Cabinets consist of six-sided wooden boxes or “carcases” closed on five sides with a door or drawers on the sixth.
The cabinet carcase is usually made from plywood or high-quality particle board, particularly for flat sections that do not need to be shaped, such as shelves, cabinet sides, or drawer bottoms. Typical plywood thickness in these applications varies from 3⁄8 in (9.5 mm) to 3⁄4 in (19 mm) [with 1⁄4 in (6.4 mm) used often for drawer bottoms]. Stiffness and strength are important factors since cabinets are expected to retain their shape over time and avoid bend or sag while continuing to support a heavy load. The best choices for strength are plywood and higher-quality particle board; they also have the benefit of being less susceptible to warping from moisture. Stiffness increases rapidly with shelf thickness; regardless of material choice, a 3⁄4-inch (19 mm) shelf is 73% stiffer than a 5⁄8-inch (16 mm) shelf, even though it is only 20% thicker. Shelves made of some particle board formulations, especially where not reinforced, may sag or deform. Particle board strength and rigidity varies by formulation and is determined by the resin used. Plywood carcases are usually assembled with screws and nails while particle board carcases do not hold screws or nails as well and therefore are typically joined with glue, groove joints, or mechanical fasteners such as confirmat-cam assemblies. Generally, plywood-carcase cabinets are more expensive than particle-board-carcase cabinets.
Solid wood remains a popular choice for many cabinet parts, including bases, frames and doors. However, most commercial cabinets have sides, backs and bottoms made of plywood or particle board. Traditional-style solid-wood cabinetry is more expensive and many consumers opt for cabinets that incorporate many particle board or plywood components to reduce costs. Pricing for solid wood cabinet doors depends on the wood species used. For example, teak is more expensive than cherry, which is more expensive than maple, which is more expensive than oak. Similarly, solid wood is more expensive than plywood which, in turn, is more expensive than particle board or similar sheet goods.
Cabinet frames and doors.
May be fashioned from solid wood (typically a species of hardwood), medium density fiberboard (MDF), particle board, plywood, or a combination, and may include lamination or a surface coating over these core materials. A floating panel in a door can be hardwood-veneer plywood captured within a solid wood or MDF frame. Solid wood and MDF can be edge-shaped, e.g., to round or pattern the edges of doors, drawer fronts, or face frames. Particle board, once manufactured, cannot be edge-shaped suitably. Plywood cannot be shaped without revealing its veneer core, often considered unsightly, though edge-shaped furniture-grade plywood with thin plies [ca. 1⁄16-inch (1.6 mm) ] is considered attractive for limited uses. MDF, once shaped, can be coated conformally with flexible veneers such as thermofoil or can be painted. It can also be covered with wood veneer or high-pressure laminate but only if the edge profile is square or approximately so (to within the veneer thickness). Today many cabinet doors and drawer fronts utilize an MDF core. Doors and drawer fronts may also be fashioned of particle board surfaced with high-pressure laminate. Natural wood offers its subtle combination of color, grain, pore pattern, variable absorption and smoothness of finish, and variation with viewing angle and lighting condition. The appearance of natural wood can only be achieved with solid wood components (wherever edges are shaped) or possibly veneer (where they are not); as already pointed out, the two approaches can be combined in a single cabinet. Various transparent grain-revealing finishes including shellac, lacquer, varnish, or polyurethane have been devised. A built-up finish may optionally utilize diverse pigments, dyes, bleaches, glazes, or wood fillers that may highlight contrasting colorants. Finishes can be applied by brush or spray and may comprise many separately applied layers. Accordingly, finishes formulated by differing manufacturers do not, in general, exactly match. Distressing the wood cabinets is another finish application and is often done in conjunction with glazes, stains, paints or dyes. This process consists of adding manufactured imperfections to cabinet doors to give the wood cabinets an aged, distressed, old-world rustic appearance. Common techniques include creating wormholes, rasping, dings and dents and sanding through the wood and layers of finish unevenly.
Trade-off: solid wood versus particle board.
Solid wood and plywood are durable and strong, but are more costly and offer less dimensional stability at manufacture than particle board. For cabinets and surface finishes that may sustain damage during long use, serviceability is a consideration. In case of damage, solid wood can be repaired by a qualified furniture refinisher, other than the manufacturer, to achieve a perfect match to the surrounding finish. Veneered MDF and particle board components, if damaged, must be replaced by the manufacturer. If water reaches the core, particleboard especially will swell irreversibly (therefore it is never used in home sheathing applications, where oriented strand board OSB is used instead). Tolerances for the use of screw fasteners in particleboard are tighter than for solid wood or plywood, and screws often loosen over time if over-torqued. However, MDF and particle board are good choices where cabinets are well-constructed, will be cared-for, where service life is projected as intermediate, e.g., where the kitchen will be remodeled approximately every 15 years, or where the manufacturer can be relied upon to supply replacement components if needed.