Today, most cabinets are made from plywood or particle board. The two materials are lightweight, strong, and readily available. Moreover, plywood and particle board cabinets are stylish and affordable.
In particular, plywood cabinets are very popular. The advantages of plywood over solid wood for cabinet construction include environment-friendliness, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness.
Unfortunately, choosing the right plywood can be a massive challenge, given the complexities in plywood categorization. So, we’ve compiled this guide to help you understand the between 1/2 vs 3/4 plywood for cabinets.
1/2 vs 3/4 Plywood for Cabinets
We recommend 3/4 inch or 5/8 inch plywood for cabinets if you intend to use European-style hinges. However, to save money, you can use 1/2 inch plywood for face frame cabinets. Finally, use 1/4 inch plywood for standard cabinet backs or 1/2 inch sheets for cabinet backs that support the cabinet weight.
Why is Plywood Thickness Important?
Thickness is critical because it impacts nearly every aspect of the cabinetry project. For instance, the type of hinges you intend to use directly determines the plywood sizes you can use.
Similarly, you need thicker plywood in areas where you intend to use screws rather than wood glue. The cabinet design/style is another important factor.
For instance, are you building a horizontal or vertical cabinet? You need thicker plywood sheets for horizontal cabinets as there’s a greater risk of sagging.
Most importantly, thickness and the cabinet’s weight-bearing capacity go hand in hand; you need thicker, stronger sheets in weight-bearing areas.
So, consider how you intend to use the cabinet. For instance, it’s wise to use thicker sheets in the drawer bottoms if the drawers will hold a significant load.
So, in the end, the thickness of your plywood sheets determines the durability of the cabinet. Thicker plywood boards make more durable cabinets.
Read Also: Types of Plywood for Cabinets
Understanding Plywood Sizes
Let’s begin by understanding standard plywood sizes before comparing 1/2 inch versus 3/4 inch plywood sheets.
Although you can order plywood in specialty sizes, a standard sheet of plywood measures 4 x 8 feet (width x length), with varying thicknesses. However, 2 x 2 feet plywood, 2 x 4 feet sheets, and 4 x 4-foot sheets are also common.
Moreover, utility plywood is available in long sheets. For example, 4 x 10-foot plywood sheets aren’t uncommon. Similarly, you can easily find 5-foot wide utility plywood sheets ranging from 6-10 feet.
Meanwhile, plywood thicknesses range from 1/8 inch to 5/4 (1 1/4) inches, depending on where you’re buying. However, 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch thicknesses are the most common.
Nominal vs Actual Thickness
Unfortunately, there’s a slight complication in plywood thickness measurements, which often means you’ll rarely get what the label says.
In other words, a 1/2 inch plywood sheet may not necessarily be 1/2 an inch thick. The same applies to 3/4-inch sheets. Actual plywood thicknesses vary for different reasons.
First, as it dries, wood shrinks. This happens to all types of wood and wood products. Therefore, a fully dried 1/2 inch plywood sheet is thinner.
The second reason is manufacturing tolerances. Generally, plywood sheets are available in softwood and hardwood varieties and in different grades.
More importantly, some sheets are sanded while others are sold unsanded. Sanding happens during manufacturing and can remove up to 1/32 of an inch from the plywood material.
As a result, a 3/8 inch thick plywood sheet can transform to an 11/32 inch sheet after sanding. Why is this important? Because you may not find 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch plywood when shopping. Instead, you’ll find slightly thinner sheets.
For instance, instead of 1/2 inch plywood, you may find 15/32 inch sheets. These are essentially the same things. So, don’t waste time searching for 1/2-inch thick sheets.
Similarly, instead of 3/4 inch, you may find 23/32 inch sheets. Again, the two are technically the same.
Read: Actual 2×8 dimensions
1/2 Inch vs 3/4 Inch Plywood
We now understand plywood sizes better, including standard and actual/nominal sizes. So, which one should you use between 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch plywood sheets?
Most builders opt for 3/4 inch plywood for cabinetry projects. This is because 3/4 plywood offers greater strength and durability.
Nevertheless, some choose 1/2-inch sheets because of weight and price concerns. The following considerations should help you make the right choice.
When to Use 1/2 Inch Plywood
First, we recommend 1/2-inch plywood sheets for cabinet doors, drawer sides, and bottoms. You can also use them on cabinet backs for wall cabinets whose backs go against the wall, plain front plywood doors, and framed/frame cabinets.
These parts rarely bear much weight. Cabinet sides, in particular, don’t carry any weight at all. So, you can use very thin sheets here. Secondly, you may also consider 1/2 inch plywood when trying to cut costs.
Unfortunately, the price differences can be significant. For instance, in most states, a 1/2 inch thick 4×8 Sandeply hardwood plywood sheet costs $33.87.
Meanwhile, a 3/4 inch thick 4×8 Sandeply hardwood plywood sheet costs $43.97. So, the cost difference can be huge in a large project.
Opting for 1/2 inch plywood instead of 3/4 inch sheets in such circumstances may allow you to work within your budget. Finally, feel free to use 1/2 inch plywood when using strong plywood varieties, such as baltic birch plywood.
Baltic birch plywood comprises twice as many plies as standard plywood, making it strong, durable, and with a better capacity to hold screws. Moreover, it’s made from birchwood, not MDF or particle board.
Downsides of 1/2-Inch Plywood
However, as you use 1/2 inch plywood, beware of the downsides. Generally, 1/2 inch plywood is thinner and weaker than other cabinet-grade wood plywood sheets. So, it doesn’t make durable cabinets.
