Cabinet Materials

Kitchen cabinets may be constructed from a variety of materials. Solid wood is never used for the entire cabinet. Not only would it be too costly, the cabinets would also be unstable and heavy. Many cabinets are built of a combination of solid wood and wood-based products such as plywood and particleboard. Mid and high-quality cabinets will use solid hardwood for face frames, door frames and stained raised door panels.

Kitchen cabinet boxes are typically built of plywood or particleboard. The strongest cabinets have full plywood boxes. Plywood will handle the weight of the heaviest countertop material and resist damage from occasional moisture. A less expensive alternative is particleboard. Particleboard is prone to damage from water and may break down at points where doors are hinged and sides connect.

There are many names for particleboard, including medium-density fiberboard (MDF), engineered wood, hardboard, substrate and furniture board. Unless exposed to moisture, particleboard resists expansion and contraction in warm and cold temperatures. On the downside, the particleboard is much heavier than plywood and doesn’t have the same per-square-foot strength. Particleboard is more susceptible than plywood to damage caused by moisture or by being crushed.

There are many grades of plywood and particleboard. A cabinet manufacturer that, like CliqStudios, offers a limited lifetime warranty, will generally select higher grade materials to avoid damage and quality problems.

partial view of maple kitchen island with glazed finish and open bookshelves with cornice

Solid Hardwood

Solid hardwood may be used in two areas of cabinet construction, the face frame and the door/drawer front. That is, it is used in the parts you see on the front and sometimes the sides of cabinets.

Solid hardwood used in cabinetry, a product of nature, is affected by climate, soil nutrients, growing season and season of harvest. Each piece of wood – even compared to others from the same tree – is unique. Inconsistencies may include coloring, texture, grain pattern, mineral streaks, pins, knots, sap pockets, insect marks and aging. These natural variations add to hardwood’s distinctive appeal.

The center panels of solid hardwood doors are built from solid wood staves cut in varied widths and joined together to form the required dimension. This process is known as planking. Solid hardwood is kiln dried to remove as much moisture as possible while maintaining its natural beauty. It will expand and contract, to some degree, based on the amount of moisture in the environment.

image of rectangle of planked maple boards with natural finish

Hardwood Veneer

Wood veneer is a thin layer of solid hardwood peeled from a log in a process much like peeling an apple. Wood veneers are usually less than 2 mm thick and are typically adhered (glued and pressed) to particleboard or medium-density fiberboard to produce flat panels. Veneer panels should be bookmatched, a process of alternating veneer pieces so they don’t create a repeating pattern caused from the peeling process.

Wood veneers, used for over 4,000 years, can be traced back to the Egyptians. They are commonly used for entry doors, wall paneling, cabinets, flooring, tables and furniture. In many applications, veneer is preferable because it is more stable, lighter and less expensive than solid hardwood. You will see it used on cabinet sides on large panels. It is also used in the flat center panels of Mission and Shaker cabinetry.

photo of sheets of veneer in various hardwoods, unfinished and not laminated

Plywood

In mid and high-quality cabinetry, the sides, tops, bottom, and shelves of cabinet boxes are constructed of plywood. Plywood accepts hardwood veneer very well. The veneer can be stained to blend with the solid hardwood components of the cabinet.

Plywood is made with layers of wood running both lengthwise and crosswise. This crossing pattern makes plywood stronger than many materials and has more holding power than particleboard when fastened with screws, other fasteners and glue. Plywood has a much higher tolerance for moisture than particleboard and is less vulnerable to crush damage. Plywood is also much more resilient to blow-outs, dings and dents. The number of layers in plywood does not determine good quality. There are many grades and classification of plywood. It is difficult to ascertain good quality because grading standards are set by individual mills or trade associations. These grading standards vary greatly. Know that a manufacturer of fine cabinets will not use poor-quality materials that result in returns and warranty replacements.

image of corners of plywood in various thicknesses and with maple, oak, cherry and birch surfaces

Engineered Wood

In cabinet box construction, Engineered wood or particleboard is sometimes used as a less expensive alternative to plywood. There are many names for particleboard, including medium-density fiberboard (MDF), hardboard, substrate and furniture board. Engineered Wood is made by pressing wood particles together with glue and high temperature. Engineered wood resists expansion due to temperature changes. On the downside, the Engineered wood is heavier than plywood, does not have the same per-square-foot strength and is more susceptible to damage caused by moisture and crushing.

In some cases medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is the preferred material that CliqStudios uses for specialty parts, cabinets and accessories where plywood is not the bests material choice. An example is MDF is used on painted door center panels, large and thick 5/8″ panels and as a substrate for veneer on flat panel stained doors. Large size center panels made from hardwood will expand and contract with temperature changes, possibly causing paint cracks. MDF used as a center panel material will not eliminate paint cracking but can limit the size and length of cracks.

photo of stack of particle board sheets

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Related Topics

Want a great kitchen? Learn more with the topics below to help keep your remodel plan on time, on task and on budget.
Cabinet Types
Cabinet Construction
Cabinet Components
Cabinet Door Types
Kitchen Cabinet Buyer’s Guide