Safety Update on Making an MDF Faceplate
by Fred Kachelhofer
My method for making MDF faceplates as described in
issues No. 35 and 36 was discussed at the August meeting of the Barnesville Woodturners. One of the members cautioned against using an MDF faceplate for heavy turning. He stated that the MDF was not strong enough for heavy turning, and could shear apart if placed in too great of a strain.
Yesterday while working on a bowl I experienced this happening. I make a bowl where the easiest way to turn is to mount the base to a faceplate. I glued one of the MDF faceplates to the base of the bowl and started to work on it. Remembering the comments from the club meeting, I used a jam chuck pressing into the bottom of the bowl. The jam chuck is mounted to a live center so it would rotate with the bowl and give a larger bearing surface than just a cone center would.
I worked the outside of the bowl with no problems. I then started the inside of the bowl, which had a rather rough surface. I was slowly working the sides when, for the lack of a better term, there was a "catch" and the MDF faceplate sheared into two pieces. Having the jam chuck in place prevented the bowl from coming off the lathe and nothing was damaged except my pride.
A way to improve the strength of these homemade faceplates for use with heavier bowl blanks is to use Baltic Birch plywood (or other suitable plywood) for the blanks instead of MDF. This will provide the strength needed for heavier work, although the material will be a little more difficult to tap and face off for the completed project.
Fred Kachelhofer can be reached at