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The 5 Best Woods for Kitchen Cabinets

Posted by Donovan Thornhill on Sep 22nd 2023

Choosing the right wood is an important decision when buying cabinet doors. When it comes to wood types for cabinets, you need a material that will hold up to the normal wear and tear that comes with cooking in a kitchen, but also provide an eye-catching style. By exploring the different options for the best wood for kitchen cabinets, you can determine which is right for your needs, and find a suitable solution that’s durable and stylish.

Here’s everything you need to know about the best wood for cabinets.

What to Consider When Shopping For The Best Wood for Kitchen Cabinets

Not all wood types for cabinets are created equally. The wood species vary by durability, color, and versatility. When shopping for the best wood for cabinets, there are a few different factors you must consider to ensure you find the best option for your project.

Color and Grain Pattern

All types of wood for cabinets have different colors, grain patterns, and aesthetic appeal. When deciding which is the best wood for your kitchen cabinets, you'll want to consider your kitchen design and personal design preferences. Since every wood species is unique, the lowest-cost option might not always be the best for your project.

For example, cherry has a rich, dark color that tends to darken to a deep red over time, while maple has a lighter and brighter appearance. Cherry would look great in a rustic or traditional kitchen, while mape may be a better option for a modern or minimalist kitchen design.

Durability

When looking for the best wood for kitchen cabinets, durability is likely one of the first factors you may consider. The durability of a wood type is measured using the Janka wood hardness rating scale. The higher the wood type is on the rating scale, the stronger and more resistant it is to scuffs and everyday wear and tear.

For example, hard maple is a 1420 on the Janka wood hardness scale, while cherry is a 955. This means maple is more durable and resistant to everyday wear and tear, which means it may maintain its look and feel longer than cherry.

Workability

Not all wood types will be easy to work with, which is something to remember, especially if you've never added a finish or a polish to cabinet doors on your own. For example, wood types with an open grain pattern can be more challenging to work with for beginners. The large, open pores may leave your cabinets looking unfinished and uneven, but it doesn't mean they're impossible to use. Instead, you'll want to consider working with a professional to get a more refined, put-together finish.

Finish Vs. Paint

A natural clear finish is designed to protect and enhance the natural wood grain and color of the best wood for the cabinets you choose to add to your kitchen. Paint is perfect for adding a pop of color to your kitchen or committing to a more modern kitchen design. Both options are great, and deciding between the two really comes down to personal preference.

Before you invest in a new wood type for cabinets, you'll want to consider which look will look best in your kitchen. If you decide to paint your kitchen cabinet doors, paint grade wood would be a more suitable option.

Versatility

Some wood types are more versatile than others. For example, Poplar can be used for shelves, cabinet doors, and at-home hobby projects. While Hickory is a more durable wood type that can be more challenging for at-home projects.

Which Are The Best Woods for Kitchen Cabinets?

The best wood for cabinets should tactfully balance functionality and style. Choosing the cabinet wood type for you is no easy task, as there are plenty of species with different grain patterns and strength factors. Fortunately, you can’t go wrong when you start with a good list of options. The following are the best materials for kitchen cabinets, with each offering its own advantages.

1. Alder

Alder grows primarily in the Pacific Northwest, in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Although classified as a hardwood, alder is a fairly soft hardwood with medium density and is softer than oak and maple. Alder is often used more in the western states but is becoming more popular and more available across the US.

Alder’s grain is generally straight, with a fine, uniform texture. This wood has excellent working properties, making it one of the best materials for kitchen cabinets, and as a result, it’s becoming very popular in the cabinet industry. It has excellent finishing properties, too, but care is needed when staining. Alder requires careful wood sealing to prevent a blotchy and uneven finish.

StyleCharacteristics
  • Excellent for traditional or modern styles, but can be distressed as a complement to rustic styles
  • Similar to cherry in its color tone but a lower price 
  • Looks great when glazed or stained to highlight its subtle grain, but also excellent at holding paint
  • A durable hardwood
  • Easier to work with, shape, and paint than other hardwoods
  • Features a straight, fine, and uniform grain                                                                         

2. Oak

Oak is separated into two distinct types—red oak and white oak. Contrary to what you might think, white oak tends to be slightly darker and grayer in color, while red oak is lighter and varies from reddish brown to wheat in color.

White oak is commonly used in whisky barrels, wet environments, and cargo truck flooring, while red oak is typically used in furniture and cabinets because of its hard strength. Red oak is a slightly softer but still durable wood, which stains well and withstands damage, making it one of the best choices for wood kitchen cabinets.

The slower growth of the oak tree makes the wood denser and superior for furniture wood. Oak, especially red oak, is good for staining but not the best option for painting.

