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laurenps

Painted MDF doors vs Painted Maple

LaurenPS
12 years ago

Hi everyone, I am sure this has been asked before on this forum. I am in the process of deciding on a painted cabinet for my kitchen. The custom cabinet builder that I want to use told me that they use MDF for the cabinet doors and panels that are to be painted. They prefer this as there is no chipping or cracking of the paint. I live in Massachusetts and the weather changes from cold and dry to hot and humid and I realize this can be an issue. He will use maple if I want but I must sign that they are not responsible for paint cracking at the seams. So with that all said has anyone used MDF and are you happy?? And for those of you in the climates with season changes have you noticed cracking at the seams of your painted maple cabinets. And if you used painted maple which brand cabinet did you go with. Also, what are your boxes made out of, did you go all wood or something else. Thanks

Comments (38)

  • colorfast
    12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    What is your door style? Will the entire door be MDF? I would really caution you on that idea.

    One reason I am replacing my kitchen is that my old kitchen had chipped doors. They were a wood veneer over some kind of plywood. It was not from weather, it was from people using the kitchen over the years. Along the bottom of the lower doors, the top edge of the most used drawers, there were chunks missing. On the sink doors, these chunks were 2-3 inches long. If your veneer goes up to the edge of your doors, you are likely to have similar wear issues over time.

    If your doors have a center panel that's veneered, especially recessed, that could work. But the outer edges of your door fronts you want real wood. Maple is a really hard wood and would be a great choice.

    I went plywood on the boxes and shelves. Solid wood, dovetail on the drawers (not staples). Hinges matter too.

  • muskokascp
    12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I just had my cabinets installed and we used plywood boxes and painted MDF door fronts for the reasons you mentioned. I live in Nova Scotia so we share the same type of weather. The fronts are all MDF and I am not concerned with durability. I think the MDF they currently use in kitchen will be just fine.

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  • LaurenPS
    Original Author
    12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hi Colorfast, MDF is a solid wood composite surface...no veneer at all therefore it does not appear that they could chip. The doors are milled and worked out of one piece. Do you have painted cabinets?? I think we are talking about 2 different things, thanks for your input and I would never put veneer in my kitchen for the reasons that you mentioned.

  • constantinople
    12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    LaurenPS, my cabinetmaker told me the same thing as yours. I didn't use it in my cabinetry, but he told me it does paint excellently.

    C.

  • robbcs3
    12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Mdf is not really a great option for cabinets. It does take paint rather well, but its soft. Painted maple works fine for most folks. Don't be scared by the finish wavier most manufacturers use them. The paint may go on solid in the beginning but you will see hairline cracks in the paint where the wood has expanded/ contracted. Just check out a sample of a painted door.

  • Laurie35
    12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I live in Minneapolis, which is subject to extreme changes in weather outside. Inside, of course, the changes aren't as extreme.

    I am also having custom kitchen cabinets, and I am going with painted maple. I had consultations with four GCs where the cabinet choice was discussed. Three of the four suggested painted maple; the fourth strongly leaned toward MDF. The fourth did say that painted MDF looked more "plasticy" than painted maple, but it was cheaper and he thought it would be my most economical choice. He didn't say anything negative about painted maple, and suggested that as his second option.

    I didn't choose that GC for a number of reasons, so I didn't really explore MDF. I do have painted cherry cabinets now. (Just to be clear, these cabinets were first painted about 40-50 years ago. I only know that the cabinets are cherry because the interior cabinet doors were never painted, and one of the GCs told me they were cherry). But in the years that I have owned the house, cracking of the paint hasn't been an issue.

  • LaurenPS
    Original Author
    12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Thanks everyone for your input. I am still not sure what to do as the pricing on the mdf cabinets came in quite high. I also do not want to see hairline cracks where the joints come together...very fussy about this type of thing. Anyone else out there have any comments or additions to the above.

  • Samantha111
    12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I'm concerned about this option also. It came up at a custom shop yesterday. This morning while researching it I found the linked info from a cabinetmaker on fiberboard being used for painted doors. He says hardwood should be used for the door frame. He refers to the strength of HDF these days but still recommends a wood frame. I'm not sure what the local shop uses for the frame. I'm guessing it's not wood or she would have mentioned it. She was very thorough and up front about construction details. It would crack at the seams.

    I don't know anything about the cabinetmaker in the link. In another thread, someone mentioned Cook & Cook (high end) is doing this. I didn't see it mentioned on their site.

