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ni_2006

Plywood or particle board boxes on your kitchen cabs?

ni_2006
16 years ago

We are trying to decide whether we should spend the extra 10-20% to upgrade to plywood frames. How many of you with new kitchens have plywood vs particle board? Is it worth upgrading to plywood?

I am sure this has been discussed many times before, but I was not able to find much information. Please help!

Comments (36)

  • sombreuil_mongrel
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I went with plywood because I wanted to avoid off-gassing of the particle board glue, and plywood is stronger pound for pound; Plywood cabinet boxes are much lighter, which made then much easier for me to install.
    Casey

  • raehelen
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Like everything else in the kitchen cabinet realm, there are many different kinds of plywood. You may want to find out what thickness are the sides, and the backs. Is it furniture grade plywood, or rougher?

    Our new cabinets are furniture grade nine ply, probably overkill, but a beauty to behold! And I could hang/support you name it from the sides- handy in my pantry or under the sink or in lazy susans where I want to add aftermarket extras.

    Not sure how you can have adjustable shelves in particle board- (is that a possibility?)

    Having said that, the old cabinets we replaced were very thin particle board, and other than hinges becoming loose under the sink, they held up very well for over 30 years.

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    Plywood doesn't absorb orders, that is a lie. That said, plywood is okay for face frame cabinets, but it warps too much for frameless cabinets. Mdf is better as long as you don't use the scrap for stretchers, use solid wood instead. Plywood also has thickness issues that are tough to get around at times, leaves offsets when cabinets meet up, or affects the assembled lenght of the cabinet run. Furniture board? That is just another name for particle board that the factory made cabinet resellers like to use. Mdf is Masonite, pretty much. Looks the same, fine dark brown or light brown color, and is consistent thickness, stiffer than some particle boards, as as one poster said, it paint really well and stays flat. As to making one peiced doors, not so much. The problem is that eventually the hinge inserts will work loose. We like MDF raised panels, but use solid wood, usually maple, for the door stiles and rails so you got a hard wood for the knob and hinge attachment points. What you can do, well if it says all wood, they got you. The Consumer Protection Agency says particle board and MDF is all wood. There is one product, Classic core, that has thin layers of MDF that can be sanded prior to laying up the outside veneers, so that it is uniform thickness through out the bundle. There are three layers of plywood in the middle, it seems more stable and holds screws better than MDF. But, MDF is what I used in my kitchen and I just installed new cabinets in my mom's kitchen that were MDF. It is the best in my opinion.
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  • pharaoh
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    All 3/4" birch plywood. Frameless cabs, solid tops and sides.

  • mysterymachine
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I had huge trouble getting plywood - all the cabinet manufacturers in my price range would tell me "its an option but we haven't done it in years" and went on to tell me how todays particle board is better than plywood (I don't believe them) and most would tack on lead time for the plywood option. So I had to go with particle board for the boxes on mine in order to get them by the time the contractor needed them.

    If its 10% upcharge I would say going to plywood is a no brainer but I saw much higher upcharge and wait times.

  • paul_ma
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Interesting that all the replies here are for plywood. I have the impression that most people don't. It used to be debated here a lot and there were strong arguments in favor of particle board.

    I got plywood anyway, and I am very happy with what I got.

    My cabinets are from Canyon Creek. I am very happy with the quality of them. They seem very tough, well made, and well finished. But my contractor guys still complain. They do a lot of high end work and also build cabinets, and say these aren't as good as what they build. (But they also said if they built my cabinets it would have been 2x the $.)

  • ccc123
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Our cabinet maker used 'Medtite 2' to build our cabinet boxes because it has no formaldehyde. You can use any veneer or finish on it.

    For our underlay, under our countertops, we specified the brand 'PureBond' plywood. No formaldehyde, no outgassing, no voc's, no smell. You can google PureBond for more info.

    Kitchen & bath cabinetry are the largest sources of formaldehyde in a home. There are many innovative products on the market that are easy to find. Try to avoid all products with formaldehyde; it is a carcinogen and causes cancer.

    Better for the environment & healthier indoor air quality for you & your family.

    Helpful website - www.greenguard.org

  • brunosonio
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    There should me a huge number of threads in the past discussing this. It used to be one of the most recurrent topics when I joined 2 years ago.

    It is true that the newer particleboard and medium density fiberboard (MDF) are much better than the older ones. It depends on what type of cabinets you are getting.

    Contractors like plywood, it's lighter and easier to lift and install.