Secondly, how many plies can a 1/2 inch plywood sheet hold? Unfortunately, not many. Although the strongest 1/2 inch plywood sheets consist of four plies, most 1/2 inch plywood sheets comprise only three.3-ply plywood is not considered cabinet-grade.
Lastly, can you sand 1/2 inch plywood? The short answer is – yes. However, any expert will tell you it’s not a very good idea. So, avoid 1/2 inch sheets if you intend to sand the surfaces.
When to Use 3/4 Inch Plywood
Ideally, you should consider 3/4 plywood for all your cabinetry projects. It’s stronger, more durable, and offers greater flexibility.
However, it’s completely understandable to consider it only for special projects since 3/4 inch plywood is expensive. In that case, we recommend 3/4 plywood first and foremost for kitchen cabinets.
Making kitchen cabinets with 1/2 inch plywood is shortsighted and can be very costly in the long run. Similarly, using 3/4 inch plywood for simple storage cabinets is best as these units hold significant weight.
Secondly, even if you choose 1/2 inch sheets for the rest of the cabinet, always use 3/4 inch boards for the cabinet sides. Remember that the entire cabinet weight rests on the sides, which transfer the weight to the feet. So, you need very strong sides.
Finally, 3/4-inch plywood is ideal for frameless cabinets. Some experts recommend even thicker sheets for frameless cabinet constructions. However, 3/4 inch sheets offer the best thickness, weight, and strength balance.
Downsides of 3/4 Inch Plywood
The primary concern around 3/4 inch plywood is cost. Unfortunately, 3/4 inch plywood doesn’t come cheap. A quick check shows that even 3/4-inch softwood plywood sheets cost $20+ whereas you can find 1/2 inch sheets for $13 or less.
The other concern is plywood weight. Many 3/4 inch plywood brands are heavy, which causes mobility issues and difficulties during construction. Therefore, some woodworkers may opt for 1/2 inch sheets in some projects as they’re lighter.
Remember that heavier plywood translates to heavier cabinets. Therefore, a portable cabinet made from 3/4 inch plywood may be bulky and difficult to move around.
Tips to Build Sturdier Cabinets with 1/2-Inch Plywood
So, what happens if you can only find 1/2 inch plywood or if 3/4 inch plywood is beyond your budget? You may have no otherwise but to make do with 1/2 inch plywood. Here are a few tips for building sturdier cabinets with 1/2 inch plywood.
- Use lumber core plywood: Lumber core plywood consists of thicker hardwood strips, typically obtained from basswood, glued up into a larger panel, forming a strong, durable sheet of plywood.
- Add braces for horizontal cabinets: Braces provide additional strength to support the weight of your cabinet. That’s why you can use 1/4 inch plywood for the cabinet if you use braces.
How to Buy Plywood that Suits Your Project
You can tell from the foregoing discussion that the “right” plywood thickness comes down to the specifics of your project and the type of plywood.
So, instead of focusing on the 1/2 inch vs. 3/4 inch debate, you should instead focus on finding strong and durable plywood for your needs. Unfortunately, thickness is just one of the four main factors that affect plywood strength. The other three are;
The number of layers
Plywood comprises thin layers glued together to form a strong sheet. For instance, 3-ply plywood comprises three thin sheets. Therefore, the higher the number of layers, the stronger the finished sheet.
Generally, 3-ply and 4-ply plies are shop-grade, cheap plywood. So, it’s best to shop in the 4-7-ply range. These are very strong plywood sheets that make durable cabinets and furniture.
Every layer adds about 5psf of load capacity. Unfortunately, 8-ply+ or higher plywood sheets are generally impractical.
Here’s how to glue plywood together to add more layers.
Besides the thickness and number of layers, consider the wood species used to make the plywood sheets. Generally, softwood plywood is cheaper but weak and not very durable. So, if you’re looking for the right type of wood for kitchen cabinets, we recommend hardwood plywood.
Finally, consider the direction of the grain. In the strongest plywood sheets, grains (the lines running across the sheets) run down the length, not the width.
The main reason is that wood grains transfer load to the support. Therefore, you want plywood that’s strongest in the direction of the grain.
Related Post: How To Make Plywood Smooth And Shiny
What’s the right plywood thickness for cabinets
The right plywood thickness for cabinets varies. Generally, you can use any thickness from 5/32 inches and up for standard. However, we recommend a nominal 3/4 inch thickness for frameless cabinets, especially on the sides, tops, and bottoms.
1/2 or 3/4 plywood for drawers?
We recommend a 1/2 inch thickness for standard drawer box sides. However, 5/8 inch sheets are equally good if you can find them. They are stronger and more durable. For larger drawers or those designed to hold heavy items, consider 3/4 inch plywood sheets.
1/2 vs 3/4 plywood strength; Which is stronger?
Generally speaking, 3/4 inch plywood is stronger than 1/2 inch plywood because it’s thicker. Whereas 1/2 inch plywood can only support 35psf (pounds per square foot), 3/4 inch plywood can support up to 80psf. However, don’t forget that the number of layers (plies) is also important. More plies make plywood stronger.
1/2 vs 3/4 Plywood for Cabinets: Verdict
Generally, 3/4 inch plywood is stronger and more durable than 1/2 inch plywood. However, both are applicable in cabinetry. It all comes down to the type of project.
When to Use ½ Inch Plywood: We recommend ½-inch plywood for cabinet doors, drawer sides, and bottoms. When working on a tight budget, you can also use ½-inch plywood in framed cabinets.
When to Use ¾-Inch Plywood: We recommend 3/4-inch plywood for all standard cabinetry applications unless you’re keen to save costs. ¾-inch plywood is also the automatic choice for frameless cabinets.