Butt-Screwing Hinges to MDF

Thoughts on how to securely fasten hinges to the edge of MDF panels. July 21, 2006

I have a client who requires an all MDF wardrobe including doors. My initial thoughts were a solid frame with MDF infill panel, but she wants all MDF with brass hinges. I am a bit uneasy about screwing brass butts into end grain MDF. Any tips on how this can be achieved successfully without the screws pulling out or MDF parting?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
I've never tried it, so this is just something off the top of my head... But you could try pre-drilling the holes for the hinges and pressing in those little plastic cylinders that come on euro style hinges. Only drawback is you would have to use a small hinge sized for #6 screws.

From contributor K:
Hate the stuff myself... Too many work-arounds/drawbacks, but great for painted surfaces (LOL). Anyway, mark the hole location for the hinges, drill hole, glue and insert wood plugs, and after setup, you will be screwing into wood and not MDF. It will last a lot longer than screwing directly into MDF. If they ever did come out, you already have the holes in place for new plugs (but if done right, it should last a very long time). Explain to the customer why it's necessary and be sure to charge for the extra labor!

From contributor B:
Good idea. I'd be concerned with the idea of the plastic cylinders; they're a compression fit, and would exert quite a bit of force that may cause the MDF to split. Another idea is to edgeband the MDF with 3/4" of solid wood. That's probably what I'd do. Has the added advantage of taking paint better than edge grain MDF. If it's a clear finish, you could run a dado the full length of the panel edge, glue in a solid strip. Then the faces are unmolested.

From contributor S:
Could you not get an offset brass hinge from Lee Valley or someone? Then you could screw in from behind and your problem is over. Sometimes the customer doesn't know the limitations of the materials and requests something that isn't practical.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. As usual, somebody has been there before. I am going to do a test with timber inserts at the screw points and see what sort of load it will take before fracture.

From contributor D:
Just curious about that clear finish suggestion. Clear on MDF? Are you talking about regular MDF, or something else?

The wood edge set in is the best suggestion, though. The joint will always show (eventually) after it's painted. This way eliminates that problem. If they're inset, you could also use bullet catches on the bottoms of the doors to ease the weight/stress while they're closed. That's a major relief because most doors spend 85% of their lives closed.

From contributor B:
We've done a number of projects using MDF where there was a clear finish - or more commonly, a translucent dyed finish or stain and clear coat. This is for contemporary projects. I like your suggestions for bullet catches supporting the doors while closed to alleviate stress on the hinges. I hadn't thought about that before.

From contributor D:
I thought you might have been talking about the colored MDF.

From contributor C:
1 5/8" screws, pre-drilled. You won't have any problems.