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Thread: maple or birch or poplar for painted kitchen cabinets? durability and density...

  1. #1

    maple or birch or poplar for painted kitchen cabinets? durability and density...

    I realize this has been asked in many ways. what is the best wood for painted cabinets? the answers are varied and somewhat helpful. the 3 'real' wood options seem to be poplar, birch, and maple. I am not interested in mdf. my question though has to do with durability of the wood. am i right to assume that if cost is not an the major factor on a custom build kitchen, that maple seems the most durable wood regarding wood softness? it seems like poplar and birch may dent or show damage from kids or even normal use over time... am i thinking in the right direction or is there an even better option to minimize wood grain, get hardness factor for durability (of wood - not finish)?

  2. #2
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    Hi Jeff,

    For painted cabinets, I prefer poplar. It has a tight grain and sands up super-smooth. I like the way it takes paint better than maple.

    If the kids are hard on the cabinets, they will damage the finish before the wood, so having a harder species underneath may not help.

    Cheers,
    Mark

  3. #3
    Agree with Mark. IF you can get poplar that is reasonably straight. Years back we had a good suplier that sent stuff
    with a generous thickness and straight . They said their "secret" with poplar was letting it air dry some before useing kiln.
    The former suplier was sending stuff that looked like fried bacon.

  4. #4
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    I use poplar and maple. If its anything that gets even moderate usage I use soft maple. It just holds up better.

    Mel, My supplier air drys their poplar for about 6 months iirc before kiln drying. Its straight as a arrow and doesn't move after processing. Relatively easy to consisently net 1" with this stock from rough. They also have QS poplar in 6/4, 7/4 and 8/4 for passage doors.
    Last edited by Jared Sankovich; 02-19-2020 at 4:52 PM.

  5. #5
    thanks guys for the replies. as for durability, would you say that poplar is softer or harder than alder? I know, different altogether but I have worked with alder hickory and oak a bit but this will be a new one for me.

  6. #6
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    Soft maple is about the best for painted cabinets. Poplar is too soft if dings/dents are a concern. Check out the Janke Hardness scale: https://www.bellforestproducts.com/info/janka-hardness/

    John

    I looked up Alder. The Janke is 590. Poplar is 540. Soft maple is 950.
    Last edited by John TenEyck; 02-19-2020 at 9:20 PM.

  7. #7
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    I'm a maple guy. Not only harder but the extra weight gives doors a feeling that is more substantial. I use 1" rails and stiles for the same reason. Dave

  8. #8
    Another factor to consider among the three you name is whether evidence of wood pores visible through the paint is deemed a good or a bad thing. I recently built a set of kitchen cabinets for my house using birch for the doors and drawers, with General Finishes "milk paint" and High Performance as the coatings. Absent filling, the pores in birch are a subtle but perceptible presence in this application, which I really like. I also value that it's heavier and harder than poplar, which just feels a little light and soft and makes for a less satisfying thunk when you close a cabinet door. ...One thing with birch: if, like mine, your doors/drawer design calls for a flat 1/4 inch panel (rather than raised solid wood), resist the temptation to use MDF, as its absolute uniformity and lack of pores will be a noticeable contrast to the wood rails/stiles, even under paint. Baltic birch is the way to go.
    Last edited by David Stone (CT); 02-19-2020 at 9:43 PM.

  9. #9
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    At the risk of being a little contrarian, here is the thing with kitchen cabinets ... they get remodeled. A lot of kitchen cabinetry only exists for 20 years or so before it gets swapped out for something new (although I’m sure some are around for longer). Any of the woods you mentioned will work well for painted cabinets, and the difference in hardness isn’t likely to make much difference. So choose the one you like, or the least expensive.
    There is a very fine line between ďhobbyĒ and ďmental illness.Ē - Dave Barry

  10. #10
    Maple for several reasons. I make a living making cabinets. I use professional paints sprayed in a booth for my finishes. Both Poplar and Birch will have the grain telegraph through unless you do extra work, Birch more than Poplar. For me Poplar moves to much. When I first started out I did a lot of 18th century style cabinets which required hand planing. Poplar was hand planed a lot easier than the other two. Only Pine was easier to plane. I made almost exclusively inset cabinets. With Poplar doors I found myself coming back to the job to resize doors because they swelled and would stick in the openings.

