What kind of wood is used for cabinets?

There are many different kinds of wood used in cabinetry and they all vary in durability and style. The most common wood for cabinetry, especially here in Florida is Oak and Maple. There is also Pine which is typically yellow and very rustic–perfect for cabins, poplar is common for refaced cabinets, and for very lucky homeowners we sometimes see Hickory wood, one of the most expensive varieties. Before we dive in, there is definitely something terminology that needs to be covered. The very first key factor that will help you identify the kind of wood you are looking at is going to be by observing its “grain.” The grain of the wood is essentially the fingerprint, and there are different levels of thickness and imprint that helps someone identify the grain. There is also the difference between “builder grade” and “custom” cabinetry. Builder grade, in this article, will refer to the common type of wood and style we have observed in the cabinets that are normal for new homes in the Florida Market. Custom cabinetry is as it sounds. Someone–either themselves or a professional–added or built from scratch their cabinetry. And then, for the purposes of this article, there is a difference between “solid wood” and “veneer,” but we will elaborate on that in just a moment.

Identifying what kind of wood will be especially important if you are considering refinishing, because it helps set the right expectations and flexibilities for what you are working with.

What wood is cheapest for cabinets?

In the Florida market, the “cheapest” wood is going to be builder grade, which is typically Oak and then followed by Maple with veneer paneling. The reason it’s called builder grade is because the contractor likely bought for many homes in bulk with their lumber provider in selling mass quantities of easily accessible wood. Oak is identified by its very thick grain texture and in Florida is usually aged to an orange color or pickled oak (a pinkish/whitish color). The problem with Oak and why it’s so cheap is its thick grains. The grooves go deep into the wood and so after years of steam, grease, oils, etc. the moisture can get trapped deep within and can be very hard to clean. The other downside is if you are trying to modernize your cabinets into a white color, you will be able to visibly see the grain. 

The next “cheap wood” is Maple with veneer paneling. Solid Maple cabinets are actually higher quality and standard, but when it comes to Builder Grade, we’ve noticed the standard is to mix Maple wood with Maple veneer. Maple wood is identified by its smooth texture and very light grain pattern. Every once in a while there may be a knot, but lumberors are usually good at filtering those out.  Veneer is a plywood with a thin layer of Maple sheet glued on top. It helps continue the appearance of wood without the sturdy durability and hefty price tag. It is typically found in the center panel of cabinet doors as well as the sides of boxes.  Rest assured, for kitchen cabinets, this is perfectly normal practice and mimics Maple perfectly when refinishing. It’s still a good quality cabinet and will be charged as thus, just don’t be surprised if that center panel breaks if something slams into it.

Finally, every once in a while we see pine cabinets. They aren’t too common in Florida, but they are there. This is considered one of the cheapest types of wood because the material is so soft and light. It’s easily scratchable and not durable to hard, blunt accidents. They can be refinished no problem, but just make sure you are gentle even with Resurrect Wood Refinishing’s awesome polyurethane acrylic. We can only do so much with what we are working with.

What is the most durable wood for kitchen cabinets?

As mentioned, if pine is going to be one of the softest and least durable, Oak, solid Maple, and Hickory are going to be very durable wood for kitchen cabinets. Aesthetically they may vary in style, but solid wood is going to be solid wood, and would all be perfect for your kitchen cabinetry. Hickory is identified by its smooth texture but incredibly varying tones of grain color. They are very heavy doors and in our opinion are one of the most durable types of wood for kitchen cabinetry.  Hence the rarity in builder grade homes as well as increase in price compared to Oak and Maple. Hickory Cabinets are very durable, and in our expert opinion, perfect candidates for staining because of their beautiful print. 

Are solid wood cabinets worth the money?

Absolutely. Solid wood cabinets are becoming harder to find because of the veneer as mentioned above. Maple veneer is easy to mimic solid wood without the durability and cost, therefore it is very attractive to builders who are trying to save money. Solid wood cabinets provide an opportunity for some very beautiful custom millwork and will last decades if properly taken care of and regularly refinished when required. If you have the chance to invest in some new cabinets, we completely recommend the additional step for ensuring that they are solid wood. It may seem like a large price at first, but the value over time is incredibly high and makes future refinishing very easy and affordable for when it comes time to renovate and update. 

It is also to be noted that the reason we at Resurrect Wood Refinishing are huge advocates of solid wood cabinets is because they are easy to clean. Cleanliness is a major factor when preparing for a new coat of finish. While veneer is perfectly fine when handled by the right craftsman (us), there is an assurity that only solid wood can provide. Do it.

 What is better for kitchen cabinets, MDF or plywood?

Neither. We’ve noticed a lot of Do-It-Yourselves will encourage this practice because MDF and plywood are easily accessible at your local Home Depot. MDF and plywood are not recommended materials for cabinets because aesthetically they look awful and cheap. If we had to choose one or the other, then plywood is the way to go since MDF is soft and easily cracked under pressure. Plywood is suitable for a garage shelf or a bookcase, but please consider higher quality wood when it comes to your kitchen.