Material choice for radiator covers

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I am planning on building radiator covers similar to these ( Question is what material do I want to use? I contacted the company who makes the one in the image and they use MDF. Having never used MDF I am concerned about the edges (do miter the corners?, paint the ends?, can I nail or screw MDF joints?). My other thought is birch ply which I think I would be able to work with much easier. Would the ply hold up to the heat from the radiator?


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Endgrain on MDF is a pain to seal up for paint so miters are worth using. If you use butt joints, it helps to use a spot putty to skim the end grain before paint. Glue and brad nailer is the way to go. I think the birch ply would work just fine as well.

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I will try to post a picture of my drill press cart that I made out of MDF and painted. The technique I used for sealing the ends for paint was to take drywall spackle and a rag and just run some using my hand into all the end grain. I then waited for it to set and sanded. When I painted it then took paint just like the rest of the project. I also routed a roundover with ridge into the top and it looked good and took really well. As soon as my wife is done uploading her 270 pictures from the mardi gras ones I will post for you.

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I've built many radiator covers from MDF, ply, and hardwoods. They all hold up fine, with some caveats...

Keep the MDF out of bathrooms... Any water, from splashes, leaks, heavy steam, or wet mopping, and they're toast. I also like to protect MDF edges with a paintable wood, like poplar. This makes the corner more durable to usage damage and wear and tear, as well as easier to paint after shaping. Incorporate a reveal into your MDF to poplar interface, and the joint will stay pretty as the materials move with temperature. Mitered joints can hide edges, but can be fragile in MDF. Think ahead of things that could strike the mitered corner. If things might, find a better corner.

MDF takes screws well, if you use the right screws. Confirmats are great. I've used regular McFeeley's screws after predrilling and countersinking both sides of the joint. The internal countersink allows the mushroomed material a place to go without separating the joint. If you don't have a lot of time, spend the money for proper MDF screws.

To use solid wood, you really need to understand and allow for movement. Do it right, and they'll last generations. Do it wrong, and they'll explode. Incorporate metal fasteneners that allow movement, space for the wood to move, and reveals to hide the changes, and you're good! My own home has white and red oak baseboard covers. They look great in a natural oiled finish, and hold up nicely when the wood can move.

GOOD cabinet ply is the great for painted items, stable, easy to work, screw and finish.

With any material in this use, reveals can go a long way towards keeping joints pretty as the stuff grows and shrinks under the paint.

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Ok so I uploaded a couple pics for you to check out. The first one is of the top edge with the profile that I routed into, sealed with spackle, and then painted.

The next one is of an edge that I sealed and painted.

The next two are of the butt joint between a side and the back. I did an extreme closeup for the last part so you could see that there is a line visible in some parts but barely. It is zoomed into and area about 1-2 inches big. I had to search for this area so I would not say it is a problem. I also used normal wood screws in it #10 - 2 inch screws. I pre-drilled and countersunk the holes. As long as I drilled about 1 1/2" there was not any problem with mushrooming. This was built from 3/4" MDF and seems super sturdy (obviously it holds my table top drill press plus three drawers worth of storage.)

Hope that helps and feel free to ask if I forgot to include something.

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