All Plywood box worth the 15 - 20%?

pdubsJanuary 17, 2009

Is an all-plywood box construction worth the extra $$ you have to spend on cabinets? I have limited budget, so would like to spend my money wisely, so curious for those who have and haven't spent the extra money on the plywood if it's worth the money. What are the real issues of furniture board, particularly if the cabinets have lifetime warranty on them?

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I have had MDF cabinets for 12 years and they are in perfect condition. The two major concerns for using MDF instead of plywood are water damage (MDF will not survive) and strength. Since the cabinets are bolted to the wall and to each other, MDF boxes are extremely strong and stable. If you're worried about the potential for water damage, you can just upgrage the sink base. I personally wouldn't pay an additional 20% for plywood boxes.

Oh, one other thing, if you are doing custom sizes, your walls need to be perfectly plum if using MDF because the cabinet box can't be scribed.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2009 at 5:07PM
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I don't think so and I've had them both. Upgrade just the exposed ends of your cabinets.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2009 at 5:33PM
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This is one of the oldest discussions in a search and you'll find a lot of valuable discussion in past years.

In general, if you have frameless cabinets, you WANT MDF, it's dimensionally more stable, heavier, and sturdier than plywood. It can be cut to exact tolerances.

Most carpenters and installers don't like MDF precisely because it is so much heavier.

Plywood is good for end pieces and large cabinets like refrig boxes.

Water will damage any wood product, be it MDF or plywood. Remember plywood will delaminate when wet, so it's just as vulnerable. In both types of wood, you want to seal your base cabinets, using a good silicone in the bottom joints in case you have a leak. Most MDF cabinets will have a vinyl lining inside, so that will give you some added protection.

There are new greener MDF products without formaldehyde.

MDF has been used by the leading high end European frameless cabinet companies, as well as IKEA and the newer American frameless cabinet companies for years. No problems. There is still a lot of residual thinking by people that MDF is somehow inferior to plywood.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2009 at 8:39PM
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Any issue with water that would damage furniture board (NOT partical board) would also water damage plywood enough to delaminate. Plywood is lighter than furniture board, which is a plus to DIYers and my cabinet installers, but has no effect at all on quality or longevity. If you're talking about scribing the rear of the cabinets where they meet the walls, there is no reason that a cabinet box made of furniture board instead of plywood can't be scribed unless the cabinet line is frameless. Most installers except for the high dollar lines use scribe molding to cover the area between the box and wall anyway.

As a KD, I'll "upgrade" any client who requests plywood no problem. It's always nice to have a higher ticket. But I will try to explain why it's a myth that plywood is "better" than furniture board and let them put that 20% into organizational helpers that will make their life better. A pull out trash and a pull out pantry will get used every single day, and you'll absolute never notice the difference in whether the sides of the boxes they reside in are furniture board or plywood---even years down the road. It all wears the same.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2009 at 8:42PM
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IMHO the cabinet boxes are the FIRST place to start economising. Your guests are not going to come into your kitchen and open your cupboards to determine if you are worthy of associating with.

People will see your cabinet doors, they take note of your appliances but the difference between a nice kitchen and a drop dead kitchen is the accessorising and detailing. Save your money for that.

Good Luck !

    Bookmark   January 17, 2009 at 10:40PM
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I think you have to decide for yourself how important it is to you.

If, like sailorman, it won't bother you and the guests won't see it, don't do it.

We didn't get the upgrade and I really regret it. We had old, old cabs made of plywood in the old kitchen and it bothers me every day when I open the cabs to see and feel what seems like plastic. It just doesn't feel substantial. But I'm a solid wood kinda gal - all our furniture is antique and all wood. I'm sure many wouldn't even be able to tell if it was real wood or not.

Also we had water damage due to ice damming the first year we had our cabs. They were replaced no problem, but ice damming is common and now, every spring I worry about whether we have to get them replaced.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2009 at 11:06PM
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Screws hold better in plywood. And I think plywood is better in wet. It is stronger as well. MDF is more 'stable'. However, there are different grades of MDF, as well as plywood. Go to any good lumber place- there are dozens of different grades of plywood, including marine grade, and various veneers. There are even hybrids of MDF and wood plies.

The veneers vary as well. Some is photographed plastic (esp. used on the inside), some is real wood veneers, of various thickness.

It would be good to see a cross section of each before deciding.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 12:18AM
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There are so many different cabinet lines out there but in my experience not many were using Medium Density Fibre Board for the boxes. Fibre Board and particle board are different.

Out of curiosity I looked at a few manufacturers to see what they were calling their composite panels (see list below). In my opinion no matter what you call it, it is all what the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) calls Particleboard. I could find nothing that indicates at what ANSI rating particleboard can\should be called furniture board (near as I can tell any Commercial or Industrial grade particleboard could be called furniture board by a manufacturer). Personally I e-mailed the company making my Mom's cabinets and asked what the ANSI grade on the particleboard they were using was before she placed her order. I then got the ANSI grades and looked a the properties of that grade versus other grades.