    This is all very confusing and tiring!

    Here is a link that might be useful: HDF for painted cabinet doors

  • LaurenPS
    Original Author
    12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    The custom cabinet maker that I went to said that the MDF product for the doors is strong and a much better product than it was years ago. The door is constructed out of one piece, no wood frame from this cabinet maker. With the MDF you are trying to avoid any seams that may crack the paint. I have put off doing my kitchen for one year because I got so confused about this. I agree it is very tiring!! Anyone out there have painted MDF that they have had good luck with??

  • muskokascp
    12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Lauren,
    I can't give you much experience since my doors are only 2 weeks old. I will say the info I was given is the same as you re cracking in the painted doors and it was recommended we go with the one piece MDF. We did and the cabinets are quite beautiful. I am pleased with them.

  • LaurenPS
    Original Author
    12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Live Wire Oak, thanks so much for your very informative post.
    It becomes very confusing when you are looking out there at a variety of cabinet companies. Are you a cabinet maker yourself? Have you seen how doors stand the test of time? I am very ignorant about these things and just want a kitchen that still looks good in 10 years. Do you know anything about formaldehyde out-gassing from mdf and plywood. Sorry to picking your brain, but you seem to be very knowledgeable.
    Thanks for your help

  • dee850
    12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    If I may ask a related question...

    I'm less worried about cracking/joints, and more concerned about denting. If, say, my preschooler son bumps his stepstool into an MDF panel, is it more or less likely to dent than a paint-grade soft maple panel? I know that soft maple is around 950 on the Janka hardness scale, but where would MDF fall on a scale like that?

  • Samantha111
    12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Wow, thanks livewire for the complete, consolidated outline. I was noticing last night that the MDF door on this line doesn't have the nice crisp edges and cuts like the wood door does. It looks molded, similar to the veneered panels. It's also a sprayed finish so the all over effect isn't right for me. You hit the nail on the head with preferences. It's a beautiful door and color but feels off because it's looking a bit too slick and fabricated for my own aesthetic and for how I want my kitchen to feel. I think I've finally reached a conclusion. This seems like the deciding factor between the two, even above a lean towards the paint color on the wood one anyway. This was still good to explore despite the stress and loss of time!

    The panels of both the MDF and wood doors are painted separately which is good.

    I will say that I'm sure there was some crisply cut painted raised panel cabinetry in the shop. However that display was in the custom line. So maybe more realistic detailing is possible with MDF (which I believe I read it could do somewhere) but at a premium.

    As far as basic construction, I think I need to rely on the KCMA to handle that and stay out of it! You'd think it would be fairly black and white but the opinions seem to vary widely and I have no personal experience to draw on for a final conclusion. They both seem to pass the test.

    I do love a natural, time worn, handcrafted look and enjoy seeing mitered corners and such so, for me, that's a plus. I'm glad to have it clearly defined and articulated at this point. You don't want to realize those things, what's off, after the fact with such an expensive purchase! Looking at my old oil-based painted wood doors, they have not warped or split to any degree here so I think they will live a long life and won't be deteriorating before my eyes.

    Thank you and thank you all!

  • live_wire_oak
    12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    LaurenPS, no I'm not a cabinet maker. I'm a kitchen designer. The long term experiences that I've had with cabinetry have shown that MDF doors are just fine for decades with normal kitchen use. If the cabinets are to receive abuse from rowdy rollerskating kids and St. Bernard drool, then using maples stiles and rails will give you better wear over time. No material will stand up to the impact of a thrown canned good or being constantly used as an aid to climb onto the counters. Even hard maple will dent or have the hinges pull out under those circumstances. MDF center panels vs. plywood center panels is a complete tossup function wise. Pick whichever is cheaper and use the saved money for some other feature that needs a boost in budget.

    Low formaldehyde emitting materials are commonly available from many cabinet companies. Just ask them directly. There are a few companies that use zero emissions materials, but they are pretty spendy. A custom cabinet maker can source zero emitting plywood if you want, but it will be a substantial upcharge for most.

    The plywood vs. furniture board debate for the cabinet boxes is equally weighted by the propaganda that you're not getting "real wood" unless you pay 20% more for the privilege. KCMA testing shows that either construction material will outlast it's fashionableness. People will most likely replace 25 year old cabinets because they are "ugly" in their view rather than because they're deteriorating.

