Is It Particle Board or Not?

I’ve built custom cabinets for almost 20 years, so this is the part of a kitchen remodel I love the best. Of course, I build all my cabinets from plywood. I have a particular fondness for oak, because I just love the smell when I’m cutting it.

And, while I do love solid wood cabinets, don’t think you’re giving up quality by choosing a manufactured cabinet. A lot of people confuse the material on some manufactured cabinets with particle board, so take a moment to find out exactly what you’re buying.

Pull a pre-fab cabinet off the shelf at any discount warehouse and chances are good it’s nothing but glorified particle board. The description may say something like “Wood Grain Simulation” or something similar. If you look closely, it’s usually just contact paper plastered over particle board. They’re okay for the workshop or maybe the garage, but not your kitchen.

When I think about a manufactured cabinet, I don’t ever recommend the “Off-the-Shelf” special. Quality manufacturers like Merillat, KraftMaid and American Woodmark are worth looking into. When you order manufactured cabinets from the home center or kitchen showroom that are built specifically for your home’s design, you’ll typically have three construction options for the cabinet boxes:

    • The basic line uses furniture board or engineered wood. This is the stuff that looks like particle board, but it uses a polyurethane resin to adhere the wood particles making it a very sturdy waterproof board. To be honest, in some ways it’s superior to plywood, but I personally don’t like seeing it on a visible end panel. If you need to trim your budget some, look into getting the basic line for everywhere except end panels.
    • The mid-grade boxes are furniture board with a wood veneer on the exterior side. Still excellent quality and a true wood look and feel.
  • Top of the line would be solid ply boxes.

The boxes of the basic line, in my opinion, are fine for most kitchen applications. Beyond that, I like to step-up the quality of the drawer boxes. Make sure you get dovetail joints and, if possible, full-extension drawer guides.

The important thing to remember with manufactured cabinets is to make sure you’re using a company with a good reputation and don’t be afraid to ask about the grade of furniture board they use in their manufacturing process.

There’s so much more to talk about to make a basic line look amazing, like door end panels, rope molding and furniture legs . . . but I’ll save that for another post!


  1. I totally agree with your article. I own a custom cabinet shop but also sell premade stock cabinets as well as high end lines of custom factory made cabinets. The price Range of the custom factory made cabinets I sell is about 25% – 30% higher than the custom cabinets that I make, and the quality of the cabinets are about the same except for the finish. Hands down no one can beat a quality factory made cabinet finish. I always have a hard time convincing clients that the custom factory cabinets are of good quality because some of the boxes are made from furniture board which looks and appears to be particle board to the client. I do prefer solid wood cabinets myself. I guess its just an old man in the shop attitude but do understand that MDF can be better for many reasons. Its usually finishes better as well as very little to no warpage. My advice, get educated on the products that your buying before making a purchase. There is a difference in a quality cabinet and a cabinet from China.

  2. I bought a 3 section media center (furniture) at Habitat. It is particle board with veneer and wood stain. The 3 sections stack for 85″ height. The base is 42W*16H*15deep. Dimensions:
    all 42″ wide
    base: 24Deep * 15 H
    midsection: 15 deep * 42 H
    top: 15 deep * 28 H
    I want to refashion the mid & top sections to wall cubbies by attaching a bottom board to each. Each would be attached
    near the ceiling in two bedrooms. I was told particle board does not work being refashioned into other furniture. Should I forget about doing this?

  3. In the 70s i built a den and for the walls used press board. Now I want to dress the press board up. We painted it but is there anything else I can do to dress these walls up. This is a rent home so I don’t want to put a lot of money in it.

  4. What do you think of the Dura Supreme Kitchen Cabinet line? My design/build firm I am working with wants me to use this brand. They also sell Mid-Continent but are not pushing that as supposedly not as good. Love to hear your opinion.

  5. Hi:

    What would you reccomend in between option of Durasupreme cabinets vs shiloh’s eclipse range. I am torn in between solid wood cabinets vs particleboard cabinets with solid fronts

  6. I have 25 year old Merillat cabinets and vanities in my house, the fronts are very good oak fronts(drawers and doors) but the body is of a man made boxes with a overlay of some kind of paper cover, I would like to keep my front frames and have plywood boxes made.
    Is this worth the dollars to make the changes for either staying or sell ?

    • Hi, Vernon!
      Merillat has been making cabinets since 1946 and is an institution. The fronts are undoubtedly high quality, but it sounds like you’re not happy with the boxes. While only you know your budget, your uneasiness with the inferior boxes will not wane in time, so if the budget allows, go for it!
      Thanks for visiting


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