Facts about Particleboard and Plywood for Kitchen Cabinets

kitchen cabinets

All solid wood construction for kitchen cabinets is a thing of the past. Sure, you can still find them, especially if you get custom cabinets, but they are quite pricey. It is rare to find them in prefab cabinets, such as standard and semi-custom lines.

However, most people prefer to stain their kitchen cabinets, and for that, you need solid wood. Many cabinetmakers struck a compromise. They use solid wood for the cabinet doors and the frames, and use plywood or particleboard for the cabinet box. This makes kitchen cabinets much more affordable.

On the other hand, the cabinet boxes bear the brunt of the weight of its contents, so it must be quite sturdy. You will have to be careful when making your choice between plywood and particleboard, because kitchen cabinets are still quite an investment and should last you for a long time. To help you decide, here are some facts about particleboard and plywood for kitchen cabinets.


particle board cabinet box/particleboard cross-section
Particleboard is an engineered wood of the pressboard type because it uses pressure to bind the components. The highest quality is furniture board, which is what cabinetmakers use for cabinet boxes. This dense and durable enough to hold screws without contracting or expanding too much, an important feature when used for kitchen cabinets, as changes in humidity are definitely a factor.

The components of particleboard include the waste products from cutting wood, namely shavings, sawdust, wood wool, strands, flakes, slivers, flakes, and wood chips, with resin thrown in as a binding agent. Manufacturers mix these materials together and pass them through a steam-heated press. For kitchen cabinet purposes, they trim and cut the particleboard into 4 x 8 foot sheets or panels that forms the inner core. These sheets then go through two sheets of melamine to finish it, providing the panels with a smooth surface.

The melamine layers protect the substrate from moisture and serve another purpose: design. While these may be plain colors, they may also have a wood design. It depends on the specifications of the client cabinetmaker.

Unfortunately, particleboard was off to a bad start. When it first made its way into the furniture industry in the 60s, it was not as dense as it is today. In fact, it was so loose that it fell apart quite easily. That is no longer the case today, but some people still think poorly of it as a construction material.

Another disadvantage of particleboard is the lack of the grain. You cannot stain it as you would with solid wood. The melamine layer might mimic the grain of wood, but closer inspection will reveal that it is not. It is a small matter, especially if you have solid wood cabinet doors, since most people will not see the inside of the cabinet box, anyway.


plywood cabinet box
Like particleboard, plywood is an engineered wood designed to replace solid wood in cabinet construction. However, there are key differences.
Plywood does not contain resin. Instead, it is three to seven layers of very thin wood sheets, cross-laminated for more durability. This means each sheet of wood is at 90 degrees to each other, creating an alternating grain. The sheets or plies bind together with the use of adhesives and cut into 4 x 8 foot boards. A clear coat finishes the surface to strengthen and smoother it.

Plywood is a very strong material, which makes it desirable for use with kitchen cabinets. The structure is stable, although it is less dense than particleboard, making it a lighter product. This makes it easier for cabinetmakers to manipulate and cut into panels needed for the various components of the cabinet.

Generally, plywood is more expensive than particleboard, so cabinets with a plywood-solid wood cabinet will cost more than a particleboard-solid wood one with the same thickness. Some cabinetmakers cut costs by using thinner plywood, something along the ½ inch instead of the ¾ or 5/8 inches, which are ideal for kitchen cabinets. The ½ inch plywood is also durable, but of course, not as much as the thicker ones.
There is hardly a difference between plywood, particleboard, or solid wood for that matter when it comes to water damage. It is always a good idea to keep water exposure to a minimum. That said, particleboard does tend to absorb water faster than plywood, so this is one factor for the difference in price.

Plywood is more stable than particleboard, and can stand up better to handling and use. It also feels and looks a lot more like solid wood because it used layers of wood instead of wood waste materials. You can also stain plywood like solid wood as long as you use a special stain. You can also precondition it with a special gel stain so you can use ordinary wood stain.


Overall, plywood is a better option when it comes to kitchen cabinets than particleboard is. However, if budget is tight, particleboard is still an excellent option if you get it from an established cabinet brand from a reputable supplier. This is to ensure the particleboard is of furniture board quality. Cabinet Land Kitchen and Beyond can help you with that.

We are a local remodeling company with a showroom located in Schaumburg, Illinois. We specialize in delivering quality cabinets to your home. And we work only with the best cabinet brands at the best prices compared to our competitors such as Advance Cabinets and Handsome Cabinets.
Also we  have a large inventory of granite and marble slabs for all your countertop needs. Ask us about our free consultation services and quotes. This will help you find out exactly what to expect from your purchase.

Visit us today to see what we have to offer. We have the expertise and resources to complete virtually any request for kitchen upgrades– ON TIME and ON BUDGET with top quality craftsmanship that will exceed your expectations.