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Eight Common Kitchen Cabinet Materials

Eight Common Kitchen Cabinet Materials

Kitchen cabinets are an essential part of the kitchen, but most people don’t give it a second thought. That is, until it’s time to replace them, and you realize that there is a bewildering number of options for you. Since kitchen cabinets are a significant investment, you want to make sure you get the right ones that will last for a long time.

One of the most important things you need to know about kitchen cabinets is the material. You might be surprised to know that the wood in kitchen cabinets may not actually be solid wood. In most cases, they are wood-based, but in some instances, they are not. Here you will find the top eight materials used to construct modern kitchen cabinets and their descriptions. This should help you make a decision.

Solid wood

As you might imagine, solid wood cabinets use planks of actual wood from trees. The most popular wood species for cabinets are oak, pine, cherry, and maple, although some cabinetmakers may offer other types of wood.

When purchasing solid wood cabinets, you want to make sure they are actually solid wood all the way through, as these tend to be more expensive than composite. If you pay extra for it, you want to make sure you get it. In most cases, solid wood kitchen cabinets mean it has solid wood for the door, frame, or both, but not the box. Even then, this is more expensive than kitchen cabinets with no solid wood at all.

A good sign that you are getting solid wood for the door at least is when the brand offers staining as an option for the finish. Composite and engineered wood do not have graining, so staining is not possible for these types of materials. The box and shelves will most probably be some type of wood composite and covered in something that makes it look like wood, such as a laminate or veneer.

Medium Density Fiberboard or MDF

Medium Density Fiberboard or MDF is one of the most popular type of engineered wood or composite for many types of construction, one of which is kitchen cabinets. MDF forms from a combination of wood fibers held together with adhesive and then compressed under high pressure. Manufacturers offer a wide variety of MDF panels and boards for a variety of uses.

MDF is actually quite durable and dense, which makes it ideal for use with many types of furniture. It is heavy and fine enough to use for the box, shelves, and doors of kitchen cabinets. They always have a top layer of some type of plastic to protect the wood fibers from moisture, which will make it expand, and to serve as the primer for paint. You cannot paint directly on MDF without a veneer of some type. You can stain them but it has no grain, so that is not a good idea. The top layer may also simulate the look of wood or other material.


Particleboard is perhaps the most popular type of engineered wood for home furniture. Instead of wood fibers, it has wood chip and particles mixed in with adhesives. It is also undergoing compression to produce boards and panels in different thicknesses, sizes, and shapes.
Particleboard is most useful in cabinet construction for the boxes and shelves. It is not as dense or fine as MDF, but it is more affordable. As with MDF, you cannot paint directly on particleboard. It needs some type of veneer or laminate as the paint-ready layer. You should not stain particleboard, as it has no grain.


One of the earliest types of composite wood that made its way to the mainstream is plywood, and it has a myriad of uses. As the name implies, it is a material composed of layers or plies of thin sheets of wood (piles), alternating layers positioned at right angles to the previous one to make the product stronger. Adhesive goes between the layers of wood to hold it together. If you look at the cross-section of a piece of plywood, you will clearly see sandwich-like layers.

Plywood is technically solid wood, although very thin ones, so they tend to be more expensive than MDF or particleboard. In that respect, “all wood” kitchen cabinets made of plywood would be technically accurate. Higher-end kitchen cabinets tend to be all plywood, or a combination of plywood boxes with solid wood doors. Ask your cabinet supplier for details when purchasing “all wood” cabinets.


While metal cabinets are much less common than wood-based cabinets, they are available from some cabinet brands. Mostly stainless steel, metal cabinets are usually a good choice when you have an industrial-type or ultra-modern kitchen. They are very durable, although keeping them in gleaming condition may be problematic because they show up fingerprints quite easily. Some cabinetmakers may offer stainless steel cabinet doors with wood-based boxes and frames, or vice versa. In most cases, cabinetmakers conceal the metal components in these hybrid cabinets under a wood veneer.


Laminate cabinets are primarily wood-based cabinets, typically MDF or particleboard, and refer to the thin, top coating over the wood base. The laminate is a combination of resins and paper compressed and heated into a solid piece. It is the same product used for countertops, but much thinner. You might want to choose laminated cabinets if you have a small budget and you want something that is easy to clean.


You may associate the term melamine with plates, because that is a popular application for this material. However, you can also use this chemical compound to coat the engineered wood of your cabinets to waterproof it. The composition of melamine is paper and polymer resins rolled out into thin, flat sheets that fit nicely over particleboard. You will usually see melamine cabinets paired with wood veneers to cover the cabinet surfaces.


Thermofoil is a relatively recent entrant into the cabinet market. Most people have the idea that it has a metal component because of the “foil” in the name, but it is actually a vinyl film.

Thermofoil serves the same purpose of melamine and laminate in that it serves as the protective outer covering for engineered or composite wood materials. The difference is manufacturers apply the Thermofoil film over the cabinet materials using heat so that it will bond more firmly. In most cases, Thermofoil goes over MDF or particleboard.


These eight common materials for kitchen cabinets have their strengths and weaknesses. Your choice will depend on the number of factors, primarily cost and durability. Generally, solid wood and metal cabinets are probably the most durable, but they are also the most expensive. Kitchen cabinets using engineered or composite wood can actually last for a very long time with reasonable care, and they tend to be more readily available and in a wide variety of styles and colors.

Esthetics may also be a factor, as some people maintain that nothing beats the look of solid wood. However, technological advances have made it very difficult to tell them apart from engineered wood unless you look very closely.

If you are still in doubt over the type of kitchen cabinets you should choose, consult with the professionals. Fairfax Kitchen Bath is a reputable remodeling company that can help you with free in-home design consultation and quote for your kitchen remodeling project.
Fairfax Kitchen Bath services the DC, MD and Northern Virginia metropolitan areas. We are a Class A, licensed and insured contractor, registered in the Commonwealth of Virginia. We have a showroom in Fairfax, Virginia, which houses all our products.

We sell only top quality products for all your kitchen remodeling needs, from top-brand kitchen cabinets of all type materials to natural and engineered stone slabs. We carry products from Schrock Cabinetry, Fabuwood, Silestone, Blanco, Kohler, and Mosaic Décor.
Contact us today to get free in-home design consultation and quote for your kitchen remodeling project. We guarantee you will love your new kitchen for life.

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Sam Kazanci

Sam Kazanci is the owner of Fairfax Kitchen Bath Remodeling. He has experience to build and remodel the kitchen and baths with his team and the author of fkb blog: You can find Sam on LinkedIn and Twitter.