    If you have frameless cabinets, there is a reason most manufacturers use MDF. The boxes are the "frames" so they are self-supporting. MDF cuts a straighter and truer line, and is dimensionally more stable over time, which is why it's used more often in frameless. It's also much heavier.

    The old adage was to use MDF on all your cabinets except sink base units, where you would want plywood, just in case you had a bad leak. The idea was that MDF would expand and disintegrate when wet. But don't forget plywood will delaminate when wet. And most cabinet makers seal the interiors of their cabinets with a vinyl product, so when you caulk the corners of your base units, they are pretty waterproof for the time it would take you to discover you had a bad leak.

    In my case, the manufacturer charged 20% for the plywood upgrade option. They were semi-custom, and even the salesman told me to stay with MDF and not spend the extra for the upgrade, it wasn't worth it.

    My cabinets are cherry, with Blum metal drawers. So I was happy to do the MDF, save the money, and keep the solid cherry for the doors/drawer fronts/exposed end runs, etc. My cabinet company also gave me plywood shelves for better support of heavy items without sagging.

    I had some built-in bookcases made by my carpenter to match the kitchen cabinets (great room area, so they were part of the same area). He was able to build them with cherry plywood.

    For what it's worth, when I ripped out my 30 year old cabinets (builder grade particleboard from 1978), they were in great shape. No disintegration or powdering, no water damage.

  • pcjs
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Plywood on the sink base (in case of water/chemical spills) and any cabinets with exposed sides (basicall 5 cabinets)... the rest are particle board as no one can tell the difference, including me once they are installed.

  • oruboris
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    To me, plywood boxes are like flooring under the cabs: you don't really see it, doesn't change the function, and I'd rather spend the money elsewhere.

    There are extreme situations where the ply will perform better, like if your kitchen gets reaaaalllyyyy flooded, but otherwise you are mostly buying peace of mind.

  • sherilynn
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    The bad news is that on some particle board boxes, the ends literally use a wood like wallpaper. This stuff can lift off.

    If I could not afford all plywood 3/4", then I would make sure that any ends of my cabinets were covered with a 'door' glued to the side of the box and I WOULD make sure that the sink base was plywood.

  • bmorepanic
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    All of "today's particle board" is not better than it was. Particle board isn't a uniform substance and the particle board one cabinet maker uses may not be the same as another maker. Cabinet makers use particle board because it is cheaper - in some rare cases, its better because its flatter.

    When people here use the term "mdf", they are refering to a type of particle board for the most part. A cabinet maker would not use the term "mdf" because is the acronym (now) for another type of material.

    Particle board ALWAYS has a coating - veneer with a finish layer, hard laminate, vinyl, or melamine are popular. Particle board gains some moisture resistance from the coating. The coating quanlity is very important. While you can ask a cabinet salesperson, I think its more reliable to ask for references from the cabinet company or from around here.

    Cabinet construction counts just as much (or more) than cabinet materials. Paying for plywood isn't any guarantee of quality. Cabinets made with materials that are too thin will fall apart, no matter what material was used. Cabinets made with poor joinery for the type of material will fall apart.

    I gots 3/4" plywood, tops, bottoms, sides with 1/4" plywood backs and 3/4" hanging rails on the top and bottom with veneer interiors. Frameless and built like a tank!

    What casey said...

  • berryberry
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Plywood - our cabinet line didn't even offer particle board as an option.

  • cotehele
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I am confused. IKEA is spoken of so highly. They are constructed of particle board, are they not? What gives?

  • oskiebabu
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    IKEA maniacs like how inexpensive it is in comparison to many other cabinets and have bought into the IKEA-madness. Having seen them and how they are made they should be inexpensive. If you plan on selling your house soon IKEA could be fine. But if you want good quality cabinetry that will last, it isn't a great line.

    Great lines, such as AristoKraft, Wood-Mode, Omega, are some of the best. I've seen some Canac Cellini cabinets and they are very well made frameless and they also have both modern and conventional designs. The Canac Cellini in Bird's Eye Maple with a honey color is simply gorgeous. It is fairly expensive, but their are cheaper finishes. There are a vast number of manufacturers and one should read how they are made, as "bemorepanic" says above.

    Obviously your budget will mostly determine the quality of the product. This isn't to say that there aren't some very well made medium-priced cabinets---there are.

    Greg

  • chiefneil
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    There seems to be a few misconceptions on this thread, so I thought a photo might be helpful. Plywood is generally described in two broad categories, solid or MDF core, and veneer core. Veneer core is what most people think of when they say "plywood".

