Help! Wood vs MDF cabs!

akl_vdbFebruary 19, 2014

Getting quotes through the restoration company for our shaker style doors. Custom vs semi custom. We were going to go with antique white painted maple shaker style doors.

Neither the custom nor semi custom place will warranty the work if we use wood. They are pushing for MDF if we want them painted.
I don't love the look of the MDF, looks plasticy to me. But they say the paint will be more stable, no cracks etc..

My inlaws have painted wood, 11 years old and looks great. We live in the prairies in Canada, pretty warm humid summers, dry freezing winters.

Please help, I would like to make a decision soon as we've had a torn apart kitchen for 3 months!


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Simply for the warrantee, given your climate, I'd go MDF.
It'll make a very smooth finish, without grain happening. Is the Shaker trim going to be wood or MDF?

Restoration people? I'm sorry to hear something happened.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 5:28PM
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Thanks for the advice.

It's all MDF. It looked plasticy when we went, but I'll take another look.

I'm also surprised about the price difference b/w MDF and maple. It is literally a few hundred dollars on a 16K job. I don't understand!

We had a little flood in our kitchen, so doing some (more) upgrades.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 6:19PM
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And this is the look we're going for, I love the natural look of everything (well, except quartz isn't natural :) )

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 6:29PM
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Paint surface looks exactly the same on wood or MDF.

Ask to see a lower sheen, something like a 15 or 20 sheen, that shouldn't look plastic.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 8:05PM
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Thanks jakuvall, good point! I'll see what's available.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 8:10PM
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Lovely combination of colors and textures!
jakuvall, how astute of you to equate plastic with shine. I couldn't figure that out, since I also thought mdf painted the same...

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 8:49PM
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Sophie Wheeler

Take a look at this thread for pictures of how solid wood behaves (normally) over time with the change of seasons and humidity. That's what you can expect.

Here is a link that might be useful: Normal wood bevior

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 8:56PM
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Thanks CEFreeman! I love the rustic with the antique white and the cool smoothness of the quartz. Wondering if the floor is too dark, but we get so much sunlight, and the cabs will be white, so hopefully will be ok!

Thanks hollysprings, I did see that thread just after I posted mine, and I'd be ok with that, but I'm getting scared with the no warranty thing. The restoration company is going to get a print out of exactly what's included so I can see.

I will go and see if a low sheen is offered, as that MDF in the 'normal wood behaviour' link to the other thread that hollysprings provided looks wonderful, nothing like we've see here.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 9:13PM
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aklvdb: Is it possible the cabinets/doors you looked at were Thermofoil? Thermofoil IS a plastic product. Some is very smooth and glossy and some has a matte slightly "bumpy" finish. Sometimes it's applied on MDF and most times on particle board. These are usually the pre-fab cabinets found at big box stores.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 12:36AM
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Fori is not pleased

It doesn't look the same--you get crisper edges on wood. It bothers me only because it looks fake but it's a legitimate material in its own right so I should not dislike it. Look at sample doors in the same paint--if one looks plastic they both should, except for the edge details. But...on the other hand...

A shaker door shouldn't look any different in MDF. Square edges will be square. It's the detailed edges that don't look right, details lacking from shaker style.

Can you find a place that WILL have a warranty for wood or are you limited? They won't do a warranty for cracks though--that's normal painted wood behavior (and not inoffensive to me), but they should warrant everything else.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 12:55AM
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Maybe it is the type of paint finish they use. One of the custom shops we looked at had a very plastic looking paint finish and it was on wood, not MDF. It was the only type of finish they did so we opted for another cabinet company.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 1:50AM
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canuckplayer-it was at a high end custom cab place where we saw the MDF, and were very unimpressed. They reminded DH of those white cabs with the brown bottoms popular in the 80's and in laundry rooms everywhere :)

fori-I will take a look at the 2 places we were quoted to look at their MDF and see how it looks. We can go anywhere, I would prefer to go somewhere who works closely with our restoration company, it's making it a bit easier with getting quotes and the communication aspect of it. I believe the warranty holds up for everything else, except for the painted doors/cracks. We will be going over the warranties next week to see what's included.

romy718- I'm thinking it must be the paint they used, so we'll take another look (didn't actually look at the MDF from these 2 companies, looked at a different company, so I guess we weren't even comparing apples to apples).

