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Kitchen Cabinet Materials


Know Before You Go

Are you curious about the materials that go into building your kitchen cabinets? You may be on our site looking at products and thinking, “what is the difference between MDF, HDF, plywood, and particle board?” And what exactly is melamine? In this blog, we’ll talk about the materials that make up a quality kitchen cabinet build – focusing on the Box or base of the cabinet. Understanding the pros and cons of each material will help make your purchasing decision easier when you are picking out your new kitchen cabinets.

Particle Board

Industrial Grade Particle Board for Cabinet Boxes

Particle board is an engineered wood product manufactured from wood pieces or particles. The manufacturer combines wood chips and a synthetic resin and then presses and extrudes it into boards. Did you know that particle board comes in quality grades? Particle board grades are H, M, and L based on density, strength, and thickness. The “M” grade particle board used in kitchen cabinet construction is industrial or commercial grade. Industrial grade particle board isn’t anything like the chipboard you might remember from your cheap college bookshelves. Instead, it is a much stronger and more well-made product. Particle board is lighter, less expensive, and more uniform than wood and plywood and is often used as a substitute.

Medium Density Fiberboard 

MDF and HDF for Doors, Drawers, and Shelving

Two more types of fiberboard are used to build cabinets – Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) and High-Density Fiberboard (HDF -sometimes called Hard Board or Furniture Board). Both are high-grade composite materials made of recycled wood fibers, wax, and a resin binder. MDF and HDF are manufactured with both softwood and hardwood. Generally denser than plywood, this composite creates a more robust building material.

MDF -Medium Density Fiberboard

MDF is made from smaller wood fibers than particle board and is used in drawer and shelf construction. Chief characteristics include good holding power for screws, clean edges, and a smooth surface. Edges can be shaped and painted, like hardwood or plywood. In addition, MDF is resistant to cracking and peeling. The best part about MDF in cabinet construction is that there are no noticeable grains, and it has a very smooth finish when painted. However, it can be very heavy because it is so dense. So, you will see a cabinet box made of lighter industrial-grade particle board or plywood with MDF shelving to hold heavy pots and pans.


HDF – High-Density Fiberboard

HDF is composed of very even small, often exploded wood waste fibers, wax, and resins and subjected to immense pressure and heat in the manufacturing process. This compression results in an engineered wood material with an even higher density than either MDF or particle board. Higher Density products have harder surfaces and are even smoother. In addition, it is impact-resistant, moisture-resistant, and low cost compared to plywood and hardwood. Because it is even denser than particle board and MDF, it is usually used as a support and finish product in cabinet construction. In addition, it provides a smooth, paintable finish for door construction.


Plywood for Box and Drawer Material

Plywood is also an engineered wood product – made by bonding thin layers of wood called plies with glue, heat, and pressure. Alternating the direction of the grain between plies gives plywood equal strength in all directions and provides plywood with its distinctive edge banding. The intensive manufacturing process is part of what makes plywood a more expensive material. Plywood comes in grades as well. Plywood quality depends on the number of plies, the wood used, the overall thickness of the board, and how well it is glued and compressed together. Lower grades are perfect for subflooring in buildings and homes. High grades are used for cabinets and shelving. Our manufacturers use ‘A’ or furniture-grade plywood.

Plywood weighs less than MDF and HDF and works well for wall cabinets. Plywood also works well at holding screws, nails, and mechanical fasteners more securely than other materials. It reduces shrinkage as well as expansion. It provides excellent support to drawer glides, and it is stainable and paintable. Some disadvantages of plywood include less ability, depending on thickness, to bear weight. It can also be difficult to cut and splinter easily, and the edges need to be finished so the layers do not show. Thinner plywood is typically used on cabinet backs, while thicker plywood forms the sides.


Melamine for Cabinet and Drawer Interiors

What is melamine, exactly? It is an organic-based nitrogen chemical compound with several uses, including manufacturing laminates and dinnerware. This hard plastic resin can also be made in a wide range of colors and styles, making it an extremely versatile product that can be used in various settings. It is created by combining melamine resin with strengthening materials. Typically, melamine resin is layered over a good quality fiberboard in a high-pressure thermosetting process for cabinet and drawer interiors. The melamine surface is waterproof and can be cleaned up with soap and water. In addition, the surface is durable, does not require shelf paper, and doesn’t hold odors from foods or spices.

Conclusion and Resources

Still curious about kitchen cabinet materials?  The American Plywood Association has a full Resource Library that covers specific information about each kind of engineered wood product mentioned above.  You also can read about Kitchen Cabinet Terms in our first know before you go blog.  Feel free to come by our showroom to see these materials in person. We have sample cabinets for you to inspect and knowledgeable staff to answer any further questions you may have.

An innovative kitchen cabinetry resource, Cabinets of the Desert was formed to be highly responsive to the professional design and installation needs of discerning homeowners, architects, designers, and contractors.

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