Painted Flat Panel Cabinet doors - MDF or wood panel?

buffalotinaMay 26, 2009


I am looking at recessed flat panel shaker style cabinet doors in a painted finish. Some cabinet companies use an all wood door - ie maple rails and stiles and maple reverse raised panel, others use MDF for the center panel saying that the movement of the wood will lead to separation of the panel and an unsightly crack in the paint. I am talking to a local custom cabinet maker right now who insists he will only use MDF for the flat panel of painted doors because he has had so much trouble and had to replace doors etc when he used all wood. BUT, one cabinet place told me that paint on MDF will look different from the surround paint on the surrounding wood over time. When I say paint I suppose I mean tinted lacquer as that is what the local guy is using and I assume that is what commerical cabinet companies use too - the conversion finish.

Any help and advice on how to navigate this is much appreciated. I sort of don't like the idea of MDF especially if it is going to look different over time. I can imagine chemicals leaching from it and changing the finish differently than wood... but of course I don't want cracks around the panel either!

Thanks in advance.


Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I don't have this on cabinet doors but I have custom flat panel room doors that have an MDF center panel. There has been no shifting of panels leading to cracking of the finish like I have on the wood paneled doors soon to be replaced upstairs.

The are finised in oil based paint not a conversion finish but I see no finish differences after a few years.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 9:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Custom shop we met with did the center panel in MDF and it looked seamless with the maple rails. Same company was very upfront about hairline cracking in the lacquer because of humidity but no mention of the finish aging differently.

One I have heard is that MDF doesn't finish well - true if you don't have a clue how to finish it (directly applied waterbased finishes can raise a fur, mostly on machined edges so it needs to be sized or sealed with an alkyd primer).

Your paint finish won't sit on the MDF - the cabinet maker will prime and then apply the finish coats so it would have to be the chemical reaction between the primer and the mdf that alters the top coat - maybe but it seems unlikely.

The other thing to check out is the the finishing of the centre panel I have read that you want the panel at least partially finished prior to assembly so if the panel does move you don't see the substrate around the edges. May not apply with the MDF which will move much less but can still swell.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 9:59PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Another option is furniture grade plywood panels. My custom cabs are built like this & were finished with milk paint which is more like a stain than a paint. No difference in the appearance & after 6 years, no problems.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 10:54AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

antiquesilver: That sounds great. I mentioned it to cab guy but he seems to insist on MDF because he says it is a true 1/4" thick and fits his frame but the plywood is not quite sized right, or something. However, I agree with you I have seen cab companies use plywood veneer for center panels. I am glad your doors are fine.

Thank you for all the input.


    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 2:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

buffalotina, mine are done as a reverse raised panel so I don't know what thickness of wood they actually started with. Maybe your cabinetmaker just doesn't want to do the reverse raised panel because it's more labor intensive & requires thicker stock (more $) whether he's using solid lumber or plywood. The edges on a raised panel have to be cut down to the proper thickness to fit in the rails/stiles so it shouldn't be a big deal if he has to cut to 1/4" or something else. On MDF, all he has to do is cut out a rectanglar panel.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 5:29PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I just went through this with my custom shaker cabs that are currently being built. The cab maker is using a maple frame with furniture grade maple veneer plywood for the panel.

Here is a link that might be useful: My apartment renovation blog

    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 6:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Just to update, I am looking at Crown Point frameless cabinetry and their finishing details describe painting the center panel before assembly of the door. Great I thought - having a wood center panel will be fine if that is the case. Now I just found out that their painted maple cabinets will all have MDF center panels on the recessed flat panel doors. Since I don't have a face frame it is down to only the rails and stiles being Maple and now I feel like I'm getting MDF cabinets not wood cabinets! Am I being silly about this? Somehow it just does not feel right to me. Now of course there are companies that are painting solid wood reverse raised panels but I suppose maybe I should move with progress?



    Bookmark   May 28, 2009 at 9:22PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I am sure I am known as the MDF\particleboard apologist around here but reality is that MDF is more dimensionally stable than plywood and will move less than the plywood panel. I am biased but we live beside Quebec which has a huge and very technologically advanced and extremely competitive cabinet industry. Most Quebec companies (Cabico, Luxor, Cuisines Laurier etc) offer MDF doors for paint finishes because the MDF substrate is more uniform and produces a better final finish. The quality of the finishing and cabinetry for these lines is far superior to semi-custom lines like Kraftmaid, Medallion and MasterBrand which often still use ply panels. Crown Point isn't using an MDF panel to save money.

We all have different comfort levels but time does march on.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2009 at 10:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

caryscott - thank you so much for that sensible view point!! I know it has to be fine otherwise CP wouldn't do it and as I said a local custom guy has gone over to it too. I had read too like you said that it finishes nicely (when done properly).

BTW: Thanks to earlier help from you and others I am now progressed from trying to salvage my cabinets to a total gut!

