The type of wood you choose can greatly impact the overall look and feel of your kitchen cabinets. Paint can easily enhance the appearance of any wood grain, but not all woods are suitable for painting.
Depending on your preference, some types of wood may be better than others for painted cabinets.
This guide will help you determine the best wood for painted cabinets by looking at nine of the most popular materials.
Which is the Best Wood for Painted Cabinets?
- Red birch
- Douglas fir
- Engineered wood
Advantages of Painted Cabinetry
Most people either paint or stain their cabinets. The following are a few reasons why you should consider painted cabinets;
- A clean, simple aesthetic: The classic all-white kitchen is a familiar scene in high-end homes, and for a good reason. It’s clean, simple, and modern. Unfortunately, you cannot achieve this look through staining; you must paint the cabinets. (Here’s how to paint cabinets professionally).
- Get all colorful: Painting allows you to play around with colors for greater customization and personalization.
- Paint hides character features: One of the biggest advantages of painting is that it hides not-so-pleasant wood character features, such as a rough finish, mineral streaks, and knots.
- Durability: Painting shields wood surfaces from damaging elements, such as moisture, water spills, and insects. It also reduces the likelihood of rotting and decay. As a result, wooden cabinets last longer.
What Makes Paint-Grade Wood?
Paint-grade wood is wood meant for painting. The best candidates are naturally smooth wood species, free of knots. Moreover, paint-grade woods are tight-grained.
Such surfaces provide a flat surface for paint. Engineered wood products, such as veneered surfaces, are excellent examples. They readily accept paint and are.
You can opt for stain-grade alternatives if you wish. Stain-grade items are meant for staining and are typically open-grain wood species.
Typically, paint-grade wood is sold as a rough finish, while stain-grade wood goes through the entire milling process.
Best Wood for Painted Cabinets
Although you can paint any wood species, not all paintable woods are ideal for cabinetry. The following are the nine best paintable wood types for cabinetry.
Maple is one of the best wood choices for cabinetry and the perfect choice for painted cabinets. This applies to either hard maple or soft maple. It’s a tight-grained hardwood with very few pores.
Soft maple is the go-to choice for many cabinet makers as it’s more affordable. Moreover, soft maple lacks wood grain and sands fast.
However, hard maple is an even better choice, budget-allowing. It’s hard (1450 lbf on the Janka scale), scratch-resistant, and incredibly durable. Above all, hard maple is smooth, rich, and luxurious.
- Hard maple is expensive
Cherry is widely considered the best wood for painted kitchen cabinets. Of course, many people prefer to stain their cherry cabinets to enjoy the view of the wood’s natural aesthetics, especially the smooth grain and rich reddish-brown hue.
However, painting is an option whenever you need to breathe new life into your cherry cabinets.
Beware that cherry, though smooth like maple, has tiny clusters of pin knots. Secondly, like oak and mahogany, cherry wood contains lots of tannins (natural oils). Fortunately, priming fixes both issues.
- Contains tannings
3. Red Birch
Red birch is considered one of the finest woods to paint. It takes paint well, giving off a beautiful finish if prepped properly. So, begin by sanding the surfaces with very fine sandpaper to remove the shine so that the paint sticks well.
Additionally, birch doesn’t require many paint coats. So, only apply two or three thin coats of paint, allowing each coat to dry for 24 hours before applying the next one.
- Red birch is expensive
Beech is a popular choice for cabinetry because of its subtle grain and texture. It’s also perfect for kitchen cabinets because its tight grain pattern makes it waterproof. However, few people love beech’s brown color on their cabinets. That’s where painting comes in handy.
Fortunately, beech is very easy to paint. But, do you paint the inside of cabinets? The most important thing is prepping. Make sure to sand the wood properly and wipe the sand dust before painting.
Then apply the first coat, wait for 24 hours to dry, and apply the second coat.
- It’s not moisture resistant
5. Douglas Fir
Douglas fir is considered one of the best wood for painted furniture. Of course, it’s also a great choice for wooden cabinets because it’s lightweight but strong and durable.
The light rosy-colored wood is also waterproof if pressure treated. One key advantage of using Douglas fir for painted cabinets is that it doesn’t require much prep work.
Like other softwoods, it only needs light sanding, and the surface is ready for painting.
In addition to being a fantastic choice for painting, Douglas fir takes well to staining. Its open grain structure absorbs stains beautifully, allowing for a range of customizable finishes that can enhance the wood’s natural beauty.