    There are different types and grades of veneer core plywood. The construction grade you find at home depot can have voids in the inner layers and the grain roughness can telegraph to the surface. Higher quality furniture-grades don't have voids, and have more layers.

    The bottom plywood in the photo is furniture-grade maply veneer core. I've seen people saying that the melamine on MDF and particle board is paper-thin. Well, it's hard to see on this photo, but the top veneer layer on this expensive furniture-grade maply plywood is also paper-thin. Not counting the veneer layer, it has 5 plies.

    On top is a higher grade typically called "baltic birch". It has 7 plies, and the thickest veneer layer, about 1/64" or maybe 1/32". Still very thin. In my experience, baltic birch warps very easily so I'm careful to store it flat and assemble soon after milling.

    Above that is MDF. It has a maple veneer, the same quality and thickness as the veneer-core maple on the bottom. And on top is particle board - note the thicker and less even flakes than the MDF.

    I use veneer core for free-standing furniture than will be moved around and abused. My custom kitchen and den cabinets are MDF core.

    {{gwi:1752152}}

  • bmorepanic
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    bmore is short for Baltimore. The little pun is because I was terrified of making a cabinet mistake. Add a dash of our murder rate plus a soupcon of car thefts.

    We got a really cool police commissioner now - perhaps I need a name change.

  • morton5
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    IKEA cabs use low off-gassing MDF, because they are made to stricter European standards. They also have a 25-year warranty, and are highly-rated by Consumer Reports.

  • antiquesilver
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    My cabinets were site built & we used 3/4" furniture grade plywood.

  • brunosonio
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Thank you chiefneil for that great comparison and explanation. There are a lot of misconceptions in here...and one of them being that particleboard and MDF are the same. Which they are not, as we can see from your comparison.

    And I think one of the biggest continuing misconceptions is that plywood is still better for cabinets. There are advantages and disadvantages to both materials.

    And it's also very interesting that most high end frameless manufacturers, including Poggenpohl and mine Pacific Crest) prefer to use MDF.

  • bmorepanic
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Ikea uses particle board for their cabinet boxes. Some doors are made from mdf but most are particle board with some solid wood pieces.

    Pacific Crest uses particle board for the cabinet boxes. They use mdf for some doors.

    I looked around for Poggenpohl and couldn't find out what their normal cabinet line is made from. Their new porche line is made from a really different kind of particle board - if it can still be called that!

    board itself is made from a "sandwich" of 6mm-thick particleboards filled with a 12mm slice of recycled cardboard-like material. from some dudes called Egger.

  • ni_2006
    Original Author
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hi all,

    Thank you so much for your response. I am conflicted by the choice, but given the budget, I am leaning towards selecting particle board.

  • sarschlos_remodeler
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Ikea may be particle board for the boxes, but it is low off-gasing to the strict European standards (German) and has a 25-year warranty. They have a huge fan club because of the value -- quality, price, service, warranty -- the whole package. The only downside to Ikea is the limited sizes and door styles/colors; but they are highly adaptable so that even this is not as big of an issue as people seem to think. It also comes standard with blum motion and soft-close glides. Plus the drawers are the blum metal drawers. If you're like me, and you're planning almost all drawers (including pullout drawers for the pantries), then the big metal drawers are fantastic.

    There's also Scherr's. Have heard great things about them -- but they're so popular there is a long lead time right now.

  • judydel
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    My cabinets will be Cabico with non formaldehyde plywood boxes. Having formaldehyde free cabinets is the top cosideration on my list. Who needs to breathe in poison for 5+ years! It's shameful that they've allowed this in our homes all these years. Only recently do people even know the truth. And don't think you can smell the formaldehyde fumes, because you can't.

    It's been an eye opener doing this addition of ours. When we built the house I wasn't scrutinizing the building materials like I am now. I won't allow anything toxic to be used this time around. For example, we're not using fiberglass iinsulation because of the formaldehyde (and glass). We made sure the plywood sheets are non toxic, etc.

    Furniture also has the same problems. Typical upholstered furniture is VERY toxic . . . mattress are VERY toxic (some believe this is what causes SIDS), and wood furniture with mdf again VERY toxic. I've bought non toxic upholstered furniture, mattresses and wood furniture . . . but it is more expensive and you have to search for it.

  • kathy56_il
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    We are purchasing Medallion cabinets and was curious about their use of formaldehyde.