    Plywood IS superior to furniture board in it's resistance to deflection. It will hold more weight without sagging. That's why you don't see Euro cabinets (which have used furniture board for MANY decades with no problems) larger than 36". If you have plywood shelving, you can span further distances. If you don't have any cabinets larger than 36" or plan on storing your entire cast iron collection on a single shelf I wouldn't worry about it.

    The water resistance thing is also a bit of often repeated propaganda. If a flood/leaking faucet/water event occurs, both substances can be affected. Plywood will delaminate and MDF will swell. The degree of affectedness will depend on if the materials are fully sealed on all surfaces. Shelving should have the cut sides sealed, and many cab lines don't offer that. Same with the portions of the cabinet that touch the floor of the underside of the base. This is where using a custom maker can work to your advantage. Or, just do it yourself for the sink base and the cabinet adjacent to the DW after they've been delivered. You could use polyurethane or whatever leftover paint you already have on hand. A couple of coats on the exposed ends and then caulk the interior seam where the cabinet floor meets the cabinet walls. I'd do this on plywood or furniture board.

  • Missy Benton
    12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    This has been so helpful! I meet with my kitchen designer next week and feel so much more prepared! Thank you.

  • nosoccermom
    10 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Follow-up question on MDF:
    Is there any way to fix MDF that has swollen around edges where water got in?

  • Valentina Selezneva
    8 years ago

    live_wire_oak Thank you so much for that information!!!! I want to double check if I am understanding correctly. WE are choosing between shenadoah McKinely Painted Silk and RTA semi custom Signature Collection. The Shenandoah is all wood and the Signature is MDF center panel on doors. SO int terms of durability over time and wear and tear, the center panel MDF of real wood would be same?

    Also if you could tell me how important in is for cabinet to be painted vs stained. Hand painted vs Sprayed?

  • Valentina Selezneva
    8 years ago

    This is info for Shenandoah

    door Construction

    Wood doors consist of door frames constructed from kiln-dried
    3⁄4” solid hardwood with mortise and tenon joints and floating
    center panels constructed of veneered or solid wood. White
    Thermo Foil door styles are covered with Thermo Foil on the
    door front and a white melamine panel on the door back.
    Thermo Foil is produced when a PVC molded plastic is bonded to
    a pre-machined 3⁄4” thick medium density fiberboard (MDF) core
    using heat and pressure.

    Cabinet front face frames

    Cabinet front face frames are made from 3⁄4” x 15⁄8” solid
    hardwood. They are kiln-dried to prevent warping. Face frame
    joints are pressure-fitted, glued, double-doweled and stapled.

  • Valentina Selezneva
    8 years ago

    Style:

    This is for the Signature in RTA.com

    Raised Square Face Frame:3/4" Solid Birch Door Frame:3/4” Solid BirchDoor Center:MDF (MDF is used to avoid cracking/warping)Sides:1/2" A-Grade plywood with wood veneerTop & Bottom (Wall):1/2" A-Grade plywood with wood veneer

  • Valentina Selezneva
    8 years ago

    aso for drawers on shenadoah the use MDF in Shenandoah, and in Signature plywood with tenner...which is better for heavy loads and durability?

  • rwiegand
    8 years ago

    If you're going to use your cabinets for 10 years and then remodel and toss them out I don't think it makes a whit of difference what they are made of. It will all work fine.

    Solid wood frame and panel doors have a track record, there are plenty around here that are still in everyday use 2-300 years later. Solid wood will move, and in a frame and panel door there will be cracks in paint at the edges, or worse, if you get paint in the grooves, gluing the panel in place, it will crack. For those of us who are obnoxious wood snobs, this is a feature, not a bug-- one of the ways to quickly tell a door is made of "real" wood.

    I think the ability of MDF to hold fasteners over time under load is a real and legitimate concern. The design of Euro "cup" hinges mitigates this in doors, so they should last decades without problems. Will they last centuries? I'm not so sure.

    I just went around my kitchen last weekend jury-rigging plywood screw blocks to hold the back ends of drawer glides where the screws into the MDF cabinet backs had pulled out. They held fine for ~10 years in a kitchen where they were not used, but then failed in a year after being reinstalled in our kitchen where they got everyday use. Having done this more than a few times, I wouldn't use MDF anywhere where it needs to resist a load.

