larawin

Wood vs. MDF custom painted cabinets?

larawin
7 years ago
For our major kitchen renovation, I've been through all kinds of vendors and local custom shops trying to find the "perfect" cabinet situation...I know it doesn't exist. But after endless research, I'm still so torn about the MDF cabinets I have recently been leaning towards.

We are getting off-white painted shaker style cabinets. Most dealers offer brands that have maple cabinets slats with a veneer or mdf panel, so I realize its not ALL solid wood. Because of my dissatisfaction with the local dealer customer service and the lack of options with box cabinets for our specific kitchen requirements, I decided to consider a local custom cabinet maker. The service and options have been, hands down, exceptionally better than what I was experiencing. ONE problem...they refuse to paint anything other than MDF. They claim that since it takes paint better, and doesn't have the same seams as wood, will not crack and split the paint where would might. I have read this many times, so I know they aren't misleading me on that aspect. However, I'm having a hard time justifying not getting real wood, especially if I'm spending a pretty penny for custom cabinets. The main benefit to real wood that I see is that it increases the value as a potential selling point on a home, and if we ever (or anyone else) ever wanted to refinish and change the color, they can't. If it gets damaged and needs to be repaired, you really can't sand it or repaint, etc. I am not experienced enough with this material to know if it is truly going to hold up. At least with wood, even if it doesn't hold up the paint perfectly over the years, I have options for fixing it. With MDF, I'm not sure what my options are, other than just living with it or changing them out. Also, the sample doors they gave me make me a little nervous because the finish has a little more of a plastic look to me than painted wood samples I've held. (Not sure if its just in my head because I know I'm holding fake wood!).

Anyway...I guess what I need is for somebody to make me feel better about the MDF decision. I've been dead set on painted cabinets from day one. I absolutely love the custom company I've been working with and trust their quality of work, and love their amazing service that I've experienced. But they absolutely refuse to paint wood!! (Don't understand that since they are custom, seems like I should be able to get exactly what I want). Is there any major concern I should have about MDF or so,etching else I should consider about MDF or wood that I haven't mentioned above??

Thanks in advance for any advice!!

Comments (173)

  • PRO
    Sophie Wheeler
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Totally untrue. Thermofoil will blister when exposed to heat, but normal painted anything will be fine with normal wear. Normal wear isn’t flooding cabinets with water. Dry wiping only for “daily maintenance”.

  • PRO
    Devix Kitchens
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Lacquered MDF can't blister, only thermofoil can.

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  • Gill
    2 years ago

    We had the same issue with a high-end cabinet company; they refused to paint wooden doors because of issues with cracking, expansion etc. In the end we took a lowish sheen mdf which looks nice and we like, but which does not look exactly the same as wood (my brother made my sister a painted white maple pantry and I can see the difference. He used a maple frame for the shaker door, and something else for the middle part of the door that would be less likely to shrink/expand).

    The risks with wood are real. During our renovation, the kitchen people installed a birch crown moulding to replace the mdf one they had taken down. It has already expanded, shrunk, pulled away from the wall slightly etc, so we are regretting the wood there.

    BTW, if I were you I would not get particle board or mdf boxes. The reason we had to replace our kitchen was because the hinges were ripping out of all of our old particle board boxes, and there was no way to fix the problem. Plywood boxes look nice and hold hinges well.

  • monika2024
    2 years ago

    Just found this thread in time before I order my basement laundry room cabinets.

    Sophie, how is it possible that MDF does not chip easily? I found my mdf baseboards chip very easily and if these are going to be in the laundry room i think there might be a potential for the same kind of chipping- laundry baskets accidentally hitting the doors etc. Same issues in the kitchen as there's a lot of abuse.

    Also don't screws holding the doors to the face frames come loose easily as screws can strip down the MDF?

    this scared me to even look at MDF: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvmIjEMwywA

  • Karen Uffelman
    2 years ago

    My cabinet maker has had MDF doors on some of the cupboards in his showroom for 7-10 years. He takes these apart and transports them once or twice a year to a builder’s show and they look like new. No chips. The painted wooden doors in his showroom which do not go to builder’s shows are showing the paint cracking at the joints. He says in 10-12 years of painting MDF he has not had one problem with screws or water or chipping. Ask to see an unpainted MDF door to see the quality. I was very surprised.

  • daygrrrrl
    2 years ago

    I asked a question here a few months ago before I ordered my kitchen cabinets. They're not in yet but I went with the wood cabinets from Eastman st woodwork about 40 miles away. I liked the quality and the fact that they were American made local!


