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Solid Wood Cabinets- Alternative Materials Being Used by Manufacturers

May 31, 2008
Unless you are planning a big budget for your kitchen, solid wood cabinets are most likely not an option. For new homeowners, or people that have never bought kitchen cabinets before, it is not uncommon to get a surprised reaction when they hear that there are very few cabinet makers that use solid wood for the entire cabinet (unless you are having custom cabinets built and specifying that they use solid wood).

There are several reasons why solid wood is not used for the cabinet box anymore, but the biggest reason being that it is just too expensive. To use solid wood for the entire cabinet would put them out of the price range of just about 90% of consumers. The other reason being that there are several engineered products that are just as strong, but can be 1/2-2/3 the cost of real wood. Ofcourse, not all engineered products offer the same strength and durability, so it is important to scrutinize the materials used to manufacture the cabinets. The majority of cabinet manufacturers are still using solid wood for the face frames and doors (the most exposed parts of the cabinet), but here are some of the common materials you will find that are being used for the cabinet box.

Particleboard
Particleboard is made of exactly what is sounds like... wood particles. This usually consists of wood chips layered and pressed together using a resin or glue to hold it together. Since it is made up of smaller chips, it doesn't offer the same strength when it comes to holding screws and nails. Screws and nail holds will have a tendency to weaken over time, even splintering apart. Particleboard is also prone to moisture damage if not protected properly.

Fiberboard
Think of fiberboard as an extra thick and more dense cardboard. It is actually made up of wood fibers tightly pressed together and held together by a wood epoxy or glue mixture. While a thick fiberboard can be a tough material, it is highly susceptible to moisture. This usually results in swelling or warping of the material, and it will retain the water. Fiberboard will also require a veneer or paper with a wood pattern to finish it off, which can have a tendency to peel away.

MDF
MDF or Medium Density Fiberboard is a heavy dense material. It is a combination of wood chips, fibers, and resin or epoxy which makes for a strong material. The biggest drawback to MDF is splintering or chipping. If thick enough, it can hold as much weight as real wood, but it is will be affected by water or moisture.

Plywood
This is my preference when it comes to cabinet construction. Plywood is a series of thinly sliced layers of wood where the grain is alternated. The layers of wood are then glued and pressed together. Plywood offers the greatest strength because of the alternating grain patterns which helps dispurse the weight. Plywood is also less likely to be affected by moisture because it doesn't allow the water to penetrate into the bonding agent.

When it comes to overall strength and durability for your cabinets, it is highly recommended that you focus on cabinets that feature a solid plywood cabinet box. Not only will your cabinets last longer, but they will be less likely to be affected by the moisture associated with normal kitchen use.
About the Author
I have been remodeling houses and rental properties for over 15 years. I have discovered the secret to saving thousands on kitchen cabinets. Find out my secret to buying kitchen cabinets at 30-40% below retail.
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