How Do I Choose the Best Plywood Cabinets?

Rebecca Mecomber

Plywood is an excellent building material, stronger and more resistant to splitting than solid wood. It is thus a superior choice for plywood furniture, especially contemporary furniture that makes use of colorful designs and veneers. Consisting of multiple thin layers of wood glued together, plywood also is the perfect choice for kitchen cabinets. Plywood cabinets are capable of holding heavy loads of dishes, appliances and other items found in kitchens. When shopping for the best plywood cabinets, look for a solid wood core, a hardwood veneer and superior joint connections.

Stacks of plywood sheets.
Stacks of plywood sheets.

Avoid plywood with cores of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and particleboard. These sub-grade core materials are constructed of wood byproducts, such as sawdust and wood chips. Although they are popular for molded furniture and budget-priced wooden furniture, MDF and particleboard are unsuitable for securing durable joints and bearing heavy loads. Select kitchen cabinets with a laminated plywood core of solid wood.

Plywood is durable enough to build both cabinets and houses.
Plywood is durable enough to build both cabinets and houses.

Most plywood cabinetry consists of a birch plywood core with a glued-on hardwood veneer in oak or maple. You can purchase oak or maple plywood cabinets, but prepare to pay more. For most homeowners, birch plywood with hardwood veneer works well. The plywood gives the cabinet excellent stability, and the hardwood veneer is often indistinguishable from solid hardwood.

The weakest link in any plywood furniture is the joints. The best plywood cabinets have dado joints glued together and secured with strategically placed wood screws. Dado joints provide exceptional support. Glued joints prevent the plywood cabinets from pulling apart at the seams during the normal swelling and shrinking of wood with changes in humidity and temperature. Metal brackets and wood screws ensure a long-lasting, tight box and keep the plywood cabinets square.

If you are an avid do-it-yourselfer, then you can select unassembled plywood cabinet sets at most retail home improvement centers. Although assembling the cabinets yourself might be somewhat time-consuming, the technique is simple, requiring a few basic tools. Most importantly, assembling the cabinets yourself allows you to see how the cabinet is constructed and enables you to amend the cabinet joints with additional, joint-strengthening techniques of your own. For example, you can add wood glue or additional metal brackets to joints and seams. This will ensure superior durability and give you the added peace that the cabinets will perform beautifully even under rough treatment.

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