    The frames on cabinets are all wood and the inside panel is mdf. This is how all wood cabinets are made now. If you have the money def go with wood. Make sure the hinges are 6 point (I forgot what they call it) adjustable heavy duty hinges and the heavier grade of wood I forgot the size. Also the dovetail construction in the drawers. I looked at the mdf they were junk but half the price. Goid luck

  • daygrrrrl
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    I meant to say the frames on the door fronts are wood and the middle panel is mdf. I think this helps the wood breathe without cracking. My cabs are painted Dover white, it's a sherwin Williams paint. Beautiful

  • J Kay
    2 years ago
    When you sell the house likely no one will know or ask if they are MDF. Go with what looks good!
  • daygrrrrl
    2 years ago

    You can tell mdf from wood, I can. But whatever works

  • PRO
    Sophie Wheeler
    2 years ago

    Prove it. Whats wood? Whats’s MDF?


    Cabinet doors · More Info

    Cabinet doors · More Info

    Cabinet doors · More Info



    Cabinet doors · More Info

  • daygrrrrl
    2 years ago

    Id have to see the inside. I'm out I bought my cabs they're coming I'm looking forward to them

  • PRO
    Sophie Wheeler
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    So, you can’t actually tell wood from MDF at all. That was just a boast. Didn’t think you could. No one can, actually, if the paint job is good quality.

    Yes, one of those doors is all MDF. And one is laminate. And I challenge anyone to figure out what is what.

  • PRO
    Devix Kitchens
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Not the best camera angle but I think 1 and 4 are wood, 2 PVC MDF, 3 lacquered MDF. The pictures however, are a good illustration of cracks on 5-piece doors.


  • PRO
    Wm. H. Fry Construction Company
    2 years ago

    Somewhat off topic . . . If you go with mdf, suggest you go with NAUF mdf. NAUF stands for no added urea formaldehyde. Formaldehyde takes a long time to off-gas and is bad for your health. You should request the same with plywood as well. Regular mdf tends to have more formaldehyde in it than regular plywood. The formaldehyde comes from the glues that are used to manufacture wood products. The EPA has a bunch of information about formaldehyde here: https://www.epa.gov/formaldehyde

  • daygrrrrl
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    I wasn't boasting about anything, and this is quite ridiculous and I really don't have time for it. sophie must sell Mdf cabinets? I would rather be doing other things than renovating my kitchen, it's only out of necessity that it's being done. I'm not doing it for fun and I have found the whole process of cabinets countertops floors paint colors and the style of knobs and pulls quite boring. If you don't like my statement about cabinets you'd hate what I think about what a sham the granite industry seems to be. Peace out

  • PRO
    Sophie Wheeler
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Devix, nope. :) And I’m not gonna tell. The whole point is, that’s the point.

    When Pros can’t even tell, and amateurs insert their silly incorrect prejudices proclaimed as fact into a discussion, then can not back up their statements at all, that’sHouzz. Where amateur opinions are somehow given more weight than experience and documented examples, because they buy into prejudices. People want to believe that if they pay more money for REEEEEL WOOOOD that they are purchasing something “better”. When that is not the case at all.

  • PRO
    Wm. H. Fry Construction Company
    2 years ago

    Real wood is not necessarily better than plywood or MDF. Plywood is more stable than real wood. And if you're looking for very smooth paint, then MDF is the way to go. Suggest you specify NAUF MDF (and to a lesser extent NAUF plywood) when purchasing wood products.

  • PRO
    The Kitchen Abode Ltd.
    2 years ago

    The Sophie challenge makes the perfect point. If one just looks at the finishes it is virtually impossible to tell which might be which. You can only hedge your bet by looking closely at non finish related details that might reveal a clue or two as to the wood versus MDF versus laminate.

    For solid color painted coatings MDF is the preferred substrate. There are some manufactures who refuse to provide painted wood. My manufacturer will do it but only upon signing a waiver.

    The only time we consider a painted wood finish is if for some reason the particular profile we want is not available in MDF. Much less of an issue today as the MDF door manufacturers have made great strides in their router technology and bringing out 5 piece MDF doors as an option over the routed one piece ones.

    From an environmental perspective MDF is about as good as it gets. Not aware of any major manufacturer in North America or Europe that uses anything other than formaldehyde free binding agents. MDF is made from recycled wood and off-cuts, no virgin trees are cut down to make this material. MDF is also recyclable and is used for example in lower grade paper products such as corrugated packaging.