- It’s weaker than most hardwoods
Alder’s smooth texture, lack of heartwood/sapwood differentiation, and closed grain pattern make it a good candidate for painted furniture and cabinets. The smooth grain and even texture make it easy to paint and achieve a consistent finish on alder.
However, beware of two things. First, alder is not a very durable wood. It perishes much quicker than other woods. Secondly, alder absorbs more paint (and stain) than other paintable woods.
- Absorbs lots of paint
Pinewood is not the best wood for painting for DIYers. The endless knots often require heavy sanding before painting.
Moreover, beading is common in pine if the surface is not prepped properly or if you paint-treated pine too soon.
Nevertheless, it’s a top choice for painted cabinetry where experts are involved because it’s readily available, affordable, and lightweight.
Pine is also hard and durable. Most experts prefer to leave the treated wood for at least a year before painting to prevent beading.
- Beading is a common issue
Poplar is the best wood for cabinets in many places, including parts of the US. It is highly workable, takes cabinet screws and nails well, and saws with ease. It’s also easy to sand and is highly dimensionally stable.
The best part is that you can stain or paint poplar easily. It requires little prep work, and the fine grain pattern means it takes paint exceptionally. Painting protects poplar cabinets from dents and scratching and prolongs their lifespan.
- It dents easily
9. Engineered wood – best wood for painted cabinet doors
Finally, engineered wood also known as manufactured wood is one of the best wood for painted cabinet doors, with Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) and High-Density Fiberboard (HDF) as some of the best candidates.
MDF and HDF door panels are strong, lightweight, and durable. More importantly, HDF and MDF panels have smooth surfaces with no wood grain, making them an excellent choice when considering paint for MDF due to their even texture.
So, the surfaces don’t require sanding or significant prepping before painting. Plywood is another option. The best plywood for painted cabinets is known as cabinet-grade plywood.
- Engineered wood is not very strong
Woods to Avoid for Painted Cabinets
Generally, you should avoid open-grain woods for painted wood projects. Open-grained wood soaks up lots of paint. So, you may use an entire gallon on just a few surfaces. When using a 5-gallon bucket of paint, you’re likely to cover lesser than the normal 1500 sq ft.
Two types of wood to steer clear of for wooden painted cabinets are;
Oak has a very open-grain pattern, making it very difficult to paint. Although a few professionals have the experience to get a smooth paint finish out of it, priming oak is near impossible for beginners. Even with the best cabinet paint kit, the wood does not readily accept the primer, often requiring multiple coats and meticulous sanding to achieve a satisfactory result.
Unfortunately, this applies to both white oak and red oak.
Ash is another wood that’s very difficult to paint. Ash has an open wood grain just like oak. Therefore, it absorbs significant amounts of primer. Prepping the surface through sanding helps a little. However, be prepared for extensive sanding.
When choosing wood for painted cabinets, it’s advisable to avoid cedar due to its natural oils and potential bleed-through. Consider fir wood vs cedar for better paint adhesion and finish quality.
Here is a guide comparing commonly used cabinet woods: Maple vs Cherry Wood.
What is paint-grade wood?
Paint-grade wood offers a flat surface and is free from knots and heavy grain patterns. The soft surface and tight wood grain enable easy painting with excellent outcomes. Examples of paint-grade wood are maple, poplar, veneered plywood, and MDF.
What wood to use for cabinet doors?
The best wood for cabinet doors is tight-grained and easy to paint (or seal). A tighter grain requires less prepping when painting or sealing, a critical factor when choosing cabinet door materials. Therefore, some excellent wood to make doors for your cabinet are poplar, maple, alder, birch, and pine.
Should you use Alder or Pine for cabinets?
According to Nelson cabinetry, Alder is stronger and will last longer. Pine wood is a softer wood that can dent and scratch more easily, while alder is less prone to warping, making it a better option if you are looking for long-term durability.
What wood is the cheapest for cabinets?
Pine wood is the cheapest option when it comes to cabinets. Pine has a soft and lightweight texture, making it easier to work with than other hardwoods. It also takes paint easily, allowing you to customize the look of your cabinets without spending too much money.
Next, read: Plywood thickness for cabinets
Painting is a great way to finish furniture and cabinets. Painted furniture is beautiful, durable, and moisture-resistant. Of course, painting also increases the lifespan of the furniture.
The best wood for painted furniture and cabinets are maple, birch, and poplar. However, MDF, alder, pine and Douglas fir are great alternatives.