Painted Kitchen Cupboards - MDF or Hardwood?

Question Icon
Posted by: from London
7/21/2013 at 4:07:39 PM

I am receiving mixed opinions on choosing material for my new cupboards. I want them painted but different Kitchen renovation companies have different opinions. Most warn against shrinking/expanding wood leaving obvious seams in the joins on the doors. Is that a sign of poor workmanship/wood preparation, or a legitimate concern?

If I go with painted MDF, are there different levels of quality? I want this kitchen to look great for years, so am willing to pay for the best quality painted cupboards, but don't know what they are!

Help, please.

User Icon
Date/Time7/21/2013 at 6:47:05 PM

Painted MDF is fine. Some of this depends on the style of doors you are planing on. If they are raised panel with MDF inserts for center panels and pine or poplar as the frame you should be fine.

Stay away from solid maple as it has a reputation for moving a lot with moisture.

If they are flat slab then I prefer plywood veneer as it tends to not warp as much as MDF over time.

User Icon
Date/Time7/21/2013 at 6:48:03 PM

When I worked in a Cabinetry shop which did commercial jobs for Department stores and Banks they always used Birch,maple poplar and last MDF when they painted wood. The woods were veneers on a particle wood core not laminated solid stock That is what solid wood does it expands and contract with humidity no mater how much Lacquer we sprayed on it. Yes you will see laminate lines on glued up solid stock eventually.

For the doors use Medium density fiberboard (MDF) as it takes paint well and is resistant to scuff and

damage( it does not like water at all )Doors its fine.... Try to get 3/4" stock for this. If you are going with a raised profile like raised panel or cathedral it will be MDF... Insure edges are done to except paint

Gables of the cabinets(sides) if you are painting those as well should be veneered hard wood with

melamine inside so that you can clean them easily and you do not have to put tons of time in finishing.

All this material is available.

Hope this helps.


User Icon
Date/Time7/21/2013 at 7:00:33 PM

Ian is partially correct on using veneered plywood as long as it is Baltic birch ply or another name is Russian ply. It has 13 Lamination's without any voids with 3/4"stock 5x10 sheets. Typical ply with veneer is not suitable at all.

Baltic birch ply is strongly used in high end dining room tables because it is stable.

User Icon
Date/Time7/21/2013 at 7:43:08 PM


If you would like to enjoy the kitchen for many years i think the best option is to go with wood cabinets.

When it comes to refinishing your cabinets, wood is the superior material. Wood can be sanded and refinished with relative ease. MDF cannot be refinished because its veneer is usually just 1/16th of an inch thick. If you try sanding it, you quickly expose the pressed fiber.

Again, here is the vital difference between "all wood" and "solid wood" as "All wood" is probably a plywood that has a veneer that is little thicker than MDF. "All wood" is harder to refinish than "solid wood," but it's still better than MDF.

I hope this helps. Good luck.

User Icon
Date/Time7/21/2013 at 9:47:32 PM


I see you have a fair amount of responses already so I'll confuse you a little more. MDF (mediem density fibreboard) is basically saw-dust and glue. It generally hold it's shape well unless it gets wet or in a very humid area (steam room). Most wood products do shrink a little over time and that is just the natural process of wood drying.

I would suggest you consider two things. If you want fancy carved or mouldings or insets or glass, wood may be your best choice. However, if you just want clean looking solid door facings, MDF is my suggestion. It doesn't shrink or scratch.

As to the painting, one can always do a little touch up ... on wood or MDF.

It really is a matter of your preference and for your intended purpose, price might be the determining factor.

Good luck.

User Icon
Robert from Alair Homes Toronto in Toronto
Date/Time7/22/2013 at 10:24:48 AM

If you purchase painted wood or painted MDF cabinets from a reputable cabinet company you will have no problem at all.

User Icon
Date/Time7/26/2013 at 5:01:25 PM


There is no question that natural wood products expand and contract. MDF finishes nicely, so long as it is dry and painted with the right products.

Tony Vetere

User Icon
Arlene in London
Date/Time8/6/2013 at 2:29:06 PM

Thank you so much for all the responses! Good tips . . .

As I am considering a bit of detail on the door, and some glass inserts, it seems as though wood has an ever-so-slight-edge over MDF. If I change my mind and settle for a flat panel, MDF wins.

I like Robert's comment, but as not all companies are members of BBB, and references are going to be biased, how does one know that a company is reputable? Does length of time in business speak for itself? I am afraid that don't put a lot of faith in references, unless I can speak to the client.

Search the TrustedPros directory and discover the best contractors in your area.

Find your home service pro
Great renovations start with a great contractor.

Since 2004, TrustedPros has been helping homeowners find the right contractor for their home improvements and repairs.

Post Your Project

Within hours you'll be comparing offers from top-rated professionals. It's free to post and you're under no obligation to hire.

Trustedpros Inc. does not warrant the accuracy, completeness, safety, legality or usefulness of any Content, or Whether Content is Current and up-to-date, and TrustedPros Inc. Shall have no liability whatsoever with respect to your use or reliance upon any content or for content being removed or otherwise ceasing to be available. Please refer to the terms and conditions of use of this websites for more details.

Get quotes from top-rated contractors