    I'd have no problem at all using MDF as a panel in a solid wood frame that was painted or veneered. I'd be OK with it as a whole door (with Euro hinges) for a "throwaway" cabinet intended to last 10-20 years. I wouldn't use it at all in the "good" furniture I make that I hope someone will still value and use in a couple hundred years, except perhaps as a veneer substrate, and I'd never use it where it had to hold fasteners against lateral or pulling stress.

  • Valentina Selezneva
    8 years ago

    ok so best is to go all wood no MDF anywhere even center panel if I want to last the rest of the time we are in our house whch we plan to be until no other option would be possible


  • homechef59
    8 years ago

    I've used MDF in painted cabinets in two different kitchens. They don't warp, crack or split. They are superior in a painted finish application. Nothing is more disappointing than installing a kitchen with very expensive maple cabinets doors that warp within a month or two. I've used stained maple in another kitchen. The maple warped. The MDF doesn't warp.

    I haven't had any problem with my door hardware or drawer hardware degrading over time. It is highly unlikely that any of our kitchens will outlast our life expectancy. Styles change too often.

  • Valentina Selezneva
    8 years ago

    lol! I understand. Thank you. I do plan on not changing it with styles if it looks as good as I expect it to hold up. Not really a style chaser.

  • sjhockeyfan325
    8 years ago

    Still, understand that if 100 people answer your question on here, 50 will say "plywood" and 50 will say MDF. I've had both and haven't noticed any difference between the two (recognizing that I haven't lived with them for a century, nor would I ever expect to).

  • Valentina Selezneva
    8 years ago

    Thank you all!

  • rwiegand
    8 years ago

    "The maple warped. The MDF doesn't warp."

    It's just not that simple.

    I've had sheets of MDF that look like potato chips when the humidity changes, perhaps some oddity in the manufacturing that made the two sides different from each other. It's not supposed to happen, but it does. The careful cabinetmaker will pitch those sheets.

    Wood moves with changes in humidity and if your cabinet maker hasn't been careful about choosing stock for door stiles and rails they may well warp. If s/he's picked straight vertical grain wood that's been properly dried and conditioned they probably won't. Don't expect that level of care from factory-made cabinets.

    Choice of a cabinetmaker who knows what he is doing and pays attention is the best indicator of a successful outcome, not the material.

  • Anjelica Lena
    7 years ago

    This thread has been so helpful in a very stressful few weeks of trying to make decisions regarding our kitchen!! After weighing the pros and cons of MDF and wood, I think I've decided to go ahead with all MDF construction of cabinets. I appreciate that they are a bit weightier and are made of all one piece and will stand up to the cracking over time. My only hesitancy, and it is a big one! is that they appear "plasticy" or a bit cheap with the sprayed varnish finish, even in low sheen. My cabinet maker suggested using a company that hand paints the cabinets which will give them a more " lived in", older, rustic finish. Does anyone know if this is the case? Is it possible to achieve a "period" look through handpainting on MDF? Our house is cottage style and I don't want anything that looks too slick, new or especially cheap! :) Please, if someone could respond to this post I would appreciate it more than you know! I am exhausted rfom all this decision-making and have a baby on the way in two months!! Momma's gotta move!! Thanks in advance!! live_wire_oak any opions??

  • homechef59
    7 years ago

    I've hand painted my MDF cabinets in the past. They take paint easily and you can get a hand painted finish effect. I had the cabinet maker go ahead and prime them. I wanted a brushstroke finish. That is in a past kitchen with a farmhouse vibe.

    In my current kitchen which is a transitional design with a raised-panel, I had my MDF doors painted by the cabinet maker. They used a catalyzed varnish finish in the color of my choice. I used a Sherwin-Williams color. It's not technically paint, it's a commercial industrial product that gives a smooth and very durable finish. If you choose to have them painted, you might ask about this type of finish.

    Do not confuse this with thermafoil cabinet finishes. That's something else entirely. It has a plastic effect. It's used in lower end cabinets. I have some of those in my laundry room. They hold up well in that application but don't seem to take long term abuse very well.

  • sherri1058
    7 years ago

    My only hesitancy, and it is a big one! is that they appear "plasticy"
    or a bit cheap with the sprayed varnish finish, even in low sheen.

    Um..... not in my house!! I just finished my kitchen and used MDF doors. I used the catalyzed finish in the colour I chose and it looks great! Not at all cheap. I had maple doors on my last kitchen, and while I did like them, they did have the hairline cracks that everyone talks about. In retrospect, I don't know why I agonized so much over going with the MDF.