    Poplar is too soft for a kitchen cabinet. The uppers might be OK but the lowers would get dinged up in short time, especially if there are kids involve.

    Birch has the grain telegraph issue but it certainly hard enough. It can be a bit chippy running it over the jointer or through the planer.

    Hard Maple is the best choice if you have a wide belt sander, otherwise chipping can be an issue.

    Soft Maple is my choice because it paints well, it's hard enough to survive kids, it doesn't move that much when you do inset doors, feels substantial because it's a bit heavy, for the most part it's not that chippy although you find boards that really have a tough time being planed or jointed. So that's my choice and reasoning.

  11. #11
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    Iím also a cabinet maker.

    Iím 100% verbatim on board with Leo.

    I know lots of people who like poplar and I get why to a point. Itís much lore easy to work with. But it has its issues also. Soft maple is the middle of the road. I prefer hard even though itís a royal pita unless you have a widebelt or helical head jointer and planer.

    Quote Originally Posted by Leo Graywacz View Post
    Maple for several reasons. I make a living making cabinets. I use professional paints sprayed in a booth for my finishes. Both Poplar and Birch will have the grain telegraph through unless you do extra work, Birch more than Poplar. For me Poplar moves to much. When I first started out I did a lot of 18th century style cabinets which required hand planing. Poplar was hand planed a lot easier than the other two. Only Pine was easier to plane. I made almost exclusively inset cabinets. With Poplar doors I found myself coming back to the job to resize doors because they swelled and would stick in the openings.

    Poplar is too soft for a kitchen cabinet. The uppers might be OK but the lowers would get dinged up in short time, especially if there are kids involve.

    Birch has the grain telegraph issue but it certainly hard enough. It can be a bit chippy running it over the jointer or through the planer.

    Hard Maple is the best choice if you have a wide belt sander, otherwise chipping can be an issue.

    Soft Maple is my choice because it paints well, it's hard enough to survive kids, it doesn't move that much when you do inset doors, feels substantial because it's a bit heavy, for the most part it's not that chippy although you find boards that really have a tough time being planed or jointed. So that's my choice and reasoning.

  12. #12
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    There is no "best", but of the three you mention, I'd choose between Maple and Yellow Poplar (tulip poplar) in that order unless you're willing to embrace the more open grain of the birch or do the work to grain fill it. My cabinet face frames and rails/stiles are all poplar because I had an abundance of it milled on our property. But soft maple is very nicely priced in my area, too, so I'd probably select that if I didn't have inventory of poplar because it's a bit harder and is very nice to work with.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  13. #13
    my plywood supplier has a new product, it's a birch UV prefinished on one side, and a primed paper face on the other - interior glue (unlike MDO), and perfect for painted casework. i think it's a Garnica product, and i don't know how widely available it is... but it'll absolutely be my choice for painted work in the near future.

  14. #14
    +1 on maple, soft or hard. The minor pains in milling and working with it are precisely the reasons it works well for cabinets.

    It also takes profiles super sharp that won't dull or roundover as you work through your sanding and painting.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Bain View Post
    At the risk of being a little contrarian, here is the thing with kitchen cabinets ... they get remodeled. A lot of kitchen cabinetry only exists for 20 years or so before it gets swapped out for something new (although Iím sure some are around for longer). Any of the woods you mentioned will work well for painted cabinets, and the difference in hardness isnít likely to make much difference. So choose the one you like, or the least expensive.
    20 years is still a long time. Kids, dogs, my wife - they all take a toll on cabinetry.

    John

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