Plywood is the go-to cabinetry material for many woodworkers. Although some types of solid wood and engineered wood products also make strong, beautiful cabinets, plywood is stronger-pound for pound than most of these materials and more affordable.
Moreover, it is lightweight, highly workable, and easy to finish. Read on to find the best plywood for cabinets and discover other important qualities when shopping for cabinetry plywood.
Best Plywood for Cabinets
The best plywood for cabinets is Oak. This plywood is hard, has a high strength-to-weight ratio, and is resistant to wrapping. Oak also has a beautiful natural grain that will add character to your cabinets. It gives plywood panels a natural beauty must like oak lumber.
Plywood is an engineered wood product. “Engineered wood” refers to man-made products created in factories by binding pieces of real wood, scrap wood, and shredded wood fibers.
Types of Plywood for Cabinets
There are more than a dozen ways to classify plywood sheets. However, for the purposes of cabinetry, it’s best to identify plywood as either softwood, hardwood, or special-purpose.
Softwood plywood is made from evergreen, gymnosperm trees. Common options include cedar plywood, pine plywood, and redwood plywood. Douglas fir and spruce are also popular softwood trees used to make plywood.
Hardwood plywood is made from deciduous angiosperm trees. The most common candidate is birch. Baltic birch plywood is particularly in high demand.
However, other alternatives include oak plywood, maple plywood cabinets, mahogany plywood, and walnut plywood.
Special-purpose plywood is plywood designed and manufactured for targeted purposes. So, they’re less about the source of the wood (hardwood or softwood trees) and more about achieving certain strength, durability, weather resistance, and other targets.
Common specialty plywood categories include lumber core plywood, overlaid plywood, exterior plywood, marine plywood, construction plywood, and cabinet-grade plywood.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Plywood Cabinets
You can make cabinets and cabinet boxes using many different materials, from solid wood to MDF, particle board, and PVC panels. However, plywood cabinetry stands out for several reasons;
- It’s very strong and durable
- Plywood is flexible and customizable
- Excellent finishing properties
- It is affordable
- It’s readily available
- High dimensional stability (minimal warping/shrinking)
- It’s difficult to cut and mold
- It is not water/moisture-resistant
- It’s more expensive than other engineered wood products
What’s Cabinet-Grade Plywood?
The term “cabinet-grade plywood” mainly refers to any hardwood plywood that you can use in the production of cupboards or furniture cabinetry.
The sheets are mostly made from Oak, maple, and cherry though birch and mahogany are also popular choices. The following are a few factors that determine the quality of cabinet-grade plywood.
The first qualifying factor for cabinet-grade plywood is the quality of the veneer surface. The quality of the veneer and the type of wood from which it’s made determine whether the plywood is good enough for cabinet making.
However, other factors, such as thickness, core type, and curves are just as important. Below is what you need to know.
Cabinet-grade plywood comes in thicknesses from 1/4 inch to 3/4 inch. Most manufacturers prefer thicker plywood for greater durability and strength.
Thicker plywood sheets are also stiffer. Meanwhile, the thinner plies are mostly used in furniture, such as dressers. The drawer bottoms are the only place 1/4 inch thick plywood may be used in cabinetry.
However, it also depends on the type of cabinet. Cabinets built to hold heavier items typically use 1/2 inch and 3/8 inch plywood for the drawer bottoms.
Cabinet sides are typically made from 1/2 inch plywood, while the drawer fronts are made from 3/4 inch plywood. Most people prefer to use solid wood for the frames. However, you can use 3/4 inch plywood for regular framing.
Besides thickness, the plywood core layers are also critical. Several core materials are available, each with unique properties and qualities;
Veneer core plywood is the industry standard. These plywood sheets comprise an odd number of layers (3-11) laid 90 degrees from each other.
The higher the number of layers, the greater the plywood quality. Unfortunately, it’s easy for imperfections to show up on veneer core plywood face layers.
Fiber core plywood sheets use a single Medium Density Fiberboard core, producing a strong, stable panel that’s easy to machine. Moreover, fiber core plywood sheets have superior front and back finishes. But, unfortunately, they’re heavy.
