What is MDF?
MDF stands for Medium Density Fiberboard. You’re probably familiar with particleboard, where chips and scraps of other wood cuts are gathered together and pressed into a 4’x 8′ sheet. Now imagine that someone swept up all of the sawdust from those cuts, mixed it with strong binders, and pressed that into a 4′ x 8′ sheet. That’s MDF. (It’s actually a little more complicated than that, but that’s close enough.)
Because MDF is made up of such tiny pieces, there is no grain. Like particleboard, MDF has no knots. Unlike particleboard, MDF has no rough gaps or air pockets in its layers. What are some of the other advantages of MDF?
• Has a very smooth surface.
• Good for painting.
• May be used on cabinet door insets.
• Consistent appearance no matter how it’s cut.
• Cheaper than plywood.
• Edges don’t splinter with decorative cuts or routing.
Let’s look at some of the disadvantages.
• Because it’s made up of compressed sawdust, screws can strip out very easily.
• Can’t be stained. Not only does it just soak in, there’s no grain to be highlighted.
• Any liquid spilled on it causes it to swell and buckle.
With those disadvantages in mind, think of a kitchen: a run of cabinets, most likely stained to bring out the grain, with hardware, door hinges, and drawer guides screwed into place, and most activities in the space involving liquids of some sort. Many cabinet makers will try to balance cost and durability by using MDF as a substrate for a wood or melamine veneer, relying on the thin top panel to hold all of the screws, show off the finish, and protect the MDF from spills.
What is Melamine Veneer?
Melamine wood is a less expensive alternative to using traditional wood, but can also be easier to care for. Melamine is made up of a core product of particle board or medium density fiberboard (MDF). The core is then coated with paper that is bonded with a melamine resin.
Melamine comes in white, beige, or a wood grain color.
What is Plywood?
Plywood is basically stacked veneer panels, with the grains all running in different directions. It holds screws tightly, can be stained, hides scratches better, and won’t warp or swell if liquids are spilled on it.
The only real disadvantage to using plywood is that the edges can splinter during shaping, but those wouldn’t be installed in your kitchen, anyway.
When you think of the heavy use your kitchen is put to – the thousands of times doors and drawers are opened, the spills and splashes, the bumps and dropped items – you want your cabinets to hold up. Though more expensive initially, solid plywood cabinets maintain their beauty and durability over a longer period of time, which saves you money. Because you probably don’t want to remodel more than once.
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