painting soft maple kitchen cabinets

rhodoraMay 18, 2008

I'm considering having a painted kitchen instead of a stained wood. I am very concerned about the possibility of hairline cracks. My custom cabinet maker suggested that I go with soft maple and that it would expand and contract less. I realize that painted doors made of many pieces crack at the joints, but what if I went with a solid one piece door? Would a painted solid door still have cracking issues?

My cabinet maker is a Mennonite and not too keen on MDF. I could go MDF if I went to another cabinet maker, but this guy does amazing stuff! I would really appreciate any feedback on the one piece door possibility.


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If you want painted cabinets MDF is a good choice. The door panels will be dimensionally stable; no cracks. Poplar wood for the frames is good. Why hire an Ahmish cabinetmaker to make paint grade stuff? His work should be natural finished wood.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2008 at 1:22PM
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According to the chart I have (Hoadley), red maple (a variety of soft maple) is barely any more stable than poplar. Quartersawn soft maple is a little better in terms of shrinkage and expansion than poplar, but maple and poplar are essentially the same across flatsawn boards, and flatsawn is almost certainly what he'd use. I don't think that choosing soft maple would make a significant difference.

Solid wood slab doors wouldn't have any cross-grain joints in them, so finish cracks would be less likely, but if such cracks would be an absolute deal breaker then solid wood is probably not for you.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2008 at 5:45PM
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Jon, this is interesting to me because I'm still undecided about which wood to use for the cabinets I'll soon be starting. What wood (species, type of cut, i.e., plain, quartersawn, etc.) do you think makes a good frame-and-panel based cabinet that will be painted? "Paint grade" cabinetry seems to imply lower quality. Hopefully the cabinets I build will be good quality, I just happen to like painted cabinets in a kitchen. I hope to reuse the plywood from my old cabinets, since it's done offgassing. If that doesn't work out, I'd like to use, as I posted once before, solid wood for the panels because I don't like the chemicals in plywood adhesives.

Rhodora, sorry for hijacking your post.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2008 at 9:28AM
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eggandart, painted cabinets are often made of less expensive woods but that doesn't make them lower quality. Poplar and soft maple are commonly used because they're cheap and serviceable. Of the two, the soft maple is a little harder and thus less dent-prone. Aspen or alder would work. Hard maple or cherry would make very nice painted cabinets, but most people would think you were nuts if you painted cherry. You could even use an open-grained wood like oak; the texture of the pores would show through the paint and create a very distinct look that only appeals to certain tastes, but there wouldn't be anything wrong with doing is so long as YOU like the result.

If you meant to ask, like the OP, which wood would be best to avoid hairline cracks then the problem arises that the properties of particular species can easily be trumped by how the wood you get is handled. Many species that perform well if handled well will perform badly if handled badly. If you get wood that was improperly dried, or if it was stored poorly after drying, or if your workshop is especially humid, then fussing over the species choice could be for naught. In other words, don't sweat over it too much. No matter what you do, solid wood does expand and contract and some hairline cracks are fairly inevitable -- they aren't defects unless you think they are.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2008 at 12:22PM
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