Pro-core plywood sheets
Pro-core plywood sheets are a new product available from a small section of manufacturers. The core combines hardwood veneer and MDF layers for exceptional structural strength and smooth surfaces on both faces.
The veneer core makes up the innermost core while MDF is right under the face veneer.
Particle board core (PBC) plywood is similar to MDF plywood, except that particleboard replaces the MDF core. So, it also provides a very smooth surface for finishing. The only drawback is that it’s not as strong as MDF core plywood.
The lumber core plywood sheet is a five-ply construction. The lumber core itself comprises three edge-glued lumber strips (hardwood cores) up to two inches thick.
Then two thin veneers sit on either side of the lumber core. It’s very strong plywood with great resistance to warping, twisting, and buckling.
Many manufacturers also offer what’s known as decorative or “fancy” veneer plywood. As the name suggests, decorative veneer plywood is more beautiful than ordinary plywood.
It’s often made from good-looking hardwood veneers, such as Oak, Ash, White Oak, Sapele, walnut, beech, etc., for a striking appearance. So, it’s another consideration when shopping for cabinet-grade plywood.
The only downside is that fancy veneer plywood is more expensive than ordinary. However, you can request the fancy veneer on just one side of the plywood to minimize costs.
Traditionally functional rectangular-shaped boxes with 90-degree corners all around, cabinets have evolved into decorative items that define living spaces.
As a result, sharp edges are making way for sleeker curves for a more seamless space transition. Keep this in mind when shopping for cabinet plywood.
If you desire a more modern cabinet with a few curved edges, you should consider more flexible plywood that bends along the short or long grain. Columbus Radius plywood is one of the best sources of “bendable” plywood.
Many manufacturers sell “bending” plywood with no face or back to give you greater freedom to overlay or apply a facade for the optimal appearance.
Other Factors to Consider When Shopping for Cabinet Plywood
Four other factors to consider are the plywood grade, size, number of plies, and finishing properties.
Cabinet Plywood Grades
Plywood grades refer to the physical appearance of the plywood sheet. There are four broad grades of plywood for cabinets;
Grade A Plywood
Grade A plywood is free of defects on both the face and back veneer. They are also characterized by smooth, sanded surfaces with virtually no knots.
This plywood grade is ideal for surfaces meant to be seen as opposed to those typically covered by another material. For instance, it’s excellent for cabinet doors.
Grade B Plywood
Grade B plywood is also of very high quality. The plywood sheets are sanded smooth and have few back defects and even fewer face veneer defects.
However, they comprise large visible or invisible areas that have been patched and filled up. So, they’re best for surfaces that won’t be seen.
Grade C Plywood
Grade C plywood is also known as standard plywood. The plywood sheets aren’t too poor. However, they are unsanded and characterized by knows up to 1 1/2 inches wide, giving them a poor visual impression. They also feature large swathes of patch-ups.
Grade D Plywood
Grade D plywood is the lowest quality of plywood. These are unsanded sheets with knot holes up to 2 1/2 inches wide and visible patches.
Like grade B and C sheets, you should only consider Grade D plywood for applications where the plywood won’t be visible.
Plywood is generally available in three sizes;
- 4 x 4 feet
- 4 x 8 feet
- 4 x 9 feet
However, don’t worry about the length. You can ask the lumber store to cut it into predefined sizes as you with. Many stores are happy to cut plywood for free, though you may pay a small fee after a specific number of cuts.
The other thing to keep in mind is that not all stores measure plywood in inches. Some use millimeters instead. So, you must know how to convert the measurements. Always measure your sheets before you leave the store.
Related Post: 1/2 vs 3/4 Plywood for Cabinets. Which Is Better?
The Number of Plies
We’ve already discussed plywood thickness. However, it’s perhaps just as important to understand why some plywood sheets are thicker than others. The reason is the number of plies (typically wood veneers) in the plywood panel.
For instance, 3-ply plywood comprises three veneers glued onto each other, while 5-ply plywood has five veneer panels. Fortunately, you can easily check the plywood edges to determine how many veneer panels it has.
