Most “fitted” cabinetry is made from a collection of different materials that include: solid species woods, wood veneers, cabinet grade plywood, particleboard, Medium Density fiberboard (MDF), engineered sheet goods (which have a core of MDF sandwiched by layers of wood similar to plywood), stainless steel melamine, vinyl veneer, plastic laminates, and more.
Traditional faced framed cabinets for the last fifty or so years have the face frames and door (for the most part) made from solid wood. In some cases, doors and drawer fronts can be made from a combination of other materials. A product known as thermo-foil laminate is used over MDF for doors to reduce costs and produce a white, easily cleaned product. Plastic laminates (known by brand names such as Formica or Wilson Art) may be glued to any of various ¾” sub-surfaces that include Baltic birch plywood (the highest grad and most expensive plywood), various cabinet grade plywood’s, MDF, particleboard, or a combination sandwich of the before mentioned. Exotic veneers of woods can also be used in a laminating process to make doors, drawer fronts and other parts for cabinets.
Naturally, the thicker the material the stronger the cabinet, but you don’t need overkill. Materials are directly related to the cost of the cabinets and cost should be directly related to purpose and budget.
The four cores are (most costly to lest costly) Veneer Core, Combination Core, MDF Core, and Particleboard Core.
Without going into all the details of how they are made, I’m just going to mention their strongest points. Veneer Core is the strongest, most expensive, and sometimes allows core imperfections to show through the top veneer. Combination Core has a thin underlying layer of MDF underneath the final exterior veneer; this allows for a strong core and eliminates any core imperfections from telegraphing through. MDF Core is solid MDF under the exterior veneer and is extremely heavy; it requires fasteners made specifically for it. However, it’s a great choice for a smooth finish at a less expensive price.
Particleboard Core is cheap and difficult to work with and has the lest strength of the materials. However, even though it’s flat, it is easily chipped (tear out) when machined or impacted. It is my least favorite material and I only use it in projects where funds are extremely limited and clients have ruled out other low-cost alternatives. (These alternatives will be discussed in the next parts of this series.)
The use of veneer core and Combination core plywood that is 3/8” thick and greater is found in better cabinet boxes and creates a significantly stronger cabinet than other equally thick sheet goods. The use of 3/4” MDF, when used with special joinery fasteners and methods, can also perform well and may be used in European styled units in coordination with the use of laminates. One of the downsides to this product is that it is the heaviest in comparison to the others. An affordable alternative to the before-mentioned is the use of a high-quality particleboard that is often laminated (covered) with a vinyl paper that imitates the wood or the surface of the doors.
The material used in shelf construction is an important consideration when purchasing kitchen cabinets for sale because of the amount of weight that is placed on them. The longer the span of a weighted shelf from end to end without support, the stronger the material has to be to prevent sagging or failure.
The best drawers are made from solid wood or Baltic birch sides and a plywood bottom. Drawer fronts may be solid wood (sometimes wood or plastic veneer) that is attached to a sub-front with screws or integrated directly into the drawer construction. The drawers are assembled with various methods of interlocking joinery and glue.
Drawers constructed with limited joinery methods, where the four sides are butted, glued, stapled or nailed together, use inexpensive non-ball bearing drawer guides and made of 3/8” MDF are inexpensive. However, they will be limited to the amount of weight they can hold, operating ease will decline with use and have a limited useful life. I steer my clients away from these products. A final comment about the interior of the cabinets you pick. Your cabinets will hold many things including food.