Plywood, Particleboard, and MDF: What They Are, And The Pros And Cons Of Each For Your Cabinets.

     Ah, the particleboard vs. plywood debate. A saga as old as time. We kid, but seriously, if you’re reading this, we’re willing to bet that at least once someone has told you that plywood is always the best choice over particleboard. (And poor MDF is usually just lumped into the same category as particleboard, even though it’s its own unique material—but more on that in a minute.) 

Or maybe you’re reading this because you’re new to the world of cabinets, and you’re hearing these three terms thrown around so much that you wonder just why the heck you should care about them. I mean, isn’t a wood cabinet made out of…well..wood? 

Either way, you’re in the right place. This article will briefly explain what plywood, particleboard, and MDF are, as well as the pros and cons of each when it comes to cabinetry. 

Up first is…

Plywood

Is it solid wood? Nope. Let’s just clear that up right away. Often the two get used interchangeably, but plywood is a waste-wood product made by gluing very thin layers of wood together to form boards that vary in thickness. 

There are several grades of plywood (meaning levels of quality) with A-grade being the best. 

Pros for plywood cabinets: Out of the three materials, plywood is the lightest. It’s also durable. So with the right construction, these traits are definite pros. Another huge selling point for plywood is that it’s water-resistant. 

Cons for plywood cabinets: Because it is made by gluing together grains of wood that run against each other, plywood warps easily. You want to avoid cabinet doors made out of plywood since they will have natural movement and are more prone to warping. Because of its layers, plywood isn’t very dimensionally stable, meaning you will find slight differences in thickness, even within the same sheet. It’s hard to get a 100% uniform, smooth surface with plywood. 

Up next is…

Particleboard 

Like plywood, particleboard is also a waste-wood product, this time made by hot pressing sawdust with adhesives. There are different grades of particleboard as well that vary in quality. 

Pros for using particleboard: Particleboard sometimes gets a bad name because it brings to mind flimsy, poorly-constructed cabinets and furniture. But high-quality particleboard, made by a well-respected manufacturer, is a good choice because it doesn’t warp and boasts a stable, durable, and even surface to work with. 

Cons for using particleboard: One of the most significant drawbacks for particleboard is it’s not water-resistant. However, again, if you have a quality-made product, it will most certainly come with a water-resistant lacquer or finish, taking care of this problem. If water issues are a bigger concern, some people will choose to prop their particleboard cabinet boxes up on legs so they aren’t directly on the kitchen floor.  

Last we have…

MDF 

Which, as we alluded to previously, is similar but not exactly the same as particleboard. Short for Medium Density Fiberboard, MDF is another waste-wood product, made by hot pressing very fine wood fibers with adhesives.

Pros for using MDF: MDF is similar to particleboard in terms of pros and cons. The notable difference is that it is much heavier than particleboard and plywood, so you won’t often find it in cabinet box construction. However, it has a solid, even surface that sands and paints beautifully. For this reason, it is a popular choice for finishing and trim components. 

Cons for using MDF:  The disadvantages of using MDF are that it is the heaviest of the three, and like particleboard, it needs a finish or lacquer to be water-resistant. 

In summary: 

We genuinely believe it isn’t so much about the type of material that you use in your cabinets, but the quality of that material and the construction holding it together. In terms of cost, across the board, if you are using high-grade materials, your costs will be very similar among all three. Don’t automatically say “no” to a cabinet set that you like based on the materials alone. Look into where the product was made and who made it. Do they have a good reputation and 5-star reviews? Do they back their work with a lifetime warranty? What grade materials do they use? What kind of construction went into the cabinets?

If you’re curious to learn more about cabinet materials and what makes high-quality cabinets, check out our other articles linked below or email us at ben@bensrepurposedcabinetry.com.

How to Spot High-Quality Kitchen Cabinets

3 Signs You’re Getting Fooled Into Buying Low-Quality Cabinets

Quality-Made Cabinets: Fact vs. Fiction

3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Rule out Particleboard Cabinets

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