A bit OT but it is my impression that due to the construction of frameless cabinetry (because it has no frame it can not be constructed from 3\8 material common in framed construction) it is not often offered in plywood construction because the up charge from 5\8 particle board to 5\8 plywood is dramatic. Also the absence of a frame makes the more dimensionally stable particleboard more desirable in frameless construction.

Medallion - furniture board
Cabico - particleboard
Kraftmaid - engineered wood
Kemper - furniture board
Luxor - furniture grade particleboard
Schrock - furniture board
Woodmode Cabinets - furniture-grade, fine surface wood particleboard
Armstrong - industrial grade wood composite panel
American Woodmark - engineered wood

I would note that 3 higher end companies (Woodmode, Luxor and Cabico) on this list all produce frameless and all use the term particleboard.

Screw holding capacity is one of the properties that is used to determine the grade of particleboard.

Here is a link that might be useful: plywood or particle board?

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 6:54AM
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No. My Mom had builder's grade cabinets made of something more akin to carboard than particleboard that lasted 20 odd years. Masterbrand offers the same lifetime limited warranty on particleboard construction that is does on plywood. I almost got laughed out one of the local custom showrooms when I inquired about it, they occasionaly quote on it when a customer insists but nobody ever goes through with it once they see the upcharge is what they told me.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 7:10AM
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A little research and I found this:

"There are four furniture grades of particleboard: M1, MS, M2, and M3."

Based on what I have read MS and M2 are most commonly used in cabinetry.

Here is a link that might be useful: info on particleboard

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 8:49AM
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I build cabinets and I think it is more of an issue of lifespan. I do mostly remodel kitchens and the 30 year old plywood cabinets are replaced because they are old. The 10-15 year old mdf cabinets are being replaced because they are falling apart.

No one wants water leaks in their kitchen but I have done test on both products and plywood holds up much better to a water leak. Most of it will dry out and still be useable and strong. Mdf will always fail when it gets wet.

Do what I did. Soak both in water for a few days, then let them dry out and see what's left. Then you will understand the up-charge.

The percentage sounds kind of high though. On an average kitchen, it only saves about $400 dollars in material to use mdf. I don't see how that adds up to 15%

Best of luck to you. Kenneth

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 11:29AM
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We did as Kompy suggested as that is what the guy who placed my order suggested - a year later we can't tell the difference. The only thing I did do was upgrade the sink based as that has the best chance of getting wet - glad I did that but otherwise, not worth it.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 12:02PM
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Kenrbass, I would think that the cabinets that are falling apart after 10-15 years are probably pretty low end stock or builder grade cabinets. Right?

A semi-custom or custom cabinet made with engineered board is NOT going to be falling apart in 10-15 years. In fact, I would take an engineered board, KraftMaid kitchen over a stock grade, plywood Kabinart kitchen anyday!!!

I would also upgrade cabinets that have roll out a pantry.

And one more point....if you're looking at a 'stock line'...don't bother upgrading to plywood....spend that money upgrading to a semi-custom cabinet instead. The finish and quality will be better....even with the engineered board! Trust me on this!

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 5:08PM
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Don't get me wrong Kompy. I like that so many houses have mdf cabinets in them. It is feeding my family replacing them. It's kind of like water leaks are a cabinet makers best friend.
To answer your question, both mdf and plywood cabinets and their life span were builder grade. The materials made the difference in how they held up over the years.
I was just offering my advice to pdubs to do a simple test and then decide. Pdubs may even be able to get a sample of each from the company they are wanting to use.

Best of luck to you


    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 6:01PM
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It is my understanding that "stock" is not a description of the quality of construction but rather refers to the method of production. As that method involves the mass production of units from which your order is then pulled from it makes sense that the quality of finishing may not be as precise as with semi-custom where your cabinets are produced in response to your order.

Our veteran HD installer may be a fervrent nationalist or just blowing smoke (though he spoke highly of Kraftmaid) but he told me that he felt that the cabinetry lines produced by Fabritec Kitchens who make the stock line my Mom bought and the line just above it are superior both in construction and finish to the semi-custom Thomasville line which slots in above them in terms of price point at HD. The Fabritec lines are less versatile but he told me the stain finishes (my Mom's cabinets are not stained) are much more consistent than with Thomasville and their use of tongue and groove assembly on the boxes was also sturdier and more durable.

It is my understanding that cabinetry is not well made because it is "custom" or "semi-custom" or poorly made because it is "stock". In terms of construction the quality will be determined by the materials, method of assembly and the quality\quality control in the manufacturing process.

KitchenCraft for instance is a semi custom line who also makes a stock product they sell through a chain of stores called DIY Cabinets here in Canada. Construction specs for the stock product are exactly the same as for the semi-custom product.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 7:01PM
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I have a Kraftmaid frameless line (since discontinued) installed in 1990. High-density 1" particleboard with laminate veneers (interior and exterior) thicker than what is used nowadays.

Having a lot of experience with particleboard bookshelves in the last 35 yrs - we have something like 6,000 books, a lot of them seriously heavy art and history books - I knew this was no problem as long as the cabinets were no wider than 32". There are different qualities (as others have pointed out) of plywood, particleboard, and MDF. The Kraftmaid cabs were a very good quality, so I had confidence that I would have no problem with sagging shelves.

