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What wood is best for kitchen cabinets? MDF or solid wood?

“Always pick your yard based on your Summer lifetstyle.”


December 17, 2018 - Karl Yeh

 In this episode, we discuss which material you should use for cabinet doors in your new home: MDF (medium-density fiberboard) or wood. We explore what is MDF and compare with wood on costs, durability and staining. Finally, we talk about what are the best situations to use either. 

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Hi everyone. I'm Karl Yeh, and welcome to another Homebuyer's School video. A channel where you get the latest strategies, tactics, and tips from home buying experts.

And remember, this is your first time on this channel and you want to get the latest strategies from the experts, hit the subscription button below, hit the little notification [00:00:30] bell so you don't miss anything.

Today I'm joined by Deborah Armstrong, Senior Interior Designer with Brookfield Residential.

The question we're going to answer today is:

What should you use? MDF cabinet doors or solid wood cabinet doors?

So, I guess the first question is,

What exactly is MDF?

Deborah Armstrong:     

MDF is a medium dense fiberboard. It's made out of real wood that's been ground down into little fibers, and then molded back into a board using glues.

Karl Yeh:          

Yeah. [00:01:00] And why would you use this type of fiberboard versus something else that's like solid wood?

Deborah Armstrong:    

People use MDF a lot, especially when you're painting. And that's very, very popular, in that, right now we're seeing whether it would be all the cabinets, or just the perimeter, and then the island being wood, being painted.

What the advantage of it is, it gives a very, very smooth grainless surface.

And with real wood you usually joined pieces, whereas this can be molded, [00:01:30] you can actually router out to get the shape.

And, you're not going to get cracking in the paint.

Karl Yeh:          

And why would this be, I guess, better than plywood?

Deborah Armstrong:    

It's better because it's a lot smoother than plywood.

Plywood's generally used when you're doing cabinetry if you're going to veneer over top of it. Veneer with either a laminate product, or a veneer wood, rather than a solid wood door.

Keep the costs down, [00:02:00] but get the same look.

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Karl Yeh:           So,

Is MDF actually more expensive than plywood?

Deborah Armstrong:    Yes it is.

Karl Yeh:           It is, obviously.

Deborah Armstrong:    

And very heavy.

So, again, sometimes you might want to use a plywood if you were having very, very large cabinet doors, cause it's much lighter.

It's cheaper. And lighter.

Karl Yeh:          

So, could you have, some more of the frame of the cabinet would be MDF, and then the doors would be plywood?

Deborah A.:     

You could. Yeah.

Most people don't use plywood though [00:02:30] for the outer part of your door. It's usually veneered over top, yeah.

Karl Yeh:           Veneered, okay. So,

What would be the best material to use for kitchen cabinets?

Deborah Armstrong:    

For kitchen cabinets you want to use an MDF if you're going to paint. You want to use a real wood if you want to stain.

You cannot stain MDF. There's no grain, it's not porous.

Karl Yeh:           Oh, so it's just one color?

Deborah Armstrong:     

Yes. Whatever color you want to have it painted, it's usually lacquered.

If you're [00:03:00] buying cabinets from a cabinet supplier they're usually done in a spray booth, beautiful finish on them. Whereas, stain is a rubbed on-

You know, it soaks into the grains, and you get a totally different look between the two.

Maple vs. MDF

Karl Yeh:          

And how about maple? What is the appeal of maple, I guess over MDF? Because, I would think for MDF, I'd want to use MDF for everything unless it's cost prohibitive.

Deborah Armstrong:    

Again, yeah, you'd use maple if you want to stain.

For a stain color, [00:03:30] and you want to see wood grain. Maple is a very hard wood.

It takes the stain okay. There's better woods like cherry or alder that will soak in a little bit better, but people like maple cause it's a little harder.

Karl Yeh:           Okay.

Deborah Armstrong:    It's a little heavier door, it's going to have less dense scratches et cetera.

Is MDF durable?

Karl Yeh:           Yeah. And so, for an MDF, obviously in terms of durability it's pretty durable?

Deborah Armstrong:    

It's very durable. The only thing you want to make sure is when you have an MDF board that it is completely sealed with the paint. [

00:04:00] If that paint is wearing off, and you're starting to see the fiberboard, you want to make sure you get it repainted.

If it does get wet it will swell, and there's nothing you can do once it's swollen, cause it gets down into the fibers, and it just puffs up.

Karl Yeh:           Oh, yeah. Yeah.

So, say that again. You'd have to reseal it? Reseal it, every how many years would you have to do that?

Deborah Armstrong:    

Well, it's only on wear and tear.

You may never have to do it, but if you've got a certain area where you're constantly wiping it, and wiping it, [00:04:30] and you've worn down that paint or that lacquer layer, you'll want to have that door completely repainted.

You don't want any exposed MDF to water.

Karl Yeh:          

So, do you have anything else to add in terms of MDF, plywood, maple, in terms of kitchen cabinets?

Deborah Armstrong:    

Not really.

You just want to make sure that if you are going to paint the cabinets, that MDF is probably your best choice.

You don't want to see the grain, you want a very smooth surface. But if you want to be able [00:05:00] to stain it make sure you use a good quality wood. It could be a solid wood, cabinet or veneer.

Karl Yeh:          

Perfect, and the question of the day I have for you is:

Do you use MDF wood, and what is your experience with it?

Let us know in the comments section below. Thank you very much for joining us, and we'll catch you next time.


Your turn:

Let us know if you have additional interior design questions that we can answer by submitting them in the comments section below. 

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