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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Get Started on Your Design Now
All it takes is one step to get started on your new kitchen. It’s easy and with no commitment. Click below to find out how.Get Started
Want a great kitchen? Learn more with the topics below to help keep your remodel plan on time, on task and on budget.
- Know Your Cabinets
Find out about cabinet types, components, materials, and more.
- What makes a quality cabinet?
Not all cabinets are equal. Learn the quality difference.
- What do kitchen cabinets cost?
Our average sale is about $8,000, but your mileage may vary.
- How do I measure my kitchen for cabinets?
Sketch your measurements to start working with a kitchen designer.
- This Old House Cabinet Buyer’s Guide (PDF)
Read this before you buy new kitchen cabinets.