9 Best Cabinet Materials: How to Choose Quality Cabinetry
March 11, 2022
When you’re picking out new kitchen cabinets, you likely want to know you’re getting high-quality cabinetry that fits your budget. Cabinet quality ultimately boils down to the material a cabinet is made of.
Picking the best material for kitchen cabinets (or any cabinet in your home) will set the functional tone and overall style for your space. The cabinet materials will determine the strength, durability, lifespan, maintenance, changeability, and overall style of the cabinetry.
As you shop for cabinetry, here are the top materials you should know about to make the best purchase for your home:
Anatomy of a Cabinet
Kitchen cabinet materials range wide, as each reflects a different scale of quality, durability, appearance, and price.
Certain materials are also more applicable to different parts of a cabinet than others, which is why a baseline understanding of cabinet construction will improve your chances of selecting the best cabinet material for your needs.
Cabinet Door Overlays
Cabinet door overlay styles include:
- Inset - Where the door is installed flush with the frame for a flat, seamless face. The entire frame is exposed.
- Partial Overlay - Where the door sits on top of the frame and leaves 1-2 inches of the frame exposed.
- Full Overlay - Where the cabinet doors completely cover the cabinet box frame.
The cabinet frame is attached to the front of the cabinet box. It’s what the doors often attach to in a framed cabinet box.
Framed cabinets have extra pieces of wood overlayed and “framing” the opening of the cabinet box.
Frameless cabinets (also called European style cabinets) opt for no frame or extra wood on the cabinet box for a cleaner, sleeker design. Because of this, frameless cabinets require stronger, thicker base material to hold up to storage and use.
9 Best Kitchen Cabinet Materials
Many cabinets might include a compilation of materials in their overall structure. However, the materials may be used for different cabinet parts. Below are the most common cabinet materials you’ll find on the market and what they are most often used for.
1. Solid Wood
Solid wood is one of the most popular materials for kitchen cabinets for its natural beauty, strength, durability, longevity, and versatility for different styles—though that does make it a premium cabinet material. Since no two pieces of wood are alike, neither are wood cabinets. From color, grain, pattern, and texture, wood cabinets have a wide range of looks and styles they can match.
Solid wood is most commonly used in cabinet face frames and cabinet doors.
- Beautiful natural appearance
- Variety of colors, grains, and cabinet finishes available
- Sturdy, strong, and durable
- Long lifespan
- Customize cabinet door styles easily
- Can be restrained or painted to change appearance
- Works well with most styles
- High cost
- Certain types are prone to warping or shrinking and expanding, with humidity changes
- May fade or darken with light exposure
- Requires sanding and priming in order to refinish solid wood
- High maintenance
Popular Wood Cabinets
Of the premium wood for kitchen cabinets, maple wood is popular for it’s uniform appearance and hardiness, and cherry wood is desirable for its stunning warm tones and fine-grained texture. Both are extremely durable and hard, able to withstand denting or scratching better than other hardwoods.
Red oak wood is also widely used in kitchen cabinets due to being moderately priced, sturdy, arched grain patterns, and its versatility with styles.
Solid birch wood is also a popular tree type harvested in cabinet construction for its durability, availability, smooth grain, and ability to be refinished to look like premium woods.
A couple of softwoods are also gaining traction for being more affordable than hardwoods, like poplar wood.
2. Wood Veneers
A wood veneer is a thin strip of solid hardwood peeled or cut from a log. Wood veneers are then attached to plywood, medium density fiberwood (MDF), or particle board to create wood-like panels. They are thin, lightweight, and a way to achieve the wood look without the cost of solid wood cabinet doors. Consider wood veneers a finish to present a beautiful wood face for your cabinetry.
- Beautiful wood appearance
- Less expensive than solid wood
- More durable than laminate
- Resistant to warping
- Easy to maintain
- Susceptible to water damage
One of the most common materials in cabinet construction is plywood, which is built up of layers of thinly sliced wood slabs (known as flitches), layered in opposing directions and bonded together with adhesive. It’s much more durable than particle board. Plywood is often covered with a decorative wood veneer to give the appearance of wood for cabinet boxes.
It’s the strongest of the engineered wood options, making it the best choice for cabinet boxes, drawer floors, shelves, and frames.
Note that there are different grades of plywood that will affect its price, durability, and appearance (from AA, B C, D, and E).
