How to Choose the Best Wood When Building Kitchen Cabinets

How to Choose the Best Wood When Building Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen cabinets are often the heart of a home, and you want to get them right. In this guide, we’ll talk about how to choose the best wood when building a kitchen cabinet. We’ll go over the pros, cons, and everything in between.

To choose the best wood for building your own kitchen cabinet, you need to start by thinking about what you want. Do you want something cheap? Do you want something industrial? Do you want something rustic? After you answer these questions, you’ll be in the best position to choose the best wood. Let’s talk about the different options and their benefits. 

By the end of this article, I’ll have shared with you some of the most common wood for a kitchen cabinet. Also, why some people love certain woods and hate others. Now let’s get into it!

What is the Best Wood for Making Kitchen Cabinets?

Let’s go over these parts of the kitchen cabinet. Generally, you’ll need to think about the frame, the doors (front), and the internals – such as the drawers. Depending on the cabinets you want, each of these components might require different wood.

Here are the three components we’ll talk about.

Wood for the frame of the cabinet

  • Wood for the doors on the cabinet 
  • Wood for internal drawers of the cabinet 

In the next sections, we’ll go over the pros and cons of types of wood for each cabinet part.

Best Wood for the Frame of a Kitchen Cabinet

Let’s start by talking about the frame. When it comes to the frame of your kitchen cabinet, you’ll need to think about your goals. If you’re aiming for a super high-end cabinet, then you might choose to use a hardwood for every part of the frame.

Keep in mind that, since much of the frame or box is invisible, many people will use a high-end plywood. However, some people will use MDF or particleboard to keep things cheap. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of each.

MDF or Particleboard for a Kitchen Cabinet Frame

If you’re on a budget, then you’ll probably consider particleboard for the box and MDF for the face framing. It’s a fact that these are the cheapest options. While that’s a bonus, you will need to worry about potential water damage and the possibility that the frame won’t be as durable.

However, there are good reasons to choose MDF – particularly for the face frame. MDF, when properly treated, paints up nicely. So, if you know you want to paint the cabinets anyway, then you might consider MDF.

Plywood for a Kitchen Cabinet Frame

A cabinet-grade plywood is probably the most popular option for the kitchen cabinet frame. Why? Well, it creates a tight and durable frame, holds its shape, and attaches well to a hardwood door.

Some people might worry about the edges of the plywood, particularly if they’re going for “frameless” cabinet. However, these can be banded easily to hide the ply pattern.

Now let’s talk about hardwoods.

Hardwood (Oaky, Maple, Hickory, etc) for a Kitchen Cabinet Frame

When we talk about hardwood, it really comes down to personal preference. While some people might choose to use sheets of hardwood for the full box and frame, many people will save it for the face frame and the doors.

Hickory and Maple will be tough, resisting scratches, while oak or cherry or mahogany can also provide strength and an interesting pattern. With hardwood, it really comes down to looking at the wood and seeing which tone appeals you to.

If you’re thinking about building a cabinet without any plywood (all hardwood of some kind), keep in mind the effects of seasonal changes on the wood. Natural wood will expand and contract, which isn’t something you worry about as much as plywood. Also, you don’t really worry about it at all with MDF/particleboard.

Best Wood for the Doors of a Kitchen Cabinet

The doors are the most visible part of the kitchen cabinet. Keep in mind, when we talk about the doors, we’re also talking about the face of drawers – basically, anything that will be visible. As you’ll see, it’s common for people to save the fancy hardwood for the most visible part of the cabinet. This is where you’ll be able to most appreciate those grain patterns.

Okay, let’s talk about the three main options for cabinet doors.

Hardwood for Kitchen Cabinet Doors

For the hardwood, it’s about looking at the style that most suits you. Hickory and Maple will be some of the most scratch resistant, but cherry has a rich and interesting color.

Also, you might like the grain pattern of oak. This is where the subjected nature of the hardwood comes into play – you really need to go have a look at what you like, because they all will perform well.

Note: if you’re planning to paint the cabinets, then most people shy away from an expensive hardwood, as the grain won’t be fully appreciated. Also, make sure you know how your chosen hardwood will react with your preferred stains.

Softwood for Cabinet Doors

You can use woods like spruce, pine, and fur, but keep in mind that these will have a more rustic look when they are used for a cabinet.

Also, some of these woods are more prone to dents and dings, so gauge the level of abuse that the kitchen cabinets will need to withstand.

Plywood for Kitchen Cabinet Doors

Plywood can be used for kitchen cabinets, but it’s usually the higher grade plywood, and it may be covered with a hardwood veneer so that you get that rich grain pattern.

Using plywood is a good choice if you want something durable, and you want the option to stain it or paint it in the future without feeling bad about covering a hardwood. For plywood, you’ll want to buy a high grade, and ensure that it’s properly sealed to help you resist delamination, warping, and water damage.

MDF for Kitchen Cabinet Doors

While MDF often is looked upon as a “low quality, low budget option,” there are many practical reasons to choose MDF for a door that goes beyond the price.

First, MDF is probably the best option if you know you want to paint the kitchen cabinets, and you’re not going for anything super fancy. When MDF is well finished, it will look sleek and smooth.

Second, if you want to use a router to create an interesting design in the cabinet doors, then MDF can work well. MDF is known to work really well with routers.

However, if the MDF chips or scratches, it’s very susceptible to water damage, and will bubble up almost immediately.  

Best Wood for the Internal Shelves or Drawers of a Kitchen Cabinet

The internals of a cabinet includes the box/frame of the drawers and any shelves that you may include with the project. Again, you’ll need to match up the material with the quality and the design of the kitchen, but there are some general guidelines to bear in mind.

Hardwood for Kitchen Cabinet Drawers

You can use a hardwood for the frame of the drawer, which will be visible when the drawer is open. Think about using a simple, durable hardwood for the frame. Most people don’t stain the sides of an open drawer, so you want it to be practical yet still pleasing to the eye.

The most obvious choice would be to mirror the wood you used for the doors. This will keep the cabinet looking uniform, even though there will be a slight difference in the frame.

Plywood and MDF for Kitchen Cabinet Drawers

It’s common to use plywood for the bottom of the drawer. Plywood is resistant to cracking and splitting, and the base of the drawer is the least visible. Also, many people choose to line their drawers with various materials, so keep this in mind.

Plywood is also commonly used for the frame of the drawers. Just keep in mind that it will require edge banding – otherwise it’s susceptible to water damage.

Many people shy away from using MDF for the entire drawer. They might use it for the front of the drawer (which will be visible), but otherwise, many go for something more stable.

Alright, now let’s take some time to go over a few final thoughts.

Final Words: How to Make Sure You Choose the Best Wood for Building Kitchen Cabinets

When you’re building your own kitchen cabinets, don’t start by asking “what are the best woods?” rather, start by asking “what are my goals?” because, based on your goals, the “best wood” will change.

If your goal is to stay on a budget at all costs, then MDF and particleboard are your best options. If you’re goal is to create a high-end cabinet, then you might choose a durable hardwood for each component.

There are so many types of wood, it’s impossible to cover all the pros and cons to each in a single article. The best thing you could do is start experimenting with different types of lumber for your kitchen cabinet. Also, have a look at some finished cabinets that you admire and figure out what types of wood each component utilizes.

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