The Lowdown on Materials Used for Kitchen Cabinets

Fabuwood kitchen cabinets

Kitchen cabinets are not likely to occupy a lot of your attention unless you have an issue with them and you need to replace, or you plan a renovation. In either case, you will probably need to know more about basic facts about the kitchen cabinets you are about to choose. One of these is the material.

You might think that each material is much like the other, but that is not really the case. You have a choice of wood or metal, usually stainless steel. If you choose wood, you have still many other options. Here is the lowdown on materials use for kitchen cabinets with a short description to help you with your choice.

Solid wood

solid wood cabinets
As you might imagine, solid wood means the material is from a tree in its natural form, albeit cut to size. Solid wood cabinets often come from oak, maple, cherry, and pine trees, and each panel is a homogenous piece. However, just because the manufacturer states it is “solid wood” does not mean it is. In fact, it is quite unusual to find all solid wood cabinets.

If you do want solid wood, you need to check for any signs that the wood is not a single piece. Solid wood cabinets are a bit more expensive than other types of wood cabinets (more on that below), so if you are paying for one, you want to verify you are getting exactly that.

If the manufacturer offers staining as a finish for your kitchen cabinets, you can be almost sure it is solid wood. A stained finish will show you if it is beadboard, because you will be able to see the seams between the thin pieces of wood where they join. Beadboard is technically solid wood, but they are not the same as a solid piece of wood. Staining will also show you if the cabinet is made of wood composites, because these have no grain. For these reasons, most cabinetmakers will only offer staining for solid wood cabinets.

That said, it is quite common to have a sort of hybrid product. You can choose solid wood cabinet fronts with wood composite or other material for the box and frames. This will not cost as much as all solid wood kitchen cabinets, but they will look like it. In most cases, you will want to choose a stain finish for the front.
From this point on, the wood materials described will be some type of wood composite or engineered wood.


plywood cabinets
You have probably used plywood in your home, usually to build inner walls and divisions, and perhaps some furniture as well. Cabinetmakers use plywood infrequently, however, because they cost more than other types of engineered wood. Some manufacturers sell plywood cabinets as “all wood” cabinets. This is technically true, but note that it is not solid wood.

Plywood, as the term implies, is made up of plies or layers of very thin wood. These layers, also known as piles, go on top of one another in alternating orientation with glue in between. If you look at a cross section of a piece of plywood, you can actually see the individual layers Changing the orientation of the piles strengthens and stabilizes the finished product.

Cabinetmakers may choose to offer plywood fronts in lieu of solid wood. Plywood has a grain, so you can stain it and it will seem to be solid wood. However, if you are going to stain it yourself, you do need to use a special type of stain for plywood, or you can apply a wood conditioner on it so you can use any wood stain.


particleboard cabinets
One of the wood composites you might encounter when choosing kitchen cabinets is particleboard. This is a manmade product using natural materials, mostly the chips, sawdust, and other waste materials resulting from cutting wood. These waste materials go through a process to bind and compress them into flat panels and boards.

A good number of modern kitchen cabinets use particleboard for the boxes, shelves, and even the front. However, particleboard is quite porous, so painting directly on the surface is not a good idea. Manufacturers put a veneer or laminate on the surface to make it paint ready. In some cases, the veneer mimics the look of solid wood, so it may not be necessary to paint it at all.

Medium density fiberboard

MDF cabinets
Another common engineered wood material for kitchen cabinets is medium density fiberboard, also known as MDF. Instead of sawdust and chips, however, it uses wood fibers from recycled or scrap hardwood or softwood.

The manufacturer typically processes the raw material into a machine called a defibrator to break it down into fibers, and combining it with resins to bind the fibers back together into a solid plank or sheets. The fiber usually has a higher density than chips and sawdust, so MDF is typically finer and heavier than particleboard.

Howevera, MDF does not have a grain and requires a protective layer before painting, just like particleboard. Cabinetmakers commonly use MDF to construct all the main parts of kitchen cabinets, including the front, as it is quite durable and presentable with the proper veneer or lamination.


cabinets with stainless steel doors
As mentioned earlier, you can choose to eschew wood altogether and choose metal kitchen cabinets instead. Metal cabinets are usually stainless steel, and they are much more durable than wood cabinets. They look great in industrial and some modern kitchens, and you can avoid many of the problems associated with wood kitchen cabinets.

Some manufacturers may offer stainless steel kitchen cabinet systems. You can also choose stainless steel fronts over cabinet boxes and frames in wood. However, they readily show smudge and fingerprints, so you need to keep cleaning them off. Stainless steel cabinets also tend to be quite heavy and expensive.


Any of these popular materials can be the perfect one for you, depending on your style, budget, and needs. The important thing is to get them from a reliable supplier that will tell you what’s what with your kitchen cabinets. Cabinet Land Kitchen and Beyond is just the one you need if you are in the Chicago, Schaumburg, Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Hoffman Estate, and Elk Grove Village area.

We are a local remodeling company with a showroom located in Schaumburg, Illinois. We carry only the top cabinet brands, including Schrock, Fabuwood, J and K Cabinets, Forevermark, and Wolf Cabinets, at lower prices than big box stores. Our turnaround is none too shabby, either, compared to our competitors such as Cabinets To Go, Advance Cabinets and Handsome Cabinets.

We offer free consultation services and quotes, so you can have the benefit of our expertise without spending a dime. We have the expertise and resources to complete virtually any type of kitchen cabinets – ON TIME and ON BUDGET with top quality craftsmanship that will exceed your expectations.

Call or visit us today!