Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Kitchen Cabinet Materials: Learn What's Best For Your Kitchen Remodeling Project

The kitchen cabinetry industry produces an incredible variety of man-made and synthetic cabinet materials. This can be a boon for the educated consumer. In our experience at Master Kitchen and Bath Design, however, most homeowners feel overwhelmed by the abundance of choices.

For the typical consumer, who might not have time (or the inclination) to research all the available options, it can be difficult to gauge the differences in quality and construction between different cabinets.

Similar designs and colors  make most cabinets look alike, even when they're dramatically different. When choosing cabinets, limit your options by choosing the material best suited for your unique kitchen remodeling project.

A great majority of cabinets are made from one of the following materials: solid wood, plywood, thermofoil, particle board, medium density fiberboard, or stainless steel.

Below we will briefly discuss each cabinet. This basic knowledge should give you a good idea of your preferred kitchen cabinet material.

Solid Wood Kitchen Cabinets

Without a doubt, kitchen cabinets made of solid wood are the most luxurious cabinet option. The luxury comes at price, though: solid wood cabinets are also the most expensive choice.

The name speaks for itself: solid wood. While other cabinet choices, like plywood or particle board, might include wood elements, cabinets made entirely from solid wood--from top to bottom, to the shelves, doors, and back panels--are indeed, 100% the real deal!

That's why we say "solid wood is the solid choice."

Solid wood cabinets are beautiful and durable, and show little wear and tear, even after many years of use. If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, opening and closing cabinets, solid wood might just be your best choice. If cared for, and treated with they respect they deserve, your solid wood cabinets will continue to look new years after installation.

One caveat here: if your home is prone to excessive humidity or dryness, your solid wood cabinets might swell or shrink, respectively. For homes without temperature control, the best option might for wood cabinets might be to add another material, like thermofoil, or to choose plywood.

Solid wood cabinets installed by Master Kitchen & Bath Design

Thermofoil Kitchen Cabinets

Thermofoil is a thin layer of a vinyl film used to cover kitchen cabinet boxes from the outside. It is widely used to cover doors only. However, end-cabinets often have side panels covered as well.

Thermofoil, then, does not actually make up the material of the cabinet--only its covering. And it can be used to cover a variety of cabinet materials, from solid wood or medium density fiberboard. Still,  cabinets covered with thermofoil are often simply called by the name itself: thermofoil cabinets.

For this reason, its important to understand not only the nature of thermofoil, but the material underneath.

Resistant to moisture and easy to clean, thermofoil, if applied correctly, will appear quite seamless, so the material should not compromise the beauty of your solid wood cabinets. Thermofoil is sensitive to heat, though, so placement near the stove can be problematic. In this case, you will need to install additional metal heat shields to protect your cabinets.

Overall, as an addition to an otherwise sturdy material, like solid wood, thermofoil, is a popular kitchen cabinet option.

Plywood Kitchen Cabinets 

A popular choice in both modern and traditional kitchen renovations, plywood cabinets are made of large, flat pieces of wood (“plies”) cut thin and glued together to form a larger, solid piece of wood.

Although plywood is not "solid" wood, if manufactured correctly, it should be a sturdy and reliable cabinet choice for the life of your kitchen. Plywood should not be confused with "engineered wood" or particle wood (see below), which are less expensive and more prone to damage.

Plywood is a sturdy choice, resistant even to the swelling and shrinking you might see with solid wood cabinets. For this reason, it is often the first choice for most homeowners.

In our estimation, plywood offers a great value for the material, and is a perfect choice for those who live in a humid or dry environment, and who prefer solid wood but do not wish to add thermofoil.

Particle Board Kitchen Cabinets

At Master Kitchen & Bath Design, we do not advocate the use of particle board for kitchen cabinets. In fact, particle board is most often found today at construction sites, where it provides a sturdy, yet inexpensive material. However, even though this type of material is losing favor for home use, some brand name companies still use it. So you should know a little bit about it.

Particle board is many small wood chips pressed together with adhesive glue and formed into a solid board. We understand that you probably do not want your cabinets to be glued together. It's important to remember, though: the main benefit of particle board is cost. Particle board cabinets are the most inexpensive cabinets, so the choice of this material might create extra money in the remodeling budget for other preferred expenses, like appliances or a new kitchen floor. Particle board is also quite heavy--as heavy as plywood, although it will not last nearly as long as plywood or solid wood.

Particle board does absorb moisture, so even when it used as an underlying material in construction, moisture barriers are essential. 

Stainless Steel Kitchen Cabinets

Stainless steel cabinets are often found in the restaurant industry or school cafeterias, places where the no-frills durability, ease-of-cleaning, and sleek lines of stainless steel are appreciated and needed.

That said, stainless steel cabinets also work remarkably well with a contemporary kitchen design that emphasizes simplicity as well as a light, airy feeling--although some tend to associate stainless steel with institutions. The best we can say is that, more than any other cabinet material, stainless steel inspires diverse feelings. 

Perhaps the most unique kitchen cabinet material, stainless steel is still adaptable to different styles. Neat freaks should know: stainless steel will show finger marks quite easily (although it is also cleaned quite easily, and is certainly the most sanitary material). Another consideration: stainless steel is often as expensive as solid wood!

Stainless steel cabinets, as seen on

Medium Density Fiberboard

In its structure, medium density fiberboard (MDF) is similar to a particle wood, but hereas particle wood is made of tiny wood chips, medium density fiberboard is made out of wood fibers. These fibers are placed together under pressure and formed to a single board panel.

MDF offers a finer texture then particle board, but it is much heavier--a certain disadvantage for installation. MDF is, however, widely-used in the remodeling and construction industry for its low cost and relative durability. In cabinet-making,

MDF is used to make doors, shelves, and cabinet boxes. Although MDF is widely used today for kitchen cabinetry, like particle board it is not the most popular choice, and we tend to dissuade our customers from using it.

 FREE In-Home Remodeling Estimate!

If you have any questions about your next kitchen remodeling project, please feel free to call MKBD for an individualized consultation. Let's talk budget and more! Call now! 215-355-4747.

Better yet, check out our Free In-Home Remodeling Estimate on this very blog!

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