Thank you, I have some shopping around to do in the am!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 2:13AM
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"-you get crisper edges on wood"
The opposite, I've gotten "paper cuts" from MDF. There are methods that deal with inside corners too. There is no visible difference between a 5 piece MDF and a wood door.
It does depend on the quality of the machining and the MDF. Poor MDF is denser toward the surfaces, density falls off in the center. Good material is equally dense throughout. Wood, MDF, plywood, particle, are generic terms that mean little by themselves.

It is possible ( likely) that the makers the OP is talking with want to use MDF for the center panel only. That is industry standard, solid MDF or 5 piece MDF are much less common.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 5:10AM
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Well, I am also on the CDN prairies and we went with painted shaker style maple cabs. We've had ours for about 8 years with no problems. Experts can argue forever that mdf is better than wood, but for me, it would make my skin crawl every time i opened a cabinet. I like wood better. I like the feel of it, the heft and just knowing it is under there. I don't know about others, but at least once a month, I bump something like my kettle into the edge of a cab. I don't want to have to worry that the edge is going to cave and crumple. I've been in show rooms with older MDF displays and do not like what I see. Maybe it was poorer quality MDF, but personally, I'd be happier with wood. Also, here on the prairies, during a winter just like this one, we got ice damming on our roof and water leaked through into the cabs. The solid wood part of the cabs was fine, everything else swelled up like a balloon and had to be replaced. Just MHO, but I'd think about whether you really will be happy with MDF.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 7:28AM
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Our cabinet boxes are MDF but the doors are wood. I'm very happy with them. I would not have ever guessed they were MDF until we changed out our countertops to granite and well, there it was! They are nearly 16 years old and still look brand new. I think I would be tempted to do the MDF with such climate considerations. It's no fun dealing with wood failures after the warranty is expired. Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 7:33AM
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daisychain01-thanks for chiming in, we're in MB, are you close? This is what I'm worried about, my skin crawling and just being unhappy with MDF. I'll see today what's going on with at least one of the companies (Kitchen Craft) what their MDF door is all about. (thanks jakuvall-I'll clarify what exactly is MDF) It feels like a compromise, and I don't want to compromise unless it's worth it and we'll be happy.

gr8day-it would be the doors that are either MDF or wood. Thanks.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 8:01AM
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The only way to tell a five piece MDF door is not wood is that it is HEAVIER, no lighter.
The downside to the majority of one piece MDF doors is that the backs are melamine instead of paint. You have to go to the hi-end guys to get a one piece painted front and back.
Several years ago, a friend who happened to be a long time KD came to me wanting solid MDF doors for her kitchen. The brands she handled did not offer it and she wanted it so badly she was willing to give up her discount. At the time I could only get it in our top end brand which was out of her budget.
Pic of a solid one piece MDF and a wood- don't have a 5 piece handy.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 11:02AM
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I went to Kitchen Craft today, their MDF is 5 piece, and all MDF. It actually looks a lot better than the other piece I had seen at a different custom shop. I'll have to see what price difference it is, and talk with DH, who's pretty against the MDF. Another trip to the cabinet shop is in order with him!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 1:29PM
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Here's a pic of 2 door styles of 5 piece MDF.

Here is a link that might be useful: Kitchen craft MDF

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 1:54PM
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aklvdb, yes we are also in MB (bit of a shocker waking up to -30 again this morning). We have kitchen craft cabs and I'll tell you what I know, but it is horribly out of date since we did our kitchen 8 years ago. Kitchen Craft was smaller company and dealt with a lot of small local contractors. They had a good product with great quality control. Right around when we did our kitchen, they were expanding to deal with big building companies and starting to go big and bulk. They started to have quality control problems just because they were expanding so fast. I don't know how those problems were resolved as we haven't dealt with our contractor (he had been using KC for years and his wife was a KC designer/sales). When we bought ours, we weren't even shown MDF as an option (that I remember). We were told maple was a great paintable wood and we've been very happy.

