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The Ultimate Guide to Cabinet Materials

The Ultimate Guide to Cabinet Materials

When it comes to deciding on new kitchen cabinets during your kitchen remodel, for your home, you have lots of decisions that you will need to make. You will need to decide if you want to refinish, resurface or replace your cabinets, and after that, you’ll need to decide on what sort of kitchen cabinet materials to use. Here’s a breakdown of the best materials for kitchen cabinets and the pros and cons of each.

Wood Cabinet Materials

Kitchen cabinets are mostly made from wood and wood-based materials. The most popular of these materials include: hardwood, plywood, medium-density fiberboard, particleboard, and wood veneer.


Hardwood is easily one of the most popular cabinet materials out there, and has been in use for decades – since cabinets were created. Here are the pros and cons of choosing hardwood for your kitchen cabinets.

Advantages of Hardwood

Here are the top advantages of hardwood as a cabinet material to help you decide how to refinish your cabinets.

  • Hardwood is, of course, a natural material, harvested from trees. Because of the natural element, this means that each panel can vary slightly, as individual trees have their own textures, colors, and grain patterns. This natural variation adds to the appeal of hardwood as a cabinet material – it’s truly unique and beautiful in its own way. Just like hardwood floors are highly valued, hardwood cabinets can be as well.
  • Hardwood is highly durable, and it is also pretty easy to repair. You can even handle many of these repairs yourself (like for scratches, stains, and watermarks), through sanding or refinishing. You can also hire someone to help with these repairs for a reasonable price.
  • Hardwood kitchen cabinets have a very long lifespan, due to their durability.
  • There are many different kinds of wood to choose from, each with their own distinct look, feel and coloring. Some of the most popular woods include: red oak, white oak, hickory, cherry, hard maple, birch, ash and pine (HGTV).

Disadvantages of Hardwood

Despite the obvious natural beauty and appeal of hardwood, there are some “cons” that should be considered as well.

  • Perhaps the biggest drawback of hardwood is the Hardwood is highly sought after, and is very expensive, as far as materials go, since the wood is costly. On average, wood (or wood-combination) cabinets “start at about $80 per linear foot, especially in the stock and semi-custom realm,” but the cost can easily double if you choose a high level of customization (BHG).
  • Wood is heavy – if you want to go full hardwood with your kitchen cabinets, you need to make sure the structure is sound enough to support them.
  • Different types of wood can be less durable than others. For example, red oak is a very strong, durable wood type, while something like, pine is a softer wood.
  • Warping is possible with hardwood. Changes in temperature and humidity will cause wood to contract and expand, so if you have a full hardwood structure, this is a potential concern (Cliq Studios).

An easy way to skirt the high cost of hardwood is by employing a mix of materials. The most common way this is executed is by using hardwood for the face frame and door/drawer fronts, but using medium-density fiberboard or wood veneer parts to strengthen and lighten up the cost. Knowing these shortcuts can keep your kitchen remodel from becoming a nightmare.


Plywood is another popular cabinet material, and offers a host of benefits. It is created by laminating thin layers of wood on top of each other through a mix of glue, heat and pressure, in alternating angles to create strength. According to Better Homes & Gardens, “varying the direction of the grain gives plywood equal strength in all directions.” Here’s what you need to know about hardwood, and how it functions as one of the best materials for cabinets.

Advantages of Plywood

Plywood is a very versatile cabinet material with a host of benefits.

  • Plywood is considered by many to be the best option for cabinets – it resists moisture (unlike hardwood), is very flexible and easy to install, and it highly durable. It is certainly the “best material for cabinet sides, backs, shelves, and drawer bottoms” (Cliq Studios).
  • Due to its unique construction, plywood has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of all of the best cabinet materials. It is very strong, and resilient as well.
  • Plywood is easily repairable, and replaceable. It also withstands and holds up to drilling better than other materials. It is basically a homeowner’s ideal cabinet material.
  • In terms of affordability, plywood is highly accessible. It’s much less expensive than hardwood, but costs more than lower end materials, like particle board and laminate.

Disadvantages of Plywood

Despite the numerous benefits, there are some drawbacks of plywood that should be considered as well.

  • You need to make sure you are using the right thickness of material for each area of the cabinets. Thinner plywood is typically used on cabinet backs; thicker plywood is used on the drawer bottoms, as well as on the sides.
  • Plywood cabinets may lack consistency. There may be “gaps or holes where the boards were combined,” which can make it more difficult to install plywood cabinets (com).


Another popular type of cabinet material that is usually brought up in comparison to plywood is particleboard. Particleboard, which is also known as low-density fiberboard (LDF) or chipboard, is “an engineered wood product made by pressing together recycled wood products such as wood chips and sawmill shavings and forming them into sheets” (Cliq Studios.) Particleboard is sealed in with laminate or a wood veneer to give it a more aesthetically pleasing finish. Here are notable advantages and drawbacks of particleboard.

Advantages of Particleboard

Particleboard is a highly affordable cabinet material – here are a summary of the major benefits of particleboard.

  • Particleboard is inexpensive – one of the most affordable cabinet material types available for purchase. This is because particleboard is made with scrap materials. In general, according to KompareIt, the cost savings is generally 10 to 20 percent for mid-grade cabinets (compared to a high-grade cabinet set made from plywood).
  • High quality particleboard can be very sturdy and durable. You just have to make sure you use a high-quality option.
  • Particleboard is one of the best choices for cabinet and drawer interiors. It’s lightweight, cost effective, and easy to fit into the necessary spaces.

