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Thread: Noob question on what wood to use for cabinets

  1. #1

    Noob question on what wood to use for cabinets

    I have a really dumb question with no right answers, so any advise or opinions is appreciated.

    After many years of really bad word working I finally learned enough tricks that I made a small cabinet that was actually square and looked nice. Not the greatest achievement but it sure feels good. So now I want to make some cabinets for my shop that actually look nice before trying something for the house that the wife has to look at.

    I love working with soft maple, love the color, the weight, the ease of working with it. I started looking at making 3 foot high cabinets out of the maple and quickly hit a question that nobody seems to ask. Do I want to use solid maple for the whole thing? Do I use maple plywood? Do I build it with plywood and put a solid maple face on it? Do I use cheap plywood and put a maple veneer on it?

    I know it’s personal preference, but is there a reason why one is better than another? Are there trade offs? When I took a class on making a workbench we used solid maple, but that’s a workbench and meant to weigh a lot.

    Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
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    You'll find shop cabinets are a lot easier to build with plywood. No worries about wood movement, lower cost, less work. You can make the doors out of plywood or solid wood, or a combination of the two (solid wood frames with plywood panels). I recommend you buy a book or two about building cabinets. They will answer most any question you might have.

    John

  3. #3
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    Location will determine what woods are reasonable cost. Argentina is mainly pine and eucalyptus. Eucalyptus will be harder and stand up to dings in the workshop better then pines.
    Bill D
    Last edited by Bill Dufour; 12-01-2021 at 10:36 PM.

  4. #4
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    I would definitely go with plywood too. Like said above the dimensional stability will be much better with plywood and the cabinets will probably end up stronger with plywood.

    I would price out prefinished maple plywood. Adding veneer to cheap plywood probably won't save you any money and would be a lot of extra work.
    Last edited by Michael Schuch; 12-02-2021 at 2:52 AM.

  5. #5
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    There are countless ways to build cabinets. As someone else suggested, getting a book on basic cabinetry would probably help to understand the various components, styles, and construction methods. For myself, I almost always build face frame cabinets (others may preference frameless or “European” style). I use prefinished maple or birch plywood for the cabinet carcass and then a solid hardwood frame that can either be painted or stained. Doors and drawers vary from project to project, but most often solid wood for smaller drawers and “5-piece” frame and panel for larger drawer fronts and door panels. You can also look into ordering drawers from a third party. The options are endless …
    There is a very fine line between “hobby” and “mental illness.” - Dave Barry

  6. #6
    Thanks. For the maple plywood, what core do I want? Some online vendors have options varying from MDF, veneer and pro core, others don't give me the options.

    Would 1/2 inch be strong enough or should I use 3/4?

    For a book on carpentry, any recommendations? ebooks preferred.

  7. #7
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    You want veneer core or composite core plywood for cabinets, not MDF. No clue what pro core is. You can make cabinets from 1/2" material, but everything is easier (except the weight) with 3/4".

    Pick any of the popular books on Amazon. You want a book on building cabinets, not carpentry. Danny Proulx, Gregory Paolini, Udo Schmidt, Robert Lang and others all offer well done books, some with DVD's as well.

  8. #8
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    There was a time when solid wood was used for cabinets...because that's what was available. Most modern cabinetry uses some form of processed material, typically plywood or coated composites. I would suggest you take that route for your project.

    For lower cabinets, my preference would be 18mm/.75" sheet goods. For uppers, I personally prefer 12mm/.5" plywood for weight reasons, but the thicker stock is very valid and is what a lot of folks use.

    BTW, keep in mind that so-called 3/4" plywood isn't 3/4" thick. Measure what you buy so you can adjust your dimensions for components so that you end up with carcasses that are the correct external size and so your parts all fit square and clean.
    --

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

  9. #9
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    I've used both 3/4 and 1/2 plywood in cabinet construction. Earlier this year I built a vanity for the bathroom and used a decent quality plywood and did it with 1/2" and it's just fine. For furniture, I tend to use 3/4 to help give the item stability since it might be moved around, not so for a built-in, so 1/2" is usable. It also depends on what you plan to store in the cabinets.

    Right now I am making some drawers in my new router table stand and just using 1/2" maple ply from the big box store. It's not great quality but it's fine for my shop. You may consider the same unless cost is not much of a concern or you are trying to make your shop a show piece vs a working environment.
    Distraction could lead to dismemberment!

  10. #10
    I built my cottage cabinets with Baltic Birch 3/4" plywood and applied 2 coats of water based Polycrylic to the boxes inside and out and was happy with the boxes. With that said, I think if I made them again I would use prefinished plywood to make life simpler.

    I used Hickory for the front frames and door. It was my first time using hickory and really liked it's working characteristics, grain and durbabiity. I suggest you consider it for the shop cabinets because it is nicely priced and can take some abuse well.

    Have fun with the build.

  11. As John said above , stay away from mdf . Years ago when mdf was all the rage I used it to build all the cabinets in my house. Its very heavy and the worst part is any water leaks and it swells up and goes to crap very easily . the area under my kitchen sink is proof of that.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Becker View Post
    There was a time when solid wood was used for cabinets...because that's what was available.
    When I was growing up Grandma's house had pretty much all solid wood shelving made by Grandpa. Lots of gaps, twisting and cracks showed up over the years.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Schuch View Post
    When I was growing up Grandma's house had pretty much all solid wood shelving made by Grandpa. Lots of gaps, twisting and cracks showed up over the years.
    On the shelves, too?? (Sorry...couldn't resist). But yea, "back in the day" folks used what they had available as well as what they actually knew about and had been shown how to work by their own folks and grand folks.
    --

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

  14. #14
    Your approach is good. Make shop stuff until it's good enough for your den. Then try for the bedroom. Maybe then you're ready for the living room. Good luck.

  15. #15
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    I will second the book by Greg Paolini who also has an excellent video on YouTube. I was fortunate enough to take both the router class and cabinet class with Greg and he is an excellent teacher.

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