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Wood Types - Cabinetry 101

Choosing the right wood type for your cabinetry is an important decision that will not only define the aesthetic of your space, but also impact the longevity and functionality of your cabinets for years to come. Each wood species possesses unique characteristics. From the warm, honeyed tones of oak to the rich, reddish hues of cherry, and the sleek, modern appeal of maple, each wood type has distinct design choices.

Here's a quick overview of the most common wood types we work with at Sullivan's:


Oak is a tried and true timeless option. It comes in several varieties and cuts and its availability make it a very popular choice for homeowners.

  • TYPE OF WOOD: Strong and durable hardwood

  • COLOR: White Oak has golden brown tones, while red oak has a more pinkish tint

  • STAINING: Accepts stain well and will darken slightly with age; its grain pattern is very evident when a solid color finish is applied.

  • GRAIN TYPE: Distinctive grain patterns that stain well

  • VARIATIONS: Most common varieties are White Oak & Red Oak with varying cuts of plain sliced, quarter sawn & rift cut; also can be rustic

  • COST: Price varies based on the type of oak and cut, but generally red oak will be less expensive than white oak while rift cut is the most expensive cut

Left top: plain-sliced white oak; Right top: quarter-sawn white oak: Left bottom: rift cut white oak; Right bottom: rustic white oak

Left: White oak with a light gray stain; Right: white oak with a rich color stain


Natural Maple is one of the most popular types of wood for cabinetry. It's also very durable and a top choice when painting cabinetry.

  • TYPE OF WOOD: A medium and hard hardwood

  • COLOR: Light with a smooth clean look

  • STAINING: Can be stained, but most often a clear coat is applied; often used for painted cabinetry

  • GRAIN TYPE: Generally straight with some waves mixed in, but is light and uniform

  • COST: An affordable choice in the median price range

Maple cabinetry with a clear coat finish


Known for its rich, reddish hues, cherry wood is often referred to as a luxury wood. Its distinctive aging process causes slight changes to its deep reddish-brown hues over time.

  • TYPE OF WOOD: A medium hardwood

  • COLOR: Unique aging process makes it sensitive to light causing the wood to darken or redden over time

  • STAINING: Takes stains and finishes well

  • GRAIN TYPE: Fine texture and smooth grain

  • COST: On the more expensive tier for types of wood

A luxurious closet made from cherry wood


Hickory is known for its distinctive wood pattern and its durability. It's often a first choice for creating a more rustic look.

  • TYPE OF WOOD: Strong hardwood

  • COLOR: Known for its contrasting dark and light streaks with warm tones

  • STAINING: Accepts stains well

  • COST: On the less expensive tier for wood types

Grain-matched hickory kitchen


Alder is considered one of the “softest” hardwoods and is most common seen as Rustic Alder. As its name implies, this natural wood appears distressed and worn and is prized for this rustic appearance.

  • TYPE OF WOOD: Light weight or medium hardwood

  • COLOR: Ranges in color from yellow and peach hues to pale pink/brown and light brown; known for its knots giving it a more rustic look

  • FINISHING: You can stain alder, but most often a traditional glaze or clear coat is used to bring out the rustic appearance.

  • GRAIN TYPE: Straight, fine textured grain similar to cherry or maple

  • COST: Alder has an abundant supply and therefore is more affordable than some of the other wood types.

Left: Alder vent hood; Center: Knotty alder kitchen island; Right: Knotty alder kitchen installation


A stunning luxury wood known for its deep rich color and smooth grain patterns, walnut has become an increasingly popular choice for cabinetry.

  • TYPE OF WOOD: Strong hardwood

  • COLOR: Varying rich colors that range from light brown to deep chocolate hues

  • STAINING: Can be stained, but often finished with a natural finish to accentuate grain pattern

  • GRAIN TYPE: Can be straight or wavy/swirling grain patterns

  • COST: Walnut is in scarcer supply than other wood types and therefore falls in the top tier of expensive wood types.

Left: Dry bar cabinetry made from walnut with a radius to maximize the small space; Right: Bookcase with gorgeous walnut wood grains

Left: Closet cabinetry made from walnut; Right: Vanity with walnut veneer doors & burled walnut veneer drawer fronts


With any home design choice, there are lots of factors at play including your budget, purpose, and personal style. Striking a balance between your design vision and practical needs is essential when choosing the perfect wood type for your cabinetry. Doing so will ensure your space remains both beautiful and functional over time. Need help making a decision? We can help!


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