. from fixing a chainsaw.

So based on those, if you plan to make light/tinkering jobs, MDF or thinner plywood is sufficient but for harder jobs plywood would be better choice. For construction I'd rather use 12-15mm plywood or even reclaimed planks then MDF, and would avoid MDF as a base or floor-touching material as it doesn't do well with spillages or humidity in general. If you end up using MDF and want to paint it, use any sort of painting primer/ground first to prevent it from sucking paint. Or use clear epoxy wooden flooring finish (this works ok on bot MDF and plywood).

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