    Bookmark   May 28, 2009 at 10:52PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Ok, should I be worried? I am having my cabinets made by an Amish man (whom I have never met; I am going through my GC). He will be making the doors and drawer fronts from paint grade maple, no mdf. After they are completed, the GC will be spraying them with white oil-based paint. Should I inquire about mdf panels or will all maple be alright? I cannot have the panels painted before final assembly because the cabinet maker lives quite a distance from here and the GC would not be able to paint them first. Is it okay to go with paint grade maple with no mdf AND have them painted after assembly or will this cause problems down the road?

    Bookmark   May 29, 2009 at 1:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I am pretty sure that white oil based paint will yellow over time. You might want to consider a high quality cabinet grade latex paint if you want to keep the color true. Please check out what I am saying on the paint forum to confirm and over there you will find the best guides to paint for cabinets. I think they recommend things like cabinet coat, SW pro classic. I recently did all my trim in Ben Mura Aura in Satin and ONCE CURED it is a fabulous trim paint. I would never do oil after using that.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   May 30, 2009 at 10:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Caryscott - to follow up, just checked out Wood Mode and Brookhaven today and they are using veneered plywood in their center flat panels. All you said makes me think that the MDF is superior though.

Question: What happens when you want a raised panel door painted - do cabico etc. do the center panel in MDF still?



    Bookmark   May 30, 2009 at 10:54PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I am in a similar situation with the mdf/maple debate, and am now convinced that I absolutely want an MDF panel. Since we're doing RTA, we can order any of the conestoga doors and change the panel to an MDF. Another line that offers these "hybrid" doors are and Jim Bishop cabinets. Best of luck!

    Bookmark   May 30, 2009 at 11:06PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

carolinesmom - thanks for your posting. Please do tell what swayed you to MDF - did you get some useful information from a cabinet place? I would like to know more points of view!! Also, have you been advised that MDF is better than a plywood panel? Thanks!


    Bookmark   May 30, 2009 at 11:10PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

From the attached link:

Raised Panel - Solid
Even though the panel is called solid, it is not usually made of a single piece of wood. Wood expands and contracts with changes in humidity, and this can cause the door to split and crack.

To counteract the problems of natural movement in a solid wood center panel, the panel is usually constructed using several pieces of solid stock lumber glued together. The wood strips used to construct the panel may not all match in graining and color. As in the case of the slab door, the door's strength comes from the manner in which the pieces of solid wood are reversed as they are glued.

The panel is then cut on all four sides, so the center is higher than the edges. The face of the panel is usually flush with the front surface of the stiles and rails, with the edges forming a tongue which fits a corresponding groove cut into the door frame.

The groove is slightly larger than the panel's edge to allow the panel to float in the frame. This simply means that the panel has room to expand and contract during humidity changes, reducing the risk of the panel cracking or splitting.

I gather from the Woodmode site that this is how they construct raised panel doors as they describe their raised panel doors as being constructed from solid wood. How big an issue the movement of the centre panel in a flat panel door will be probably depends on geography (I have seen some dramatic examples here that am sure would not be acceptable to many folks while I tend to think the hairline cracking I have seen is part of the charm and patina of age of painted cabinetry. In terms of Woodmode they do kiln dry all their wood which may in part explain why they have not have felt they would get better performance from an MDF centre panel that some companies are opting for. I also think it is a market issue a lot of Consumer's in the US have a real aversion to composite wood products regardless of the possible benefits (this does not really carry over to Europe or Canada).

Cabico and many other Quebec companies offer 100% MDF doors for paint finishes (same opaque finishes are usually available on maple at Cabico). Lots of their MDF door styles are raised panel.

Here is a link that might be useful: Explanation of door styles

    Bookmark   May 31, 2009 at 8:58AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks Caryscott. Maybe that is why I see some companies having the painted wood center panel - it may be when it is a true reverse raised panel and not built from a single piece of wood. I am getting happier and happier with the idea of the MDF. Now If I get Brookhaven I will have to have a plywood veneer which should probably be OK.

I wish I could find a cabico dealer around here - you and others have given such good reviews of them I would like to check them out. I could not get any help from their website though and no response to email. Perhaps I need to call them.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2009 at 11:03AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Silestone lena
Has anyone used Silestone "Lena" quartz in...
Help! Removing stains on granite
I am hoping that somebody here can help with this because...
Help with galley kitchen layout ... please.
Hi everyone! I am hoping you can help me with my layout...
Fabricator questions
We were just told that the fabricator our contractor...
What do you think of leathered surfaces? and why?
So I did my first foray into a granite yard today....
Sponsored Products
Sleek Iron Pull
Signature Hardware
Progress Lighting 24 in. White Undercabinet Fixture P7001-30EBS
$73.80 | Home Depot
H System Track by WAC Lighting
$22.00 | Lumens
Austin Off-White Linen Paint Shaker Kitchen Cabinet Sample
CliqStudios Cabinets
Porcelain Vessel Sink
MR Direct Sinks and Faucets
Clear Glass Bathroom Shelf
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™