Understanding  Wood  Cabinet  Materials

Most of us think of cabinets as being made out of all wood and that is true for the most part, however that does not mean that it's all solid wood like a piece of lumber.

Plywood, MDF or a combination of these two types of wood are very typical materials that high end or custom cabinets are made from vs particle board, or the thinner or lower grade types of plywood that are found in stock or semi-custom type cabinets.

The term 'all wood' as used for cabinet making usually means all-plywood construction or a combination of plywood and solid wood. To help strike a balance between style, structural support and cost here is a look at the most commonly used cabinet making materials.

Solid wood is just as the term implies - it's solid wood or lumber that for furniture and cabinets is planed down to a smooth surface. This solid wood can be cut to a thin strip of wood used as trim, a wider thicker piece that makes a door frame or drawer front. It can also be a series of boards that are joined and glued together to make a solid wood counter or desk top.

Plywood is made by laminating thin layers of wood to each other with the grain at right angles in alternate plies. Varying the direction of the grain gives plywood equal strength in all directions. The layers are bonded with glue under heat and pressure. 

Thinner 1/4" plywood is typically used on cabinet backs; thicker plywood forms the sides. No less than a thickness of 3/4" should be used in order to make strong and durable cabinetry.

Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is a high-quality substrate material made from smaller fibers than particleboard. It offers superior screw-holding power, clean edges, and an extremely smooth surface. In addition, its edges can be shaped and painted.

Particleboard is made from wood particles mixed with resin and bonded by pressure. It serves as the base for most cabinetry covered with laminate and vinyl film. 

New technology and improved resins make particleboard a strong, reliable building material. In poor grades, though, hinges and other fasteners tend to fall out; and particleboard that's too thin will buckle or warp. Particleboard is found in stock, mass-produced or semi-custom type cabinets.

Cost Guidelines

Another factor to consider when it comes to buying new cabinetry for your home is the type of construction used to make your new cabinets: these are basically this - cabinets that are mass produced versus hand made.

These are in turn categorized into three main types: Stock cabinets, Semi-custom cabinets and Custom Cabinets.


Stock cabinets are fully prefabricated and sold as-is by home improvement or design stores; they can usually be taken home the same day or within a few days.

Semi-custom cabinets allow for slightly more customization by the purchaser, and they usually require a longer lead time to build, depending on the number of customizations requested.

Custom Cabinets are made by hand to fit the buyer's exact specifications, and timing for these depends on the scope of the job and the cabinetmaker's schedule.

General price range for the various types of cabinets are as follows:

stock cabinets are cheapest, at around $60 to $150 per linear foot

semi-custom cabinets will run you around $200 to $650 per linear foot

custom cabinets usually cost between $500 and $1,200 per linear foot depending on

type of wood, style and decorative accents chosen.