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Kitchen Cabinet Materials – The Good, Bad & Really Ugly


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Kitchen Cabinet Materials – The Good, Bad & Really Ugly

Our clients look for kitchen cabinets that are aesthetically pleasing, durable, affordable and highly functional. Kitchen Cabinet MaterialsThe kitchen cabinet materials that are available are very diverse and it is our job to hear what our clients are asking for and then develop a plan that exceeds those expectations. It is not uncommon that DIY home improvement types are overwhelmed with the material options, finishing options, varying prices and mis-guided customer service people when they go shopping for kitchen cabinetry and end up in our kitchen and bath showroom feeling defeated. After a good cry and we allow them to vent their frustrations, we reassure them, 

We can solve this kitchen remodeling project together. But if we do create a kitchen cabinet design for you, we can’t take it to Lowes and ask them to manufacture your cabinets. Is that a deal?

It has been our experience that Quality Counts and the big box stores and commercial cabinet vendors fall short on what counts most in lieu of low prices. Let’s answer one of the most common questions I hear from clients first.

What is The Most Durable Material for Kitchen Cabinets?

The most durable wood for kitchen cabinets is solid hard wood cut from red oak, hard maple and walnut. The lumber grade of FAS and F1F represents the highest quality of blemish free lumber for the cabinet maker. There are many species of exotic hardwoods that we can add to the list, but the price goes up as the availability goes down. International trade costs are always passed onto the consumer when dealing with exotic woods.

Most Durable Kitchen Cabinets
Now, the most durable solid hard wood kitchen cabinets does not suggest this is the best solution for your new kitchen. There are 15 other species of domestic hard woods a local cabinet maker would love to work with. We love to use less dense species such as Alder, white oak and mahogany when we can. But the quality of the wood must be top notch.

This Grading Guide from the SUNY ESF is worth the download.
Next to durability, affordability of your new kitchen cabinets is paramount in the minds of most homeowners. 

The Best Kitchen Cabinet Materials Don't Have to Break the Bank

Solid hardwood kitchen cabinets get very heavy and are often difficult to install. In addition, 100% hard wood cabinets get VERY expensive. Most high-quality cabinet makers today use a combination of materials that offer stability, reduce the weight, lower costs without sacrificing on quality. 

The doors and exterior facing drawer material should always be a high-quality cabinet grade solid wood cut to exacting specifications and assembled with a high quality finish ready to accept your chosen stain, topcoat or paint. Exterior facing panels should also be the chosen hardwood or hardwood veneers that are adhered to the box cabinetry. 

The structural inside of the cabinetry can be made from a  high-quality plywood Best Materials for Kitchen Cabinetsor medium density fiber board. Veneer core panels and cabinet grade classic core plywood comes in varying thicknesses. The cheaper ¼ and 1/8 inch thicknesses are not acceptable for the clients we serve although you find many big box brands using these inferior plywoods. We prefer sturdier ½ in and 5/8th inch A1 grade plywood be used for the cabinetry. We also like to match the solid wood door and drawer face material with the plywood face veneer. 

Cheaply Made Kitchen Cabinets

Poor quality kitchen cabinets can sometimes be hard to identify at first glance. Buyer Beware is a great motto if you are shopping for cabinets on your own. We recommend you look at the cabinet wall wood thickness, the cabinet floor material, the quality of the hardware being used and the joints that bring the corners together. Good quality craftsmen and women won’t skimp on flimsy material. You can put lipstick on a pig but underneath, its still a pig. You can see shotty workmanship in the joints, material imperfections and smoothness of the finish. Hardwood, plywood, MDF and veneers all come in lower grades than what we identified above. Wood imperfections determine the lower grades. 

Worst Cabinet Materials and Practices: 

Kitchen Designs Lawrenceville, Pennington NJ
AVOID Particle Board for ANY construction or home improvement project!
The lowest-quality products normally use staples and notched butt joints. Low-quality corner gussets and braces are often made of plastic. The corner pieces usually get stapled to the corners and the intention is to help the cabinet hold the shape. Glue, screws, and nails are used sometimes as well. Either way, they are not as strong as a full I-beam. Signs for low-quality hinges are those which can only adjust four-ways or those which don’t have a lifetime warranty. Cheaper cabinets will often use thin panels which then require metal hanging rails with brackets, rails, and a picture frame construction.

Kitchen Designs That Use Quality Materials

Our reputation is on the line with every cabinet we have made for our clients and we have worked too hard to gain a stellar reputation. One kitchen design in Lawrenceville NJ comes to mind where the client decided to have the cabinets purchased and installed by a “Friend of a Friend”.  This was done against our advise and the project turned into a disaster for that homeowner. Just like there are different grades of lumber, hardness of wood and quality of plywood…there are different grades of cabinet makers. We insist our custom cabinet makers must meet our demands for quality.

Posted by Tom Gilmour in Custom Cabinetry | with 1 comments
Filed under: cabinets, designs, durable, kitchen, tjg

Silvan Kitma
Thank you for this helpful article! I used it as a reference for one of my recent publications about choosing kitchen cabinets that provide good resale value.
2/6/2024 9:32:34 PM

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48 West Broad Street • Hopewell, NJ 08525 • Phone: (609) 466-1445 • Fax: (609) 466-1499 • email:

Specializing in custom kitchen cabinetry designs in Princeton, Somerset, Central Jersey, Monmouth County, Hunterdon County, Morris County and Bucks County, PA.

Some photos depict kitchens designed by Lisa Tobias for DeMadera Design.

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