Medium density fiberboard (MDF) is a relatively inexpensive manmade board that is made from very fine wood fibers that are bonded with synthetic resin under heat. Unlike chipboard, which is a cheap particleboard, MDF is a very dense, smooth material and it is particularly easy to work with.
Boards are available in standard lengths in various standard thicknesses from about half an inch to 1¼ inches.
It is a very dense composite wood product that is flat and stiff. Because it doesn’t have knots like real wood it is more stable than wood and can be cut, machined, and drilled without damaging the surface. Pieces can be glued and pinned together or traditional woodworking joints may be cut.
MDF may be finished in numerous ways. It is commercially available with veneer and laminate finishes and can be painted or varnished.
It is popular for kitchen and bathroom cabinets and is often used to make utilitarian freestanding furniture pieces. MDF offcuts can be used to make smaller items including the decorative containers featured here.
Versatile containers made from MDF offcuts can be used to display herbs, flowers, fruit, or even vegetables, or to store various items. They may even be used to camouflage cheap plastic pots (above).
The step-by-step (SBS) photographs and instructions given here show the shallow fruit box (left) being made. However, exactly the same process may be used to make a wide variety of containers of different sizes and slightly different shapes. The key is to ensure that the sides of the base match the bottom measurement of each side panel.
Tools Needed to Make Your Own Decorative MDF Containers
Very few tools are required for this project. While the illustrations show a bench saw in use, you could use an ordinary circular saw, or even a hand saw. However, a bench saw will definitely achieve the best results, and if you use one you will need a bevel square to determine and set the angle on the machine.
You will also need a drill with a very fine twist bit to make pilot holes for the panel pins, and a tack hammer to fix them. Make sure the bit is the same diameter (thickness) as, or fractionally smaller than the panel pins.
A bench vice mounted on your workbench should be used to hold the sides of the decorative box in place during the gluing and tacking process.
Materials Needed to Make a Fruit Box
The bases of all the decorative MDF containers shown in the picture above were made from 3 mm plywood. Use what you can find, but don’t use a material that is thicker than ¼ in, and use offcuts if you can. Ideally, also use offcuts of MDF.
If you don’t have offcuts then make as many different decorative containers as you can from the standard sized board you buy. It doesn’t matter if the board has been veneered or laminated just use that surface side on the inside of the container.
For one 80 mm- (3 in-) high fruit box you will need:
- MDF: 4 x 270 mm x 80 mm x 12 mm (10½ in x 3 in x ½ in)
- Plywood: 264 mm x 240 mm x 3 mm (about 10 in x 9½ in x max ¼ in)
- Panel pins: 32 mm (1¼ in)
- Wood glue
- Paint and stain and/or sealer
How to Make a Display Container
The design of display containers is universally adaptable. You can make it wider, taller, or with a small base and wide top. Unless you opt for a rectangular shape all the sides must be exactly the same size as each other. In all cases, the bottom measurement of the sides must be the same as the base.
It really is common sense and not rocket science!
For accuracy though, the edges of the MDF should be cut at a very slight angle so that the sides slope outwards. The best way to do this is with a bench saw. This is because the blade can be tilted to the desired angle – about 13 degrees for the fruit container. If you don’t have or don’t have access to a bench saw, you can sand the edges to make them slope very slightly and match up evenly.
1. If using a bench saw start by setting the blade at a 13-degree angle to bevel the edges of the MDF sides.
2. Cut all the side pieces so that the top edge measures 270 (about 10½ in) mm, the bottom 240 mm (about 9½ in), and the width 80 mm (a little more than 3 in) high. This means that the container will be about 3 inches tall when complete. If using a bench saw position the guide the right distance from the blade. Otherwise, measure and mark a cutting line.
3. Trim the ends of all four of the side pieces at a 13-degree angle.
4. Now cut the plywood for the 240 mm x 240 mm (about 9½ in x 9½ in) base. Double check that these sides are exactly the same as the bottom ends of the sides. This is a lot more important than the actual size of the base.
5. Drill two pilot holes at the ends of two of the side pieces.
6. Position one of the side pieces that hasn’t been drilled in the vice so that the short end is uppermost, and clamp. Glue the edge.
7. Position a drilled side piece so that the ends line up. Tack the two pieces together. Repeat this process four times to join all four sides.
8. Place the bottomless container upside down on the workbench and glue and tack the plywood to it.
Wipe all excess glue off the surface and allow to dry. Sand any rough edges before staining and/or sealing or painting.