When I was looking for bathroom cabs about 5 years ago, I looked at many companies including Jake Klassen and noticed a few MDF doors (Klassen told me that was all they would do for the type of door I wanted). I can't remember which showroom it was, but I remember seeing MDF doors with the edges smushed and crushed. I ended up having a local carpenter make my bathroom cabinets - they were cheaper and are a work of art. No regrets there.

Our house is over 100 years old and my bias is to real anything. Much of our furnishings are antique wood and my soft furniture is all covered in linen or cotton. I would rather live with a crack in real wood than have perfect MDF. I completely admit that prejudice. You have to decide yourself what is important to you.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 8:00AM
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hope I caught you in time. DO NOT go MDF. Our builder grade kitchen cabinets are MDF and we are having a lot of problems with them anytime an area gets wet like what happened when our kitchen sink leaked one day when we were out of the house.
We are having new cabinets delivered on Monday, and I went completely with wood and the boxes are all 3/4" plywood.
I went paint grade maple for those I am going to paint myself, and cherry for those I am going to stain and finish.

If MDF scratches, you can't fix it.
If wood scratches, just lightly sand and finish the small area.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 9:50AM
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DIY-her, I think your initial problem is "builder grade."
The second is MDF around water.

If you're painting MDF, yes, you can fix it.

If you "lightly sand and finish" wood, the area you think you're repairing has a different finish than the rest of the piece.

I'm not saying your choice with wood is wrong, but your issues with MDF are too bad. Didn't have to be that way.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 10:36AM
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Thank you daisychain01- small world! I also prefer natural products, real, no artificial made in China with offgassing etc. Not to say we don't have the odd piece of that in the house, but I really appreciate real wood with the workmanship that gets behind it. I've heard that about KC. The quality seems ok, not super great, not poor. I'm just stuck with where else to go. We've been through 3 companies already, I'm unhappy with the custom place that did our kitchen reno in the summer so I won't be calling them at all (you knew we did a minor kitchen reno just before the flood, right?, great times)

We have decided on the maple for sure. One MDF didn't look bad, but still, it's all glue and wood fibers, not interested.

Also, I had called our home builder (Maric Homes) to see who they go with for cabs, one was custom, and we decided against them, and the other was KC.

Thanks for the warning DIY-Her-I hope you get your cabs done up the way you want them!

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 3:30PM
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but still, it's all glue and wood fibers

As opposed to plywood, which is all glue and thin layers of wood?

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 5:10PM
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Plywood is layers of wood, not like MDF.
Some use MDF for woodwork. Little did we know, 20 years ago, our high end builder used MDF on 2 of the large 2 foot deep windowsills, one in our family, the other in our dining room.
Anytime a window was left open and rain came in before we had time to notice it, sometimes for a quick downpour, the painted MDF got wet. After 14 years, it started swelling up and started to fall apart in spots. We now have to replace both of them and will be buying real solid wood.

As for the sanding and restaining, if you know what you are doing, like I do with refinishing and I know many woodworkers do, you can fix wood where you no longer see the scratch and match the stain perfectly if you keep some on hand. Even pro cabinet makers can match stain colors for you from previous furniture.

Bought our house 1994 to be built, moved in 1995. 1996 sometime bought 3 mdf melamine cabinets for our laundry room wall. One of our soap bottles leaked in the cabinet, hence the mdf got wet and eventually started expanding and crumbling even though we wiped up the water.
You wouldn't have that with wood painted cabinets.
Now along with the expense of replacing our lower kitchen cabinets, our 2 large windowsils, we have to replace our laundry room wall cabinets :-/ Hoping to be able to afford the laundry room by next year. Probably buying from the same company I am buying my kitchen cabinets, Conestoga Wood Specialties their higher grade boxes in maple paint grade and spray paint them myself.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 6:46PM
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I think you had crappy particleboard, not the MDF that's used in better cabinets.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 7:11PM
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The problem with wood is that it grows on trees. This gives it a kind of mind of it's own. MDF doesn't suffer this problem.

It is unfair to blame MDF for swelling when there is a leak. Wood will do the same, just at a slower rate. When you've got a leak, you've got to fix it right away, no matter what your cabinets are made of.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 10:33AM
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