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When deciding to get new cabinetry, it's easy to get lost in the aesthetics of your project, but don't overlook the importance of the materials that will be used. We've discussed the different types of wood such as oak and walnut in your cabinetry, but just as important to consider are the other materials like MDF & plywood and where they should be used in your cabinetry for both longevity and your budget.


Medium Density Fiberboard or MDF, is made by mixing up wood fibers, sawdust and resins or glue and pressing it into a solid sheet or board. The end result is a strong and durable material used in almost every kind of construction project for both indoors and outdoors. Important note - MDF is NOT particle board.

Key Characteristics of MDF:

  • No knots of imperfections

  • Available in a variety of thickness

  • Smooth, consistent surface

  • MDF core can be veneered in all types of wood species so it can be stained

  • Good painting surface as paint goes on smoothly and evenly

  • Environmentally friendly option as it is made from recycled hard or soft wood

  • Consistent in its thickness

  • Easy to machine

  • Does not warp/crack due to fluctuations in temperature or humidity

  • A more affordable option to plywood

MDF used in our shop


Plywood is a composite material made up of multiple layers of wood called plies that make up one sheet of plywood. These thin plies are glued one on top of the other alternating wood grains each time to create a strong and flexible finished product.

Key Characteristics of plywood:

  • Available in a variety of thickness

  • Comes in plies such as 7 ply, 9 ply, 11 ply, etc. The more plies means more layers and therefore a stronger material. (Most domestic plywood is 5 ply unless custom ordered.)

  • Less plies are more prone to warping

  • Comes in Grades A, B & C. Grade A is usually for cabinet grade and has no knots or imperfections

  • Can be inconsistent in its thickness

  • Does not machine as well as MDF


Particle board is a waste-wood product and made by hot-pressing sawdust with resin adhesives. It is a relatively inexpensive product used on lower end projects. At Sullivan's, we do NOT use particle board.


DRAWER BOXES - Russian Birch 9 ply

Left: Russian Birch; Right: China Birch (photo credit: Hood Distribution)

DOOR CENTER PANELS - MDF center panel for painted cabinets as it cuts down on shrinkage.

INTERIORS - Although some people may have heard plywood is the way to go, we've found that MDF core is actually the better and more cost effective option. It's stable, consistent and also strong and durable. When tolerances are very tight, MDF core is the way to go due to material consistency.

SHELVES - Our shelves are made of MDF with a wood veneer applied to the edge. Again, this is less likely to warp and is a strong, durable material.


At the end of the day, your specific project, space and budget will determine which materials you should use. This is an advantage to going with a custom cabinet maker and not a big box store!

At Sullivan's, we'll sit down with you, your designer and/or builder and talk about the advantages of each material in each component of your cabinetry.


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