    I found this online http://www.accentmagazine.com/Accent/November-December-2007/Designing-a-aoeGreena-Kitchen/

    "You can also go "green" in your choice of cabinets. Eco-friendly lines like Omega Cabinetry, Medallion Cabinetry and HomeCrest Cabinetry, just to name a few, specialize in progressive green thinking. All of them are certified by the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association in their Environmental Stewardship Program by using low formaldehyde-emitting composite woods and products from long-term sustainable forestry products or recycled woods"

  • abbycat9990
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Our GC and KD convinced us not to upgrade to plywood, as they said it's all solid once bolted to the wall. Well, Forest Wellborn upgraded us anyway, and all the cabs have plywood boxes.

  • igloochic
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Our long term plan for the kitchen and house includes buying the neighbors and blowing through the walls. The kitchen will be somewhat rearranged into a larger space. Because of this, did care about the construction of the cabinets, inside and out. I took down particle board cabinets and while many did make it out ok, many did not. On the wall they were pretty solid (most of them) but after several years there were some issues, like loose shelve pins and crumbling shelves. The veneer had also come loose on the shelves on the edges.

    I wanted cabinets that could be removed and reused without damage so I went with 3/4" ply sides 1/2" tops (keeps the dust out and makes them stronger on their own, and 1/4" backs. I expect to be able to remove these and use them again in a different location without seeing any damage.

    Hey it just occured to me...How green is that! Ye ha I'm finally in the green crowd (but really it's just cheapness LOL)

    Oh one other other are I REALLY didn't want to skimp on was the doors. I wanted solid doors, faceframes and panels verses veneer since these are the areas that are likely to see damage over time. I hate to see a tiny scratch or bump that goes into the mdf/ply whatever and with a little one and a clumsy husband...that's pretty darned important!

  • judydel
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    As far as formaldehyde goes, there are low emitting and NO emitting particle boards. It depends on the glue used. There are also water based paints and stains, which emit less vocs than oil based paints/stains. The more as consumers we insist that they only sell us non harmful products, the more will be made available. California has better standards, but I still would prefer no formaldehyde and no harmful vocs. Ca still allows them, but less.

  • ni_2006
    Original Author
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    We were able to get plywood boxes from a different kitchen place! We are going to order the cabinets in the next few days once we are all set with the design. Wish us luck!

    Thanks everyone for all the valuable advice!

  • ci_lantro
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Smart choice, ni 2006. The only thing that I would use particle board for in a cabinet is an adjustable shelf. If it goes to hell, then it's easily replaceable.

  • jakkom
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    >>Not sure how you can have adjustable shelves in particle board- (is that a possibility?) Not only do I have 19 yr old particleboard kitchen cabs in perfect shape (Kraftmaid frameless Euro6 line), I've owned painted particleboard bookcases for over 30 years, lugging them around from place to place. And yes, the KM cabs are completely adjustable with pins, no problem.

    There IS a difference in quality to look for. 3/4" is not as good as 1" (you can see some of the thinner particleboard cubes below show some bowing, although at 19 yrs in the same configuration they have yet to fall apart). And high-density is a lot better than low-density. Here's a photo of a mix of 3/4" and 1" bookcases and cubes. Notice the 2-shelf unit on the bottom LH, of 1" board? One of the oldest ones I have, it has been loaded with those extraordinarily heavy art and coffeetable books for thirty years. If you stacked up all the books that are on one shelf there, it's 30" high and I'll bet no person here would be able to lift them all at once.

    BTW, ignore the tilt in some of the vertical stacked cubes - we used L-brackets to bolt each individual piece to the wall for earthquake proofing, so it tilted some of the cubes forward as we worked upwards. Also, these are only half of the bookcases; we have 8 full-height teak-veneered particleboard bookcases in other rooms, also heavily loaded, and all over 20 yrs old.

    I can assure you, having moved these books and bookcases around several intracity relocations, each one of those bookshelves is holding much more weight than is being held on my fully-loaded, 75-lb capacity rollout KM pantry shelves in the kitchen.

    Lousy quality particleboard will bend under the weight of a few folded sweaters - I can attest to that, I've owned some of it (and had to throw it out). OTOH, lousy quality plywood is just as bad. We also own the "solid wood" Home Depot Masterbath bathroom cabs - what crappy plywood it is! 1/2" ply so flimsy, I was surprised it managed to support the weight of the double sink countertop without crashing to the floor.

    You'd better believe I'd never stand on the Masterbath cabs - but I have stood on the KM cabs without any problems, and at 230 lbs. I'm not exactly lightweight.

