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!