Disadvantages of Particleboard

Despite the cost-savings, there are some drawbacks of particleboard that should also be considered.

  • Unless you find a very high quality variation of particleboard, for the most part, it is not very durable. Due to its construction, particleboard is “weak in compression and tension” (Cliq Studios).
  • Particleboard is not moisture-friendly, and can degrade and discolor if it comes into contact with water.
  • If cabinets or drawers are overfilled, cabinet shelves and drawer bottoms made of particleboard can fall victim to sagging.

Medium Density Fiberboard

If you’re looking for a quality in between plywood and particleboard, a great option is medium-density fiberboard (MDF) for your doors and drawers. MDF is made from smaller fibers than particleboard, which is what makes it stronger. Popularized due to its use in mainstream IKEA cabinets, medium-density fiberboard is a composite material that is made from recycled fibers, resin, and wax, all of which are pressed together and sealed in a high pressure system. Here are some of the notable advantages and disadvantages to MDF as a cabinet material.

Advantages of Medium-Density Fiberboard

MDF has a number of benefits as one of the best cabinet materials. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Due to its unique composition with smaller fibers, MDF is strong, and highly durable.
  • MDF is resistant to warping and expansion from temperature changes and moisture.
  • Since the surface of medium-density fiberboard is smooth in finish, it lends itself well to being painted or stained.
  • MDF offers superior screw-holding power, and is fairly easy to manipulate, as far as cabinet materials go (BHG).

Disadvantages of Medium-Density Fiberboard

In addition to the advantages listed above, there are a handful of drawbacks you should know about before purchasing fiberwood.

  • MDF is not as strong as other cabinet materials, like plywood or hardwood. It is susceptible to sagging and damage if cabinets and drawers are overloaded.
  • Some people have concerns about MDF due to its material makeup. “Of all the pressed woods, medium-density fiberboard emits the greatest amount of formaldehyde gas, according to the National Kitchen and Bath Association” (Cliq Studios). So if you are highly concerned about materials that are used in your home, you will want to do extra research before moving forward with MDF.

Wood Veneer

Another option for kitchen cabinet materials is wood veneer, which is a very thin layer of solid hardwood peeled from a log. This type of material has many similar benefits to hardwood, but since it is used in much smaller amounts, it has some other qualities that should be observed.

Advantages of Wood Veneer

  • Wood veneer is usually used in tandem with other materials. Wood veneers, which are usually less than 2mm thick, “are typically glued and pressed to particleboard or MDF to produce flat panels” (Cliq Studios). In this way, homeowners can reap the aesthetic and durability benefits of hardwood, but save costs by leaning on plywood, particleboard, or MDF to compose the whole of the cabinets.
  • Wood veneer is preferred over other top finishes since it is lightweight yet stable.
  • Wood veneer is also an affordable variation of true hardwood.

Disadvantages of Wood Veneer

While there aren’t many true disadvantages of wood veneer, there are a few things you should know about how it should, and should not be used.

  • Most notably, it should be known that wood veneer is a finish material, and should not be used for cabinet interiors (e.g. the box or frame), only for cabinet doors. You will have to choose another material option, such as plywood, particleboard, or MDF to construct the interior of the cabinets.

Other Cabinet Materials

If you’re not sold on the materials listed above, or you’d like to exhaust your list of options, here are a few other cabinet materials for you to consider.


Laminate continues to be a highly affordable material that can easily be used in the kitchen, from floors, to counters, to cabinets.

According to Better Homes & Gardens, laminate cabinets are “made of three resin-saturated layers: a base layer of paper, a printed and colored layer (which may look like wood), and a protective transparent layer.” These three layers are fused together to create a heavy, durable cabinet face alternative.

Similar to wood veneer, laminate is used as a cabinet material to cover kitchen cabinet doors and drawers, as well as some interior surfaces. They are not used in the interior shelves and drawers of cabinetry.

Laminate cabinets can be highly durable, especially when you opt for a higher quality laminate. Lower quality laminates are cheaper, but not quite as durable – they have a greater tendency to crack, chip, and scuff.


Another non-wood option for kitchen cabinet materials is foil, or thermofoil. Similar to laminate, the creation of thermofoil involves the application of a vinyl film to a substrate.

Thermofoil is preferred by many homeowners since it closely resembles the look of wood (more so than laminate) at a reasonable price. For the most part, thermofoil finishes are white or light in color and provide a fresh look to your kitchen remodel. They are durable, easy to care for, and less prone to damage.

Both laminate and thermofoil are affordable cabinetry options. On average, they cost around $50 – $75 per linear foot (HGTV). If you’re on a budget, you can opt for a cost-effective interior, like particleboard, and finish the surfaces of the kitchen cabinets with thermofoil or laminate.

This is a summary of the most popular and best kitchen cabinet materials. However, there is always room for custom cabinetry or other improvements to consider before choosing your kitchen cabinets. Your cabinets are a reflection of your home, and the material your cabinets are made of play a significant role in the overall aesthetic of your kitchen. Educate yourself on these different material options as you work through your kitchen remodel plans, and weigh what will work best for your budget, design, and functional needs. For more information about kitchen renovation projects, please contact our San Diego home remodeling company today.








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