One of the first questions people have about cabinets is what kind of wood they should use. Well that question has an immediate question in response: “will they be painted or stained?” If the cabinets will be painted the wood can be a softer less expensive choice. I like to work with poplar for painted cabinets. A poplar face frame and an MDF (medium density fiberboard) panel work nicely. Both take paint well, they work nicely on the machinery, and they are affordable. Poplar is a soft wood. A good paint will toughen it up, but it can still dent. Some clients want a harder door. In which case a maple face frame can be used. Maple paints up very nicely too. A bit more pricy, but defiantly harder. If the cabinets are going to be stained to enhance the natural wood, then the choice of wood becomes a matter of aesthetic preference. Typical choices for cabinets are Maple, Cherry, and Oak. These are hard woods that can be finished with a natural stain or colored with a variety of wood tones.
Maple is a tight closed grain wood with subtle figure. This means it is smooth to the touch, because of the tight closed grain, and subtle in the aspect of the color variations within the wood. Oak, on the other hand is an open grained wood. It tends to have more of a textured look. Cherry is a closed grained wood, so smoother, but has more color variations within a board. There are many other woods to choose from. Hickory, for example, is a consideration if a person is looking for a rustic wood. They may want to see knots, and dramatic variations of color and texture with in a board. Walnut is a deep rich colored wood, it can be rustic, depending on the boards selected, or homogenous in tone if that is preferred. Beech, Chesnutt, Ash, Mahoney and Teak are options. Each has a character and personality of its own. Different woods have different costs associated with them. The cost of the wood itself varies. But the cost to work a wood varies also. Some woods have a lot of waist. Hickory is heavy and difficult to work and tends to have a lot of waist. Some of the exotic woods like Purple Heart and Cocobolo can be cost prohibitive for a full cabinet job. Other woods are actually toxic when milled into shape with machinery. This means extra precautions have to be taken when making cabinets. That can add to the cost of the project.
One of my favorite woods to work with is Maple. It is a pleasure to work with. Takes a natural finish and clear coat without yellowing. It sands nicely and it looks very nice with a natural finish and clear coat, stunning with a turquoise or orange water die stain. Wood is an organic material and so no two boards are the same. That is the allure and attraction. A sample of oak or maple or chestnut may turn out quite different than the boards you end up getting in your cabinets. The cabinet maker will do a lot to work the wood into a beautiful finished product, but ultimately, the character and distinctions of the wood you end up with are determined by the natural world.