• Karolina Anastasopoulos

Cabinetry Materials: Hardwood Vs. MDF, Your Questions Answered!

With so many cabinetry material options out there, I wanted to help answer many of the questions I receive from clients and shed some light on the pro’s and cons on the two main materials used: hardwood and MDF.

I reached out to one of my favourite carpenters, Zachary from Circle A Carpentry to pick his brain and get his expert advice!

Ultimately the decision will be based on your budget parameters as well as the look you are trying to achieve, but I hope this information helps steer you towards the product that is right for you and your project.


MDF vs. Wood: what are the pro’s and cons to each?

MDF Pros:

- Easily shaped with woodworking tools

- Takes paint flawlessly with proper paint prep.

- Cost effective

- Stable (no seasonal movement)

MDF Cons

- Brittle edges, easily damaged by knocking into it

- Very porous (extra prep necessary when finishing

- Heavy!!

Wood Pros

- Strong edges, if properly sanded will take paint well (depending on species)

- Easily shaped with proper tools

Wood Cons

- Often a pricier option

- Season movement to be accounted for and expected

What do you prefer working with?

My personal preference would be to work with wood, mainly for the fact that MDF is messy to work with and often includes chemical bonding agents that make their way into the dust.

What is more durable?

Wood all the way!

When is it recommended to use one material over the other?

When considering the pros and cons of both materials, they both deserve their own place in a build. Often face frames and trim components that would need to be resistant to rubbing or knocking will be made from wood to lengthen the lifetime of the paint on a cabinet from wear. MDF is a perfect material for CNC cut doors and crown mouldings which are often the components of a cabinet that are most effected by seasonal movement and require stability.

With regards to woods, what type of wood is the most durable?

The primary wood when working with a paint grade kitchen would be maple. Maple has a mostly straight grain and is quite dense.

Do you prefer to work with one more than another?

My personal preference when working with wood is Walnut. It has a beautiful grain pattern and rich colour. It is easy to machine and accepts stain readily.

Which woods are most expensive and why?

Walnut and Cherry would be the most expensive of the primary cabinetmaking woods. This is mostly due to the availability of the woods which typically are milled from mature trees that are not plentiful.

Are there any wood types that would not be recommended for cabinetry?

I would never recommend pine or poplar for cabinetry. Pine tends to seep sap and resin overtime, ruining paint finishes. The grain is also quite open and soft meaning it is not resilient to damage, it also means that it does not take stain evenly and often results in an uneven stain.

Poplar is also not recommended. Though it paints quite well, it does not stain nicely and is often too soft to be used as face frames. Though poplar can be used as door components (as it is fairly stable when dry) or for mouldings.

There are several coatings and finishes available for both MDF and wood. What do you recommend for each application? Are there specific finishes that provide additional durability?

Our finish of choice is Sher-wood Hi-build Pre-cat Lacquer.

This product has a high build which makes it ideal for MDF and wood. It fills any porous grain in the MDF, dries quickly, can be tinted into any colour (or clear when applied to stain grade projects), and when cured results into a finish that is often harder than the substrate it is applied to.

Thanks to Circle A Carpentry for sharing their knowledge with us! Check them out @circleacarpentry!

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