StyleCharacteristics
  • The detailed grain makes oak excellent for rustic, traditional, or farmhouse styles.
  • Both types offer a warm, cozy ambiance
  • Both types look excellent when highlighted with stain                                                           
  • Very elaborate and pronounced grain patterns, often with knots
  • Hardwood that features impressive strength and durability
  • Red oak is a lighter, pink tone while white oak is slightly darker and features beige tones

3. Maple

Maple is a widely available and common choice for wood, typically found in the northern Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic states. Unlike most other hardwoods, the sapwood of hard maple lumber is used more often than its heartwood. The heartwood tends to be a darker reddish brown and is seldom used in cabinets, while the sapwood ranges from nearly white to a charming off-white cream color.

The grain in maple is generally straight, with a fine, even texture. Maple finishes to an attractive light color with polyurethane alone; however, it can be tricky to stain correctly. Because maple is a tight, closed-grain wood, it requires experience to stain without looking blotchy and uneven.

Hard maple is a hard and heavy wood, as the name indicates, and it has excellent strength. That makes it resistant to wear and tear, so it is a particularly excellent choice for wood kitchen cabinets.

StyleCharacteristics
  • Versatile enough to fit traditional, modern, and contemporary styles depending on the door design and hardware
  • Excellent for open designs and bright spaces
  • Can be either lightly stained or painted for an eye-popping look
  • Features a detailed but fine and subtle grain.
  • Known for its strength
  • Has a lighter, brighter appearance than most woods                                                                 

4. Cherry

Cherry is one of the most charming cabinet wood types, featuring a timeless look that stands out in any space. Although softer than other woods, cherry is still a durable hardwood, that is resistant to wear and surface damage. This durability makes it an excellent choice for your kitchen.

The wood features a fine but detailed and prominent grain highlighted by a dark red hue. A dark stain helps to emphasize the elegant appearance of cherry even further and brings uniformity to the wood. Cherry often runs at a higher price point than other woods, but with this higher cost comes higher durability and a distinct eye-drawing appearance.

StyleCharacteristics
  • Offers an elegant, charming appearance
  • Perfect for both traditional and contemporary style homes, depending on the door design
  • Works great with a stain that highlights its natural grain and provides uniformity
  • Resistant to surface damage like dents and chips
  • Has a distinctive red hue that darkens as it ages with a fine, vertical grain             

5. Paint-Grade

If you want the flexibility to paint your cabinet doors in the perfect color, then paint-grade wood is the best option for you. CabinetDoors.com paint-grade wood kitchen cabinets are usually made from a poplar frame with a medium-density fiberboard (MDF) panel.

Poplar is widely available, growing throughout the eastern United States. This medium-density wood is often chosen for paint-grade furniture and cabinetry as it tends to be quite affordable, versatile, and extremely easy to work with for a smooth finish. Because poplar takes paint and other finishes extraordinarily well, it’s among the best cabinet wood types for painting available.

Meanwhile, we use MDF in many of the panels in our paint-grade wood kitchen cabinets because it paints incredibly well, creating a smooth finish with the poplar frame. MDF is also incredibly durable and perfect for withstanding the demand of a kitchen environment when finished properly.

StyleCharacteristics
  • Versatile and able to fit your needs and preferences
  • Excellent for painting to support contemporary styles and color themes
  • Is only recommended to be painted, and not stained. 
  • Features affordable but durable MDF
  • Easy to paint a smooth, flawless finish
  • Excellent for DIY projects and saving money on professional painters

Find the Best Wood for Your Cabinet Doors

When it comes to choosing cabinet doors that work best for your home, the correct wood makes all the difference. At CabinetDoors.com, we offer a handful of options for wood species and hundreds of cabinet door styles, so you can get high-quality, custom-sized doors for your kitchen cabinets made with the most attractive woods.

Explore our complete inventory of cabinet door styles to find which material and style works best for your personalized preferences. Once you’ve chosen a style and wood species that fits your needs, you can enjoy brand-new cabinet doors delivered straight to your door in just a few short weeks without any retail markups. If you have any questions about choosing the right wood for your cabinets, contact us at 1-800-342-1010 for more information.

FAQs About The Best Wood for Cabinets

What wood is the cheapest for cabinets?

One of the most cost-effective wood types you can pick is pine wood or oak. Both options are significantly cheaper than other types of wood for cabinets like cherry or maple.

What are the most durable cabinets?

The most durable wood type is hickory. It's 1820 on the Janka hardness scale and is more resistant to dents, swelling, and normal wear and tear. Hickory wood also has a gorgeous grain pattern with an eye-catching appearance. Whether it's a vintage or modern home design, you can't go wrong with this choice if durability is your number one priority.

What is the best thickness of wood for cabinets?

The wood thickness may vary depending on the style of your kitchen cabinet doors. For example, edge-banded slab cabinets run on the thinner side, around 1/16 to 1/8 inches thick. Most cabinet doors range is 3/4 inch to 1 inch.

How long do natural wood cabinets last?

If you clean and care for your kitchen cabinets, you can expect them to last anywhere from 30-50 years. Some wood types for cabinets are more durable than others and are more resistant to everyday wear and tear.

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