- Less expensive than wood
- Strong & durable enough to hold heavy items
- Holds its shape against humidity and temperature changes
- Takes a veneer to get a wood-look cabinet
- Holds screws and nails well
- More expensive than other engineered woods
- Not as strong as solid wood
- Low-quality plywood comes apart and splinters easily
4. High-density Fiberboard (HDF)
An engineered wood variant made with wood fibers mixed with resins and glue, high-density fiberboard (also called hardboard) provides the hardness and appearance of wood cabinets but without the price tag. It’s denser than solid wood, though less expensive than both hardwood and plywood.
HDF works well for cabinet panels.
- Extremely hard
- Stable in humid and dry environments
- Takes paint well
- Susceptible to water damage
- Cannot hold screws or nails
- Lacks lifespan of hardwood
- No wood grain
5. Medium-density Fiberboard (MDF)
Another engineered product, medium-density fiberboard is less dense than HDF since it is made with less pressure. It is often used as a substrate for cabinet surface layers like veneer and laminate.
MDF is also used as an inner layer for engineered wood cabinets. It works best for cabinet panels, drawers, and shelves.
Thermofoil cabinets are constructed with a foil-like material vacuum sealed with heat over MDF. High gloss thermofoil in particular creates a shiny and reflective surface that makes your kitchen look bigger and brighter.
- Easy to clean
- Resistant to warping and fading
- Variety of shapes, colors, patterns, and designs
- Potential to be used on shaker or simple arch cabinet doors
Laminate is a resin combined with a paper featuring the desired design, color, or pattern, pressed together with heat. It’s a surface material that affixes to plywood or other fiberboard on the cabinet body.
The quality of the laminate will affect its price, strength, and tendency to peel from the core component. High-pressure laminate (HPL) will crack and chip less than the low-pressure laminate (LPL).
PET laminate in particular features a thermoplastic polymer laminated to substrate, like MDF, that has a stronger heat seal with special adhesive and a beautiful transparent, reflective glossy surface. PET laminate is considered stronger than most melamine surfaces.
- Easy to clean
- Resistant to scratches and stains
- Resistant to heat and moisture
- Resistant to warping and rippling
- Lasts longer than thermofoil surfaces
- Cannot be repaired if cut or cracked
- Less durable wood material core
- LPL more prone to chip and crack than HPL
Melamine is a type of laminate surface with a plastic coating over plywood or fiberboard. Like laminate, melamine is made with paper and resin, pressed together with heat, but it’s cheaper to produce.
Melamine has different degrees that reflect the quality. Low quality melamine doesn’t have the lifespan of laminate. Textured thermal-fused melamine, on the other hand, is thicker and has the potential to outlast HPL.
Textured melamine offers a more dimensional appearance and texture for the paper designs within the resin compound, making the wood paper look and feel more like the real thing, for example.
- Can’t be refinished
- Uses potentially harmful adhesives
- Lower quality wood material
9. Particle Board
Particle board is a low density fiberboard, made by pressing wood particles (sawdust, wood chips, etc) together into sheets with resin and heat. It is often topped with a veneer or laminate to create the finished cabinet look.
Particle board tends to work best in drawer boxes.
- Versatile in appearance
- Uses wood byproduct and recycled materials
- Least durable wood product for cabinetry
- Sags under heavy dishes, countertops, or appliances
- Easily chipped or broken
- Susceptible to moisture damage
How to Select Durable, Quality Cabinets
Finding and buying kitchen cabinets that are both durable and within your budget is achievable, thanks to a variety of cabinet materials available.
One way to get more bang for your buck around cabinet purchasing is to order RTA (or ready-to-assemble) cabinets as they come packaged in flat packages that are more affordable to ship than bulky and heavy pre-assembled cabinets.
Higher quality materials in your kitchen cabinets will provide strength, durability, longevity, and even increase home value for if or when you decide to sell. The higher the quality of materials, the longer they will last.
Inexpensive lower quality or less durable cabinets have the potential to be damaged more easily, or they may not last nearly as long as the more durable counterparts. And this means you have to replace your cabinets much quicker, which may end up costing you more in the long run.
So, when you think about investing in kitchen cabinets, remember that a little more money up front may save you more money and stress down the line. An awareness of cabinet materials will help greatly to find what materials will be strongest in the long run, so you know that your money is working for you when investing in quality kitchen cabinets.
We recommend opting for durable, strong cabinet materials such as engineered wood, wood veneers, PET laminate, or thermal-fused thermofoil on good quality MDF or plywood, or solid wood (if you have the budget).
Maximize Your Cabinets with the Right Material
If you’re remodeling your kitchen, it may be in the cards to update or replace your cabinetry. If you’d like assistance in finding cabinets that match your vision, fit your budget, and use quality materials, Vevano Home designers are here to help.