When building a Mame Arcade Cabinet one of the first decisions is – what type of wood should you use?  After some research you will likely find that there are two camps – MDF and plywood.  Let’s take a look at each and consider the pros and cons.

Medium Density Fiberboard – MDF

Arcade Cabinet - MDF Medium density fiberboard (MDF) is an engineered wood product.  It is made by breaking down wood fibers and then compacting them under pressure.  The fibers are combined with a resin binder.  This makes MDF dense, but with a smooth surface.




Arcade Cabinet - Plywood Plywood is made up of thin layers of wood that are glued together.  The grain of the various layers is typically rotated 90 degrees from each other.  Plywood does not have a smooth surface and is prone to chipping when cut.


Plywood is light and relatively inexpensive.  However, it is prone to chipping – especially when cut with the jigsaw.  It will also need to be sanded to produce a smooth surface prior to painting.

MDF is heavy and can be more expensive than plywood.  It will not chip when cut, but does produce a great deal of fine dust (so you will need proper ventilation and respirators).  It does not need to be sanded prior to painting, but does need to be sealed as moisture can warp MDF.


So, should you use MDF or plywood for your arcade cabinet?  For us the verdict was – MDF.  We used 3/4″ MDF for the main cabinet.  This worked out great as we did not need to sand all of that surface and it held the paint very well (click here for woodworking help).  The main drawback was the extensive dust (it was everywhere)!  If you use MDF be sure to work in a well ventilated area.  We used our garage, but be sure to remove anything (like cars) that you don’t want dust on.