Get to Know Your Cabinet Sides

As our customers begin their kitchen design process they have numerous questions about what makes up cabinets. When it comes to the construction of the cabinet boxes themselves, the materials that I am asked about most frequently are plywood, furniture board (which is often called particle board), solid wood and MDF. Here are some brief descriptions of the strengths of these products:

Plywood, along with Furniture Board, is the most common of the materials used in the manufacture of a cabinet box. It is made by taking overlapping layers of wood veneers and glue and pressing them into sheets. The end product is comparatively light, very strong and long lasting. Plywood costs more than furniture board and can add to the price of a cabinet but it is still a very desirable product for cabinet construction.

Furniture Board is a modernized version of particle board. It is denser and made at higher pressure with better glues than its older cousin. Whereas particle board would have issues of swelling when exposed to moisture, the newer furniture board is stronger and more resistant to moisture. I was skeptical when I was initially told this by one of our sales reps. He stated that furniture board could survive direct contact with moisture without failing. I took a shelf from one of our displays and submerged it in my bathtub overnight. The next day the shelf was fine and once it dried out it went back into our display. Naturally, do not try this with your cabinets, but it does illustrate how far the material has come.

Some manufacturers will offer cabinet boxes that are made of solid wood. These are staves that have been glued up into panels and made into the sides, tops and bottoms of cabinets. This is not used as much because of the large amount of hardwood lumber it consumes and because of issues with cabinet stability. Solid hardwood still expands and contracts depending on the ambient humidity. A side panel on a base cabinet is 24 inches wide and can grow 3/8” to ½” in higher humidity and shrink the same amount in dry climes.

Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF), while an excellent material for wood and thermofoil laminate cabinet doors and center panels on painted doors, does not lend itself well to cabinet construction. It is considerably heavier than plywood, furniture board and hardwood. It also does not hold fasteners as well as the above materials. As a result, it is not offered as a material for cabinet boxes. Because they are both materials manufactured from wood residuals, MDF and Furniture Board are often confused with one another.

The vast majority of cabinets for the home are made from Furniture Board and Plywood. Each cabinet company manufactures their product with material that best meets their structural and budgetary specifications. Knowing the materials that make up cabinets will assist in making the best decisions for your design project.

John Allen, Showroom Manager
Kitchen Views at National Lumber
15 Needham St.
Newton, MA 02461

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