If you’ve begun the adventure that is a kitchen remodel, you’ve likely discovered there’s a lot more to the decision-making process than finding the right countertops and appliances. Modern kitchen design offers lots of options for homeowners to choose from, and one area that can be a source of confusion is cabinet construction. All cabinets are not created equal, and choosing the wrong ones is one way to ensure years of dissatisfaction with your kitchen remodel.
This is a major concern for homeowners that has resulted in more than a little debate (often ill-informed) about whether it’s best to choose plywood or furniture board kitchen cabinets. There are significant differences in cost to consider, as well as the issue of durability and utility. Let’s take a closer look at these two products and find out which works best for your home.
What is Engineered Wood?
Both plywood and furniture board are considered “engineered wood.” Engineered wood is any wood product manufactured by binding or fixing strands, particles, fibers, veneers, or boards of wood together with adhesives or other methods of fixation. For our purposes, we’ll be focusing on two engineered-wood products – plywood and furniture board.
Virtually all kitchen cabinets are made of engineered woods; they can be constructed of plywood, furniture board (also known as particle board), or both. People tend to have strong opinions about which is best. This can make deciding on cabinet materials much more stressful than it needs to be, especially if you don’t understand the differences between the two. Not to worry – as we’ll see, both are great products that work well as kitchen cabinets, and understanding the benefits and drawbacks of each can make this decision-making process much easier.
The Difference Between Plywood and Furniture Board
Plywood is a sheet material manufactured using thin layers of wood (known as veneers). Layers of veneer are glued together, and with each new layer, the grain is rotated 90 degrees. This makes for a strong material with a variety of applications, available in many different thicknesses and finishes. Plywood is what comes to mind for most people when they think of engineered wood.
Furniture board is a material manufactured from wood chips, mill shavings, and sawdust, bound together with a binding agent and pressed into flat sheets. Furniture board comes in different densities, with the higher density products offering greater strength and functionality. Furniture board is widely used in cabinet construction because of its low cost and ease to work with.
Many professionals will advise homeowners that kitchen cabinets should be made only of plywood, while others insist it’s a completely unnecessary expense. The truth lies somewhere between these two views, and understanding some of the major concerns with each will help you find the right cabinets for your kitchen remodel.
Wood and Water Don’t Mix
Most of the debate over plywood and furniture board comes down to one thing – the two materials behave differently when they come in contact with water. If you’ve ever seen furniture board that’s been wet for any significant amount of time, you’ve seen a swollen, spongy, soft material that a child can crumble in their hand. By contrast, plywood handles moisture much better, though it does weaken and deform over time.
For many, this is all the reason to choose plywood construction – but they may be overlooking something in making a hasty decision. If you have a leak or a flooded kitchen that will bring the moisture resistance of plywood into play, you likely have ruined drywall, ruined flooring or subfloor, and damaged cabinets – regardless of what they’re made of. This is not to say that plywood cabinets are a waste of money. Certain cabinet components should ALWAYS be made of plywood because of its moisture resistance. Sink base cabinets, for example, should never be made of furniture board.
Give Me Strength
Plywood is stronger than furniture board, and well-built plywood cabinets will maintain this strength advantage over their lifetimes, resulting in less sagging and deflection. This is a fact that worries homeowners about furniture board cabinets, but this fear is often unwarranted. That being said, if you opt for furniture board kitchen cabinets, there are some things you should know.
Furniture board comes in varying densities, and density relates directly to strength. This means that high-density furniture board is heavier and stronger than low-density board, and also holds screw fasteners more securely. This can make a big difference, and low-density cabinets do not hold up well over time. If you want the value of furniture board, be sure not to throw money away on cheap, low-density product; doing so will almost guarantee sagging shelves and non-functioning hardware within just a few years.
When it comes to cabinet strength, construction and installation are what really matters. Even solid wood cabinets won’t be strong if the components aren’t joined correctly, and construction methods matter far more in relation to quality cabinetry than board strength. This cannot be overstated, and it’s much more useful to focus on finding kitchen cabinets that are well-made than to overthink the materials.
One last note on strength: if you plan to use frameless cabinetry, make sure you only choose high density furniture board or plywood. Because of the way hardware is mounted on frameless cabinetry, the strength and holding ability of high density furniture board or plywood is required in most situations.
A Question of Value
Where cost is concerned, there is a significant difference between the two materials. Cabinetry made of plywood is treated as an upgrade by manufacturers, and it usually carries an added cost of 10 – 20% (a figure that many cabinetry professionals see as overblown and as a product of consumer misinformation). This can be a lot of money, and it can affect your kitchen remodel budget significantly with regard to other things, like appliances or tile work.
It all comes down to what you value as a homeowner – do you rest easier knowing you’ve gotten the most from your kitchen remodel budget, or is the security of plywood cabinets worth the cost in your eyes? Neither is a bad choice, and if the question of value is a big concern for you, you may be well-served by answering it first.