    The point made about the quality of interior veneers is an excellent one, and far too often overlooked. The interior veneer used by KM in 1989 is far superior to what they use now. I put dishes away wet and even had a six-month slow leak in our sink cab that did no damage outside of a quarter-sized bubble raised in the veneer, no substrate damage.

    There is an additional cost to using particleboard that should be noted - you should never go over 30" wide without a - I don't know the right woodworking term - front vertical support slat? - to help prevent the shelves from bowing.

    Plywood can go 36-48" in width, depending upon board thickness and weight capacity desired. Therefore, you should use more, slightly narrow cabs in particleboard, than you can use in plywood. That is the ONLY advantage of plywood, IMHO, coming from someone who has put frameless particleboard boxes through a lot more heavy use than most people ever manage. Being able to use fewer, larger cabs can sometimes save enough $$ to be worth the upgrade cost, for those who prefer plywood anyway.

    Plywood cabs are lighter and easier to DIY. Installers hate particleboard because it takes 2-3 people to do the install and it's a lot more heavy work. But either material IF of good quality, will be able to last so long you'll get tired of it before you'll see it disintegrate.

  • tgpdd
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I'm scratching my head. We just got back from our KD, who is a co-owner of the company that's making our cabinets (Millbrook). She had done up a quote for our cabs that was particle board by mistake, and dh wanted solid plywood. She re-did the quote while we waited, and the plywood boxes were only a total of $450 more. It also only cost $25 per drawer to upgrade to solid dovetailed drawers. This lady has been doing this for 25 years, so I don't think she made a mistake.

    Our kitchen isn't big, but still a difference of only $450, compaired to the huge difference the OP mentioned makes me wonder how this can be.

  • srchicago
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I just made a couple of phone calls, and if you go to www.kcma.org, they will give you a list of cabinet companies that are certified as low-formaldehyde emitting! When I signed on to this website today, I was mainly concerned with long-lasting construction (plywd vs. particle board), but now I'm 100% concerned with formaldehyde! So thanks!

  • talley_sue_nyc
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Not sure how you can have adjustable shelves in particle board- (is that a possibility?)

    Of course you can have adjustable shelves in particle board!

    Plywood on the sink base (in case of water/chemical spills) and any cabinets with exposed sides (basically 5 cabinets)...

    Exposed sides do NOT need to be plywood--they just need to be FINISHED. You can finish MDF as well as you can plywood, and the expense will be about the same.

    todays particle board is better than plywood (I don't believe them)
    Today's MDF has advantages over plywood. It's more dimensionally stable (though plywood is much more stable than plain wood). It's less expensive. It's denser, therefore heavier.

    There are extreme situations where the ply will perform better, like if your kitchen gets reaaaalllyyyy flooded,
    If your kitchen gets REAAALLLYYY flooded, then BOTH materials will be trash. The most important thing is to get a really GOOD melamine coating on the inside of the sink cabinet (mine is more like paper)

  • mindimoo
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Plywood - I highly recommend it - especially if you are going with slab, even more so with 1-1/4" slab and if you have a wide overhang. The reason is, plywood will take a higher vertical load than particle board and is much stronger in that direction. My slab person recommends plywood whenever she can, too.

    Also, if you have to install the "full metal jacket" like our island {{gwi:1752156}}
    it gives you a material with strength in which to attach the screws, beyond comparison in shear strenth. Also stood up to several passes with a 3/4" x 3/4" router bit to recess the steel.

    MDF doesn't even begin register on the scale of structural materials (and I am speaking from experience as well as two+ years of structural courses:-)!)

    To be honest, we way overthought it and added an additional 1/2" ply to the back of the island due to our 22" overhang, probably overkill, but it made us feel better.

    It's worth the money IMO!

    Good luck!

  • cambro5
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    srchicago- thank you so much for that link - I wasn't sure where to check on yorktowne cabinets which is what I am getting. Yay! they are certified!

    I opted for particle board boxes but wood drawers and door insets, etc., simply because that fit my budget best.

    I so wish I had found this forum before I got so far into the process. I am doing a lot of back peddling and changing my mind constantly now that I have learned so much - that a KD is never going to tell you!

  • sara_the_brit_z6_ct
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Most European kitchens are particleboard. Very unusual to use plywood. Possibly because of what the earlier poster said about frameless cabinets, which are the norm. And I've seen some really badly warped plywood (allegedly marine-grade too).