Glued-Up MDF on the Lathe

A woodworker experiments with laying up MDF blanks and turning them on a lathe. He reports mixed results, but says the idea has potential. May 6, 2006

I'm thinking of experimenting a little with the lathe and MDF. For paint grade turnings, seems like a big hunk of MDF would turn very, very easily and smoothly. If I were to stack a handful of 3/4 MDF pieces (4"wide) and glue/clamp with TBII, would it hold enough to withstand the lathe?

Forum Responses
(Adhesives Forum)
From contributor J:
Due to the lower rpm of the lathe, in comparison to a router or shaper's rpm, I believe MDF would react similar to baseball cards against your bicycle spokes. MDF is made up of multiple plys of the material, glued and compressed to its present form. But try anyway and let us know.

From contributor W:
I think contributor J is right.

From the original questioner:
I glued some up yesterday to cure over the weekend. I sliced some 3/4 scraps into 4X4 sections, swathed them with glue and stacked them into a 20" 4X4" column and clamped them (no easy task, mind you). We'll see soon...

From Gene Wengert, Sawing and Drying Forum technical advisor:
One of the important operations in a lathe is scraping. MDF will not scrape well. It will cut with sharp tools, so you will need to watch your approach angles with the tool. High density means slow machining.

From the original questioner:
Well, it turned out to be a learning experience. The 4X4" 3/4 pieces stacked turned easily enough (I'm used to playing with oak and hard maple). However, the glue joints weren't unlike trying to turn Plexiglass. That, and I was coated shoulder down with MDF. I'm impressed at the smooth finish MDF can get. I sanded to 600 grit (just for the heck of it) and it's quite polished. I think I'm going to look at some thicker MDF so avoid having a glue joint. I've heard of 4" thick MDF, which would be right on. I still think this is doable for paint grade stuff.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor G:
I use MDF on my wood lathe for making patterns to test the "fit" of items I later make from steel on the machine lathe. In my opinion, MDF turns rather easily. The only negative experience I've had with it is that it doesn't curl like wood; it just sends out a lot of fine dust. That tends to make a mess in the shop - so I turn MDF outside the shop on the apron (my lathe is portable to some extent). MDF is less expensive than other materials for these kinds of tasks. It also works well in my shop for turning bowl forms for working pewter or copper bowls on the wood lathe.