Kitchen Cabinet Construction | Particle Board, MDF, or Plywood?

Learn what materials are best for kitchen cabinet construction

Learn what materials are best for kitchen cabinet construction

Your kitchen cabinets are a major focal point of a successful kitchen design. They are not only functionally important and one of the most used elements of your entire kitchen, but they also help to establish your style. While it's not as exciting as choosing your countertops or picking out the perfect stove, your kitchen cabinet construction is one of the most important choices you'll make in the long-term usability of your kitchen.

Kitchen cabinet construction runs the gamut when it comes to price. Understanding the quality of construction and materials used can help you to see why! Let's take a look at cabinet boxes, what they are, how they're made and the materials used.

What is a Cabinet Box?

When your designer or contractor is talking about the kitchen cabinet box, they are speaking about the physical infrastructure of the cabinet minus the doors, trim, and hardware. A cabinet box consists of a toe kick (if it's a floor or base cabinet) floor, shelves, sides, back and top rail.

How kitchen cabinet boxes are made varies between manufacturers, but there are only two styles of boxes, framed and unframed. How they're constructed is very similar. The only real differences are the look and accessibility to the inside of the cabinet.

Framed cabinets

Incorporate a wood frame around the front outer edge. They're more traditional looking and offer style variations depending on the door overlay. There are three types of overlays. Full overlay completely covers the frame. Partial overlay means the frame is partially covered and full-inset means the doors and drawers are designed to fit within the frame.

Frameless cabinets

Frameless offers more accessibility. The amount of storage is slightly greater because the drawer box is not limited by the front frame. This style is also known as “European style and typically sport full overlay doors.

Materials Used In Kitchen Cabinet Construction

Kitchen cabinets are made from three types of “engineered” wood. All have their uses and depending on the type used in the construction, and can vary greatly in price. Better materials make for better; longer lasting cabinets so always try to buy the best cabinet boxes you can afford.

From highest to the lowest price, your kitchen cabinet construction, materials choices are:


Plywood is the most expensive choice for kitchen cabinet construction, and it is generally what your designer means when they say “solid wood” cabinets. It's the most structurally sound and is made of thick wood veneers glue together in contrasting grain patterns to add strength. The quality of plywood depends on the thickness and grade of the wood used and impacts the quality of the box. It is easily painted and accepts veneers or laminates well. In areas of the country with high humidity, “solid wood” cabinets may be prone to warping, so substituting marine grade plywood is an excellent choice. Green options, which emit less VOCs are available.

MDF (medium density fiberboard)

MDF is a solid, structurally sound material and takes veneers well. In fact, you'll often see many products that list MDF blended with solids and veneers. MDF is often used in children's bedroom furniture as it's a strong material. It's made by gluing wood fibers together, and there is some concern about off-gassing of the formaldehyde used in resin glues. Check with your contractor to make sure that they use low VOC emitting materials.

Particle Board

This material is for you if you are working with a limited budget. Instead of being constructed using wood fibers or veneers, it's chiefly constructed of sawdust and wood scraps that are bound using resin, and contain higher levels of VOCs than particle board or plywood. The construction of the wood makes using screws difficult, and if you need to disassemble and reassemble your cabinet boxes, they might not survive!

Both particle board and MDF can be affected by moisture which can cause expansion. They both hold veneers well, but MDF is the denser of the two. There are also more eco-friendly kitchen cabinet construction materials available that emit less VOCs, so make sure you speak with your contractor if this is a concern!

Be Aware of the Construction Methods Used!

The methods employed to construct your cabinets vary by manufacturer and the quality you pay for. Make sure that whatever cabinets you choose, whether stock or custom, that your cabinet manufacturer uses proper joinery techniques. Strong joints mean durable cabinets. Good joinery techniques where the parts lock together, like mortise and tenon or dovetailed joints are supplemented by glue, nails and screw make a strong connection.

Choosing the right cabinet boxes is an important element of your overall satisfaction and the usability of your kitchen. At Toulmin Cabinetry and Design we're experts in working with you to choose the perfect cabinet boxes to meet your aesthetic needs and budget. If you're considering a kitchen remodeling, just give us a call! Our design team has been helping our Ann Arbor clients to create their dream kitchens, and we can help you too!

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About Toulmin Kitchen & Bath Design - We're West Alabama's award-winning, premier kitchen and bath showroom. We're experts who are known for a design-build process that makes the construction process stress-free. Contact us to schedule an appointment for a design consultation.