  • monika2024
    2 years ago

    Lets forget the LOOK of real wood vs MDF. Can we compare how these hold up to dings? I'm picturing baseboard type MDF where the slightest tap will chip a tiny piece off. How do they hold up around sink bases? I know someone said they had no issues but I can't imagine that paper mache holds up just as good as wood. I envision this:



    I guess only way to tell is to order a sample and beat it : )

  • PRO
    The Kitchen Abode Ltd.
    2 years ago

    Those baseboards are made out of a low quality MDF. There are a number of MDF grades of materials out there depending upon the application. Cabinetry doors are usually made from HDF(high density fiberboard) which is a high density version of regular MDF(medium density fiberboard).

  • PRO
    The Kitchen Abode Ltd.
    2 years ago

    Same thing happens to real wood. This kitchen believe it or not was only about 3 years old. Painted wood(maple) exposed to excess water. The water got down between the center panel rail/stile joint and then wets out the wood from behind and lifts the finish.



  • monika2024
    2 years ago

    OMG. that's above and beyond abuse but at least they can be refinished- hdf not so much. Being that our new cabinets will be in a basement this video really shows the difference, and I'm probably going to stick with solid wood- I'll take hairline cracks in the seams over chips and swelling-- and just refinish if they get really bad. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvmIjEMwywA. thanks.

  • PRO
    The Kitchen Abode Ltd.
    2 years ago

    Can't really be refinished, was much less expensive to order new replacement doors.

  • Michele luczak
    last year

    I wanted wood cabinets painted white with a black glaze on them. When installed they were INCREDIBLY mottled and uneven. Thought I was getting wood, only to find out it was MDF. Will the base material matter if the door is painted white and a glaze is applied?

  • PRO
    Devix Kitchens
    last year


    That's MDF, not the best picture but shows the result




  • Jo
    last year
    I hope some of you are still active on this thread. I have MDF cabinets and they started to have hair line cracks 6 months after installation. Some of them also have bubbling in the finish. I do not understand why this is happening. Can anyone explain this to me and provide advice. Thanks.
  • PRO
    Devix Kitchens
    last year

    Like this ? Probably painting defect - too much hardener.

  • Jo
    last year
    I cannot open the link you sent me, so I am attaching a picture of the split, and the bubbling. Thank you.
  • Jo
    last year
    Try that again
  • Jo
    last year
    I am having difficulty posting pictures.
  • PRO
    Devix Kitchens
    last year

    Looks like a crack of paint or mdf, hard to tell why its there. Maybe you hit it accidentally or it was damaged before painting.

    The other pictures, looks like some imperfections, they might have been there from the beginning.

    Just ask your cabinet maker to repaint.

  • Jo
    last year
    If I understand MDF then there should be no cracks on a one piece door - is that correct? Then could it be the finishing as you mentioned before? They have replaced some of the doors but now they have changed their policy. They will only do something if you can see the crack or imperfection from 3 feet away. They told me that they have done research and that this is the industry standard. They told me that these are not meant to be perfect. What would you suggest? Thanks.
  • PRO
    Devix Kitchens
    last year
    last modified: last year

    There should be no cracks.

    MDF can be damaged, before or after finishing, so its hard to tell when did it crack.

    but IF "these are not meant to be perfect" than that's it - they wont replace it.

    I guess different companies have different quality standards.


    Our doors are meant to be perfect - If I had notices these bubbles or dots during QC inspection I would have had them repainted even before leaving the factory.

    https://www.devixkitchens.ca/fullscreen-page/comp-jkms32zl/a7b83dac-4ae7-466c-8f10-093080b9bb04/24/%3Fi%3D24%26p%3Dul77n%26s%3Dstyle-jkms3n7e

    https://www.devixkitchens.ca/fullscreen-page/comp-jkms32zl/a7b83dac-4ae7-466c-8f10-093080b9bb04/24/%3Fi%3D24%26p%3Dul77n%26s%3Dstyle-jkms3n7e

  • Jo
    last year
    Thank you so much - you have been very helpful.
  • A Haq
    last year

    We are being offered full MDF cabinet doors (very thick) as a new last minute option - instead of wood (poplar) with wooden back supports to prevent warping (initial option). we are told this is because some of our doors in design are 45 inches high and could warp even with supports. We live in Texas.