  • jdesign_gw
    7 years ago

    MDF and maple painted cabinets are going to look exactly the same. In fact 99% of maple cabinet doors will have a MDF center panel which is the largest area seen. The giveaway and cheaper look to lower-end one-piece MDF doors is that the inside corners of the detail are not square and sharp but have a slight radius. There are better versions and other ways around this but in general a one piece MDF door tends to be a low end option so the paint job and more importantly the prep is consistent with that target market. That said I (and one of the more expensive cabinet lines I know of) can and have made MDF doors look better than any maple doors out there and they don't crack.

  • Cindy B
    6 years ago

    I'm resurrecting this thread...have a slightly different question in addition to all of the issues already discussed. I'm going to order from Conestoga I think.

    I'm replacing white thermofoil doors which are 20 years old and haven't really faded, but there are a few where a candle or the toaster got too close and caused some minor melting....Most people think they look nice, but in my mind they are still "cheap". The uppers are 42"

    I'm going to stick with white and just buy doors to match the existing boxes which are fine. Also, I have granite and it's hard to find someone willing to remove it to install complete cabinets.

    My question is....will a mapleframe/mdf center FEEL like a real wood door? Will it feel different than my thermofoil? I'm talking in terms of both surface and the weight in your hand as you open and close it. Will the outside edges and the panel raise etc be sharper than thermofoil? If I get mdf center will I still have the defined edges I am looking for. If you've had thermofoil you will know what I am asking.

    I'm toying with getting 5 peice mdf...but don't want to lose the wood look or feel... I think the mdf center is my best bet. My husband is what I like to call..anal...pretty sure he will be bothered by cracks, but he doesn't want the fake plastic look either. Pretty sure all wood is not a good choice for me, too bad because I love wood...

    The style I am leaning toward is https://www.cabinetjoint.com/cabinet-door/monarch-square/  but I am also toying with shaker style. Wondering if the shaker trend is headed out....Also considering doing a grey island by applying end panels. Guess I could start a new thread for those questions.

  • PRO
    Rachiele Custom Sinks
    6 years ago

    Location, Location, Location! I have designed thousands of kitchens in Central Florida over the years and have seen wooden doors grow as much as 1/4" due to the high humidity. We never had issues with MDF, but we sure did with wood doors. We always told our clients that they must keep humidity and temperature within a narrow range in order to ensure there would be no issues with warping or expanding of doors. As far as the center panel being MDF, that is usually not the issue. Most 5 piece doors are built where the center panel has a fair amount of room to expand and contract. If the panel is painted (a preliminary coat) before assembly, the movement is not very noticeable. I found the mortise and tenon joints are where the problems occurred and were most noticeable on the base cabinetry. Looking down, you could see the center rail tenon sticking up above the vertical stile and the "crack" inevitably collected dirt and exacerbated the problem. Since wood expands perpendicular to the grain, the top and bottom rails will expand beyond the side stiles. Just thought I would throw my 2 cents in.

  • Cindy B
    6 years ago

    I'm in NJ. Humidity is not too bad in the summer as long as the AC is on. It can get rather dry in the winter though. I'm having trouble with the idea of replacing what are essentially mdf doors (under the thermofoil) with more mdf. I want it to FEEL like it's wood. I want the crisper lines of the wood.... Here is my thermofoil door. I don't want those soft curves with little definition to the raised panel like it has . Would an mdf door still look like wood? I would be getting white, no glaze. I guess I would want 5 pice mdf?



  • homechef59
    6 years ago

    MDF should never be confused with thermafoil. MDF is cut just like wood and can be made from a single piece of material. MDF is a great material is you need stability and plan to paint. It takes paint well.

    One of the great features for both materials is they can be single unit doors, meaning no little lines or joints to crack.

    Thermafoil is pressed rather than cut and that's why the edges seem softer.

  • Alison Bockman
    5 months ago

    I'm a cabinet designer and I always recommend MDF for painted finishes. It is a more stable material and I have MUCH more warranty issues with painted finishes on a paint grade maple than a painted finish on an MDF. It's a smoother material as well and lends well to painted finishes. If you use a paint grade maple for painted finishes, you will get fissures where the rail and stiles meet so if you are okay with, go for it. But that is why they have you sign off on it. It's not a manufacturer issues. Wood is natural material that still moves...

  • worthy
    5 days ago

    Re-reading, it looks like I'm switching out the paint-grade maple for MDF. Still keeping the solid wood dovetail drawers and HRM cabinets.