The cabinets have been perfect. In one base corner Lazy Susan cab one of the hinges finally loosened - I have a very bad habit of leaning on the door as I bend down to get something out! My handyman took off the door, plugged the hole with quick-set epoxy, redrilled it for the hinge and popped the door back on. No problems, solid as a rock ever since (5 years ago).

The shelves are rated for 75 lbs. I have Lazy Susan base corners and pull-out pantry units, all heavily loaded, no problems.

Had a small leak in the sink cab for six months and didn't find out till we replaced the whole faucet. A tiny quarter-sized piece of the laminate bubbled up slightly, no cracking though. Sink cab was unaffected otherwise, and in fact you can't see the flaw, you can only feel it.

I love these cabinets. I put dishes away wet without worry. They clean up faster and easier than anything I've ever owned. An added advantage was that when we put in a bank of 20x16' picture windows, the UV increase was a nasty surprise. Destroyed the flooring and killed the refrig in less than 10 years - but laminate has very high UV resistance, unlike wood. Pure luck!

I'm seriously toying with the idea that when we go to resell, of installing an IKEA kitchen and taking these cabinets with me. They're better made than the St. Charles cabinets I checked out at HD's Expo two years ago.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 8:03PM
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Kenrbass, I didn't mean to sound like I was attacking your opinion....just wanted to clarify. After having both types in my own home, I will do as Livewireoak....let the homeowner know about the upgrades and order it if they want it. I have not seen a huge amount of kitchens falling apart...and the ones that were, were of a stock/builder quality. Maybe you just see more water damaged kitchens than I do?

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 11:22PM
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cary, Actually most stock cabinets are built-to-order just like semi-custom and custom. For instance, Homecrest, Aristokraft...etc. They are not sitting on shelves waiting to be pulled from stock. The word stock also means 'stock sizes'.

20+ years ago, distributors and kitchen dealers used to buy cabinets in bulk and stock them in a warehouse. Production is faster now, so hardly anyone does this anymore. It just wasn't cost effective. RTA type cabinets and inexpensive oak or maple cabinets are sometimes 'stocked on the shelf' by home centers.

I agree with you that a label of stock, semi-custom or custom does not guarantee a certain quality. Most cabinet lines overlap each other some....and the manufacturers are all trying to get a bigger piece of the market...which makes it all more confusing for the public. Again 25+ years ago, we had stock and custom cabinets. Then semi-custom cabinets changed all that (I believe KraftMaid was the first). So...People had more choices. But now, some stock cabinet lines are offering plywood upgrades, glazes and some even have custom mods. Custom cabinet lines are now offering their own 'lower end products'. So, they all overlap some and people must do their research.

People in the industry still speak in general terms: stock, semi-custom, custom


Ps. over the years I have seen lots of old, beat up kitchens. And the 'stock' cabinets are the worst for the finish holding up.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 11:47PM
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Good stuff - thanks for the advice. For every 1 person that says go with all plywood, I find 5 that say spend the money on practical features. So, I'm opting to go with practical. Now, just need to finalize on cabinet brand. I'm down to Kemper, Wellborne (Select) or Merilatt (Masterpiece). Kemper seems to be the best price of the 3, but Merillat and Wellborne seem to have the best construction, features, look and feel. Flip a coin I guess. Any thoughts?

    Bookmark   January 19, 2009 at 4:36PM
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There is a conspiracy amongst almost everyone in the kitchen remodel business to force mdf and particle board down our throats. Don't listen to them. Get samples of the different materials, wet them and judge for yourself. No one in the business wants your kitchen to last fifty years. They ALL profit from planned obsolescence. Plywood is a much better product in every way than these other engineered cheap products. I won't be surprised if my comments are deleted as they have been on other forums. No one wants you to know the truth!!

This post was edited by lucianf on Wed, May 22, 13 at 11:17

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 11:15AM
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I guess you like digging up ancient threads.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 11:52AM
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Well, since this thread has been resurrected, I will throw this out there (may or may not be pertinent)

I decided to pull up my family room addition floor to add insulation underneath. This floor had been down for at least 60 years, had survived aerobics sessions and who knows what else... when I pulled up the carpet I found:

It appeared to be made of highly compressed paper.

I vote for the MDF with a long warranty.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 12:11PM
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Well I was fine with MDF or whatever you call it. Hubby took a look at some display models after we placed the order and then went back and changed order to plywood. He hates when he has to drill into MDF (if you are mounting things like UCL, paper towel holders, etc). It also made a difference in the look of the wood shelves in the glass cabinet.

GC told us to go MDF (and he was doing the install) and didn't think we needed to pay extra fee. Hubby just likes the plywood better. Decide what you will be happy with in the long run.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 1:31PM
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I did plywood boxes. Nobody suggested anything other than plywood for the boxes.

My painted cabinet doors/drawer fronts have maple frames and MDF panel inserts. My island is stained (well, pretty much painted black) and has solid cherry. For the painted sink cabinet, the door panels are solid maple, not MDF, so as to be a bit more tolerant of light wetting.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 3:28PM
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