    Our contractor strongly suggests we use MDF but I am worried about dinging after reading post & don't like the feel of MDF he has left with us to look at personally - looks cheap to me - we are painting all doors a flat color ( most white, some a darker color on island and butler's pantry). Since our door is not Shaker style (just a flat slab panel look) is MDF the right choice for us (We don't have a seam for Shaker to worry about )? Insides of cabinets are solid wood not particle board. Also no price difference offered and we are being rushed on a decision. Is this normal for MDF doors to be same price as a full poplar reinforced door? Contractor is a big fan of wood so I am assuming he's sincere in his recommendation but feeling like it's a big decision to make overnight!

  • von1000
    last year

    The weight of the substrate makes laminate cabinets heavier than those made of wood. Some contractors won’t go with MDF uppers that are over a certain height. 45 is tall. Will the hinges they use support the heavier weight? Our contractor suggested that if we went with MDF we select shaker style with frosted glass interior as this made them lighter In weight. That is what we did. Ask about the weight and hinges.

  • PRO
    Devix Kitchens
    last year
    last modified: last year

    The height Doesn’t matter, just more hinges.

    45 is NOT a tall door , 3 Blum hinges will handle it no problem. Never heard of a back support for a door. Maybe we do things differently, here , in Canada. We use Poplar for baseboards :)

    For doors - Maple, Oak, or MDF

  • PRO
    Devix Kitchens
    last year
    last modified: last year

    You can always contact Blum.com and ask how many hinges you need for a certain size.

    As for the wood vs mdf price - almost no difference for maple vs mdf (if painted on BOTH sides )

    $100,000 Italian kitchens go with MDF flat doors.

  • von1000
    last year

    The standard height of an overhead cabinet is 30 inches, but 36-inch or 42-inch tall cabinets are available to allow you to extend the cabinets to the ceiling to maximize storage space. I think this is industry standard, and that there can be warping with excessive height, despite extra hinges.

  • PRO
    Devix Kitchens
    last year

    36" or 46" or 56" or 90" or even 120"- or anything else in between, in custom cabinets - all depends on the design and the ceiling height.


    In my experience - never seen any warping, and we did a lot of 80"-96" pantry doors and other sizes too. There is no difference apart from the size between a 90" pantry door and a 30" upper door.


    BUT, cheap MDF can be like a banana shape (I mean 4*8 itself), and if you use it for doors, they would be like a banana too, which could be called warping.


    Check all good kitchen companies and their designs:


    https://downsviewkitchens.com/collection/a-gathering-place/

    https://www.pedini.it/

    etc

    I have seen many of high-kitchens installed and I have never seen any reinforcement or warping there.


    Or Check this http://www.blacklabarchitects.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/DSC05306-2288x1525.jpg


    I friend of mine did these cabinets - there are around 20 pantry doors ranging 60" to 90" H and up to 35" Wide, no warping there.




  • A Haq
    last year
    last modified: last year

    Thanks for the input. I think we will go for the poplar wood with back reinforcements as our option.

    The MDF sample is a very heavy/thick material and I am also concerned about hinges/stability. on our cabinets which go to ceiling height. I do think MDF may take our white and dark paints better, but I am still okay with painted wood.

    Plus still concerned about dings/nicks on lowers for MDF with kids using cabinets - so will live with any longer term risk of some warping - but not very concerned about it due to well controlled climate in our kitchen.

    Thanks!

    (Also in my research all the new information on emissions and emission standards changing for MDF are what really scared me off. Have two young kids - don't want off-gassing or other longer term air quality issues from the MDF to impact us especially where we sit and eat! )

  • Jo
    last year
    I am very interested in your comments about emissions. Have there been changes made to try to decrease this?
  • Mary Black
    last year

    Following about emissions.

    I am considering a brand called Siteline.

  • PRO
    Devix Kitchens
    last year

    There are different types of MDF.

    There are:

    Regular MDF

    Paint-grade MDF

    Water-resistant MDF

    formaldehyde free MDF

    https://www.columbiaforestproducts.com/product/mdf/

    https://www.uniboard.com/en/our-environmental-mdf-products

    http://www.roseburg.com/UserFiles/Library/Roseburg_2018_SCS-NAF-01329_s_v2.pdf

    and more.


    A custom kitchen can be made of any of these MDF boards + zero-voc plywood

  • Christina
    last year

    So where does the formaldehyde free MDF fit in among the paint-grade and water-resistant options? Ideally I would want MDF that is both formaldehyde free, water-resistant and paintable... Does this exist?

  • PRO
    Maraya Interior Design
    last year

    Mdf is fine, unless the cabinet company is not offering sharp corners on all of it's moldings- meaning the ogees are routered instead of cut and pieced together in a 5 piece door or drawer front. Mdf will hold up better when painted. the only reason you would use real wood is if you want stain, otherwise use mdf, it is more stable. for a nicer paint finish, have a painter finish it on site, or at the cabinet makers, don't use a factory finish.

