In building an arcade cabinet, several types of materials are available to you. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.
Plywood is a manufactured board composed of an odd number of thin sheets of wood glued together under pressure with grains of the successive layers at right angles. Plywood is strong, light, rigid, and resistant to splitting and warping. It can be molded into curved or irregular forms as well. Plywood is not well suited for gloss painting and all edges need to be finished as the wood structure stays visible.
The two types commonly in use today are those made of softwood (such as birch or pine) or hardwood (okume and oak are common types). Other material such as MDF may be substituted for the usual wood core.
MDF is basically a mixture of fine wood fibers and a binder that's pressed into plywood-like sheets. Since MDF has no "grain", it's very stable. The sheets are flat and will stay that way. And with carbide-tipped bits and blades, it machines smoothly and easily. Topping it all off, MDF is relatively inexpensive. Some drawbacks to MDF are its weight (a 3/4"x4'x8' or 18x1220x2440mm sheet will weigh ~90 lbs or 40 kgs) and water resistance. MDF is more moisture tolerant than particleboard, but WILL swell upon contact with water. MDF is not suited for serious construction as it suffers from creeping. It is incapable of restoring previous conditions after removing long term applied forces. A shelve is the best example of something NOT to make from MDF, make it from plywood. In an arcade cabinet this is not a big problem as many faces strut each other and sizes are relative small. To keep weight down, you can better use 12mm / 1/2" panels with more interior partitioning than to use heavy 18mm / 3/4" panels without interior partitioning. T-molding will need 18mm / 3/4" wide side-panels though.
- MDF DUST IS TOXIC! CARE SHOULD BE TAKEN TO AVOID INHALING IT. BREATHING PROTECTION IS A MUST WHEN WORKING WITH THIS MATERIAL. EFFECTS OF INHALATION ARE EXTREMELY HARMFUL TO YOUR HEALTH
Today you can also buy Zero-F MDF or MDF Ecologique without any formaldehyde which makes this variation non-toxic and well suited for kid furniture. Sadly many DIY shops rather sell the 1 euro/1 dollar cheaper formaldehyde containing panels. The dust itself remains a problem, but for the occasional woodworker this is not harmful. Just try to do excessive sanding, grinding and sawing with a vacuum connected system or in a well ventilated area (outdoor).
MDO is a hybrid material made for outdoor applications such as sign painting. It has a core of 5 or 7-ply plywood that is manufactured using moisture resistant resins and bonding agents between the plys. Either one or both sides (faces) are coated with a thin layer of water resistant "paper" that is similar in smoothness to MDF. This product is typically more expensive than MDF, but provides all the advantages of plywood (lighter weight, more durable, better water resistance) with the same smooth, paint-ready face surface as MDF. MDO can typically be purchased at the "big box" stores at the order desk, or usually can be found in stock in a woodworkers supply store or through a local lumberyard.
- MDO DUST IS TOXIC! CARE SHOULD BE TAKEN TO AVOID INHALING IT. BREATHING PROTECTION IS A MUST WHEN WORKING WITH THIS MATERIAL. EFFECTS OF INHALATION ARE EXTREMELY HARMFUL TO YOUR HEALTH
OSB is an engineered structural wood panel made up of three layers of oriented wood flakes. It is a sheet material in which strands of wood are bonded together with a synthetic resin adhesive. The alignment of the wood strands contributes to the boards strength and structural performance. Avoid it for cabinet construction unless you want to use its looks. Plywood does better on every aspect except price. But raw wood costs are a very small part of the grand total, so do not save this penny!
Particle board (sometimes called chipboard) is a composite material manufactured from wood particles (wood chips, shavings, or even saw dust) and a synthetic resin or binder, which is pressed and extruded. Particle board is an engineered-wood product and is very dense, heavy, and flat. It is used as a cheaper and less durable substitute for solid wood or plywood. It is very prone to expansion due to moisture. Avoid it for cabinet construction! Depending on your goals, choose plywood, MDF or MDO.