Slab doors - mdf or plywood?

andreak100March 10, 2013

(I'm going to say this very, very quietly)...we are inching closer to finally getting our kitchen - after a year of planning and a fairly dramatic false start, we're now narrowing down our cabinet maker and general contractor.

We originally were planning on Shaker style cabinets, but we have since decided that we are likely to go with slab doors instead - we are really loving the clean simple lines. Both use plywood sides, but for the doors, the one cabinet maker is using mdf rather than plywood...I'm not certain which is better.

Can anyone tell me which doors are likely to be better long term - mdf or plywood? Concerned about warping, durability, delamination, moisture, etc.

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My carpenter suggests mdf because it warps less and is more stable. In my old apartment I had a slab bifold that he made that was 96 x 30 overall and it stayed pretty flat the years I lived there.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 7:49PM
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Sophie Wheeler

For veneer, MDF is preferred as it provides a smoother subsurface for the veneer if the cabinet shop is going to apply the veneer. Plywood can telegraph grain patterns through. On the other hand, if you are doing something like a cherry veneer without it being bookmatched, the lowest cost option will be doors formed from manufactured pre-veneered cherry cabinet grade plywood. The best option for both is to have a frame of solid wood edging to around the center panel rather than the thin veneer edgebanding but that isn't often available with budget choices. And I have 40 year old furniture with slab veneered doors with edgebanding that have worn just fine. It depends on the level of use and abuse if that is "needed".

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 7:50PM
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MDF only.
Walk down a lumber aisle and see if you can find any plywood that is flat. Cabinet, furniture,grade, 5 or 7 ply matters not even the once vaunted baltic birch will stay flat as a slab. (And you can't get the same thing in that as we did 30 years ago)

Used to be you could only get wood edge banding instead of tape in hi end brands. There is now a company supplying doors to semi custom makers , who applies 1/8 solid wood and then applies the veneer. That said well done tape is fine as holly mentions.
Edited to add that you still have to go hi end if you want grain matching.

This post was edited by jakuvall on Sun, Mar 10, 13 at 21:50

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 8:13PM
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+1 for MDF with a wood edge, for all the reasons expressed above. Similarly, I would prefer MDF for the center panel on flat paneled doors, especially if those doors will be painted.

This post was edited by Caliente63 on Sun, Mar 10, 13 at 20:26

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 8:22PM
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I'm linking to a thread I had going awhile back with same issue. I settled on mdf (mix of ikea with custom doors).

Another thing to take into account is climate conditions where you live. If you are running a heater all winter, you may have to also run a humidifier. That was a final nail in the coffin for me; I can't baby my kitchen cabinets that much.

Here is a link that might be useful: What wood for slab cabinets

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 8:52PM
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Thanks everyone. We live in PA, so we get fairly significant changes in weather coupled along with humidity changes in the house - furnace runs all winter, and air conditioning runs most of the summer.

Sounds like sticking with the plywood boxes with MDF core doors is likely the way we should go.

I can't say that our budget is "money's no object". On the other hand, we aren't putting in a "budget kitchen" either. Our plans are a cherry slab kitchen, stained in a dark stain with vertical grain matching.

With vertical grain matching, even if we wanted to, we couldn't do manufactured/pre-veneered doors since of all the ones I've seen thus far state that they wouldn't be able to do grain matching. And grain-matching vs. non-grain matching that makes a huge difference in the overall look of slab cabinets - actually to the point that we probably wouldn't consider slab if we couldn't grain match. Our cabinets will be a dark stain, so the grain will show more subtly, still it will be an important element, I think.

With doing the vertical grain matching, I think that the thin wood edge banding might not work so well along the edges because that wouldn't be able to be grain matched with the veneer and would throw the entire lines off.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 11:27PM
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With vertical grain matching, even if we wanted to, we couldn't do manufactured/pre-veneered doors since of all the ones I've seen thus far state that they wouldn't be able to do grain matching.

Many of the mfg who make their own doors and offer slabs do vertical matching, a better match than brands that outsource slab doors (which is what you are likely to find most often in a local builder)

I know first hand that QCCI, Wood-Mode, and RichMaid do matching. QCCI and RMK will do tape or wood edge, WM is wood edge. I would suspect that others such as Crystal, P & F, and Omega might also but check. If they outsource the doors be careful if you are going to be finicky.
I typically am but put in a vertical straight grain dark cherry in my office from Showplace. This is specifically not a match but the price suited and honestly as bad as I can get I don't notice it. The match is better than I expected though.

FWIW- solid edging is not really distracting particularly on dark colors.
Also note that AFAIK anyone offering a door with solid wood that is veneered after the edges are done (so you don't see the solid wood) -outsources them and can't guarantee a match.

Finally we had done a display at my former employ with a dark cherry vertical match. The boss had a fit saying you couldn't see it with that color... but we wanted it...(designers are all spoiled children :)

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 10:04AM
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