  • live_wire_oak
    last year
    last modified: last year

    You have it exactly backwards. For a nicer finish, you want factory finish, not house paint, and certainly not site finished. Bugs and dust are low end, not high end.

  • PRO
    D & G Custom Cabinetry
    11 months ago

    I just happened to see your title and it hit a part of the industry I have been dealing with for some time. I am 30 years into this trade and have worked on some of the biggest projects out . I have been doing for a few years a part of this industry that should have a job title but will not for a few years . I have seen the decline in talent lost to computers and now an industry struggling and waiting for computers to do what used to be better and faster the old timers way. I have developed the best cabinet made for my high end jobs. we used to do $200k kitchens and then some. Everyone tries to save a dollar that in the end wasn't worth the savings. i gave my clients the absolute best . Not just the outside finish like the Italians do for top dollars. I believe in the whole box hardware and exterior done the absolute best to last the lifetime of that project. The cabinets I built will outlast their door stiles and can be refaces with new doors many times over. Your question of MDF vs wood has tons of variables. I did not read all the answers you received and I am sure there are many professionals with good answers. I have come across very few people in the past 10 years that can look at the whole industry and point out where the biggest problem is. The bigger the place the more out of control,l it seems to be. You just happened to ask a question that hit a spot I have been educating people on for years. If you still want to talk about this I would be more then happy to give you some of my insight on this. before retiring or actually getting away from being hands on due to injuries I was starting to put a program together to work with wounded veterans and teach this industry. There is so much missing on the front end of this industry and I would love to teach our worriers a trade that is hurting for knowledge and after 30 years of watching a trade I love start imploding on itself after the computer age and again after 2008 the quality of talent and just caring for quality just seemed to disappear. I am still in line to start a worrier built program but I strongly believe in doing everything right. Anyone on this post will agree with me that every wood behaves differently in different climates and scenarios. I would be happy to talk more about your question. For example this is how this question of yours can vary. take shaker doors painted white. Any wood style and rail or mitered shaker painted white will crack in the joints over time. Unless they are mechanically fastened and plugged which is way too much work. I used to make a perfect shaker door on a CNC that will never crack or grow and shrink from humidity. i wrote programs on older technology machines where just changing the door size in the header would change your whole program. I have the newer machines and always go back to my older machines. People have forgotten that the fastest way to any jobs is still a straight line. Do not get boxed in with labels and pretty papers on a one of job. As you can tell I can go on with this . Old school , computer age and back to old school has opened this industry for people stuck in tunnel vision. You would find many owners of mid size companies who built their business based on their personal talent and struggling to walk away without giant mistakes. Those are the guys that have the knowledge and experience. They are few and far apart and I am pretty sure they would agree with me. You want the perfect cabinet I will tell you if you are still interested.

  • von1000
    11 months ago

    Thank you for inquiry as to whether or not want the perfect cabinet. Just moved into a house that was previously owned by a kitchen designer so we are all set. But my friend from Denmark, now retired, was an “old school” custom cabinet maker who made everything in his shop. From years of observing him at work, I realize, like you said, yours is an ever changing industry. Regards, Von1000

  • mdefree
    6 months ago
    last modified: 6 months ago

    Hands down, I would buy maple wood for my kitchen cabinets! Maple is the best wood for a kitchen because it has a very high Janka score. The higher janka score the more scratch resistant and dent proof it will be. It will look brand new in 15 years.

    Maple is the product you want! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! It looks amazing painted! Cherry does too, but why pay extra money for painted cabinets on cherry. Plus, American cherry scratches easily than maple. The only wear from my kitchen is by the sink and dishwasher. Being that they are outdated, I have a light orange stained maple cabinets. I am having my large kitchen sprayed white by a professional cabinet maker who specializes in just this expertise. The paint that is being used is as durable as car paint. New paint on orange maple looks like brand new again. The cost for my large kitchen is 10,000 to have it painted and that is a lot cheaper than having them replaced for 45,000 or refaced for 25,000!

    All kitchens will wear and tear from use and some will show signs quicker than others. I cook a lot and use my kitchen everyday. The wear and tear that is seen is showing by the dishwasher and sink.

    I would definitely go with maple and not MDF because it allows you the option to repaint and fix later down the road which is inevitable. I think maple is definitely a better long term investment than MDF (manufactured density fiberboard) material. Why would anyone want to pay money for particle board that is glued together.