Solid vs MDF

Several years ago when I was a newbie cigar smoker, I went to a local cigar shop to purchase my first official humidor. I selected a small 10 count humidor with a nice cherry wood finish and Spanish cedar interior.

humidorLong story short, due to the the dryer climate where I live, I found it impossible to keep my humidor at or near 70% humidity.  I discovered that the humidor was made from particle board, cheap cherry veneer on the outside and a paper thin piece of Spanish cedar on the inside, that’s right PAPER THIN.

While particle board and MDF may be beneficial have value in very humid climates where solid woods will warp, I was under the false impression that the interior Spanish cedar was solid. How much humidity can a paper thin piece of wood hold? The answer is NOT A WHOLE LOT. I learned that I had fallen victim to a nice looking humidor that was substandard.

And so, I built myself a solid wood humidor with a 1/4″ thick solid Spanish cedar walls.  I haven’t been happier. I seasoned the new humidor for 3 days and went straight up to 73% humidity. The humidification device only has to be charged once a month ( may vary depending on climate) and my cigars are perfect.

There have been many debates about Solid Wood vs MDF Veneered Humidors.

While studying humidor construction,  I have to admit that MDF does have its place in Humidor Construction. As I mentioned above, in climates with higher humidity, or signifigant changes in humidity, Solid Wood will move and can cause warping of humidor lids and seperating joints if not kept in a climate controlled enviroment.  I DO RECOMMEND A HUMIDOR MADE FROM MDF in those situations, however, it must be a quality furniture grade MDF, and quality Veneer.

I found a very informative post from Arlin Liss Bob Staebell some of the “Greats” in the humidor business. You can read the thread below or click on this link here :

http://www.cigarpass.com/forums/topic/25395-humidors-made-of-mdf/

ArlinLiss, on Aug 25 2006, 08:12 AM, said:

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1st let me say, anthing more than a ‘coolerdor’ is an indulgence. A cheap styrofoam pic-nick ice chest and a humidifer WILL suffice!

MDF is the ‘core’ material of typically commercial grade veneered 4 x 8 sheets of ‘furniture grade veneer plywood’.

All the ‘hype’ about MDF’s stability is merely smokescreen to cloud the truth: the item is made of by-products of real wood and GLUE/binder. Very little VALUABLE wood is used and it is CHEAP to buy.

If cost is the priority, MDF is cheaper than solid wood. The benefits of cost vs quality is yours to make

All the manufacturers you listed [Avallo, Aristocrat and Vigilant] use the same cheap subsitute for wood in the bulk of the cabinets they make. SOLID wood is sometimes minimally added in some of them for edging and trim and door frames, but their products are substantially CHEAP MDF core ‘Furniture Grade Veneer Plywood’

Put simply: if all you value is what you see with your eyes then “gold Plated items are worth the same as SOLID gold”…. buy what you will, but DON’T think you getting a bargain… you’re getting what you pay for!

I have been making humidors of SOLID WOOD for over a decade, and the stability of wood has not been a problem.

Expensive yes, but SOLID WOOD offers strengh, durablity, longevity and stability superior to cheap alternatives.

Bob Staebell’s opinion is this:

“I have always liked the topic of veneers/MDF vs solid wood. It’s an opportunity to dispell some old myths about which is “better”. I get asked this question with some frequency & my answer is always “It depends”….on what is being built, where in the construct it is & what specie of wood is being used. If one goes to a museum, you will find some of the most valuable pieces are a mix of solid wood & veneers. The reasons for using a veneer are not new–it’s stability.

The short version is it’s all about stability not cost. Using a veneer/mdf combination for the case work is more stable & ensure generations of service.

Heres the long version…..

Humidors represent a particular challenge– a 25″ deep cabinet,if made of solid wood, one has to accomodate movement of the wood of up to 1/8″ across the grain. It can be done to some degree with frame & panel construction, but there is still some movement remaining, which makes it more difficult to create & maintain a proper door seal interface with a door that we build from solid wood.

A furniture thickness veneer on a stable MDF substrate eliminates the issue of movement. It’s stable to within a couple of thousandths of an inch. One always gets a solid seal. There are approximately 40 different grades of MDF available–ranging from the large flake pattern usually associated with inexpensive production furniture to high density, water resistant “medex” material that is not inexpensive. Most custom humidor makers are using the higher end materials.

The thickness of the veneers is also can vary quite a bit. We use a furniture grade thickness that if ever damaged is repaired exactly the same way one would repair a piece of solid wood. If one tried to “sand away” the defect, there would be a rather noticable dish like depression that would not be acceptable.

Wood choice is also critical–There are high density exotic woods, like ebony, cocobolo, bloodwood, and highly figured woods like crotch mahogany, walnut burls & quilted maples that lack either the structural strength or have inherent instablility & should not be used as solid woods in certain areas of a humidor.

This is why even furniture from even 100+ years ago was often made with veneers when these woods were incorporated into the design. Without having modern technology to create veneers, these folks invested significantly more hand labor than would have been required with solid wood–but they knew that a veneer in that instance was the only way to make a piece that would last for generations.

The same is true today. It costs more use a veneer/MDF layup of a wood like crotch mahogany or burl than it would to just cut up a piece of solid wood & try to use it.

To not use any veneers, one would be limited to building humidors only from woods with exceptional stability & live with the possibility of significant wood movement even in those. On the other hand if someone does use species like crotch mahogany, burls, etc in solid wood form,then the risk of that humidor failing is quite high in comparison to using a veneer in that application.

It’s not about cost–it’s about choosing the best material to ensure a heirloom quality piece that grandkids will fight over & still be working perfectly.

Just my .02

cheers,
Bob Staebell”

(Excerpt taken from Cigarpass.com/forums)

I hope you find this information in selecting a humidor that will provide you with everything you expect from a Custom Humidor.

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