Finally, you also want to keep finishing in mind as you shop for cabinetry plywood. One shortcut you can consider is prefinished plywood. Prefinished plywood sheets result in a more consistent product. Additionally, you save labor and costs.
However, most woodworkers prefer to finish cabinetry themselves. So, find out whether you can paint, stain, or varnish the plywood. Fortunately, cabinet-grade plywood accepts a wide range of wood finishes.
Related: What Kind of Paint to Use on Plywood?
Cabinet Grade Plywood Panel
Check out this paint grade cabinet plywood
- Single piece of Baltic Birch Plywood,18mm - 3/4" x 24" x 32"
- B-BB Grade - one face will not have splices or patches
- Exceptional strength
- Great screw holding power
Which is better for cabinets, MDF or plywood?
Many cabinet installers prefer plywood over MDF cabinets because the material is easier to handle. Moreover, plywood is stronger per pound than MDF; thus, manufacturers need less material to achieve the same strength. Yet, plywood is lighter!
What’s the right cabinet plywood thickness?
We recommend 1/4 inch plywood for the cabinet back unless the back supports the cabinet’s weight. In that case, use 1/2 inch plywood sheets. Meanwhile, consider 1/2 inch plywood for the drawer sides, fronts, and backs, and 1/2 inch sheets for drawer bottoms. You can use 3/8-inch plywood sheets for the doors.
Can you finish veneer plywood?
Yes, veneer sheets are real wood. Therefore, you can finish (seal, varnish, stain) them the same way you stain and finish real wood surfaces. We recommend staining the veneer sheets after gluing. However, you can also finish them before gluing if you wish.
What’s the best plywood for kitchen cabinets?
The best plywood for kitchen cabinets is hard marine plywood. This kitchen cabinet plywood is strong and lasts a long time. But, more importantly, marine plywood is water and moisture-resistant, making it perfect for wet environments. It is also resistant to wood borers and other pests.
What’s the best plywood for cabinet doors?
The best plywood for cabinet doors is 3/8-inch Oak or birch hardwood plywood. However, it’s best to use solid wood or MDF for the cabinet doors because they’re heavier and stronger. Excellent solid wood choices for cabinet doors are poplar, maple, alder, pine, and birch.
What is the best plywood for drawers?
The best plywood for cabinet drawers is 1/4 inch sheets, though you can use 1/2 inch plywood on large drawers for greater stability and strength. The plywood material doesn’t matter much; any material that you can use on the cabinet body can be used to make the drawers.
What is the best plywood for cabinet carcass?
The carcass, or framework onto which the doors, are hung and drawers fitted, must be strong to ensure a sturdy, durable cabinet. Therefore, you should strongly consider solid wood for the frame. However, consider decorative plywood sheets if you must use plywood for the carcass.
What is cabinet grade plywood?
Cabinet grade plywood is a type of plywood that is typically used for cabinets and furniture. Cabinet quality plywood is made with an extremely high quality veneer. The veneer is usually mahogany, Oak, or cherry wood. This type of plywood is used for cabinets, high-end furniture, and other expensive applications because it has a very smooth surface and a high-quality finish.
What is the best wood for cabinet boxes?
Poplar is one of the best all-around choices for plywood cabinet boxes. It is durable, stable, and much less expensive than most hardwoods. Moreover, poplar is very easy to work with and has an attractive straight, uniform grain pattern and a beautiful creamy white to yellow, tan, or brown color.
What is the best plywood for painting?
MDF or birch plywood are the best paintable plywoods, as they provide a smooth surface that is ideal for painting. If you are using MDF, be sure to seal it first by priming it with an oil-based primer. Birch plywood is also a good option and can be primed and painted without any sealing. Just be sure to sand it down first to create a smooth surface.
MDF is typically more affordable than birch, so if cost is a concern when looking for plywood for painted cabinets, then MDF may be the best option for you.
What Plywood to Use for Cabinets Summary
Plywood is one of the best materials for cabinet making. It’s strong, durable, and affordable. More importantly, plywood is lightweight and highly workable.
However, finding the right plywood for your cabinetry project is critical. Cabinet-grade plywood is the best plywood for cabinets.