Bellatrix Millworks



Cabinet Materials

The trend has continued to gradually shift from using solid wood for cabinets and furniture, to using plywood or other non-wood varieties like MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) and particleboard melamine cabinets.

It can be very challenging to tell the difference between these materials, and consequently many customers may not know which construction material is ideal for their specific interior designs.





Plywood is one of the most reliable materials for making furniture and modern kitchen cabinets. This is especially true if you consider how expensive it is to build solid wood furniture.

The difference between plywood cabinet construction and solid wood is that while plywood is made up of thin sheets of wood glued together artificially, solid wood is made of homogeneous natural wood materials. In other words, with a low level of glue shear strength in plywood, the planes of wood will separate easily. That’s why solid wood is generally considered stronger than plywood.

Plywood cabinets are manufactured from multiple layers of softwood veneer glued together in such a way that the grain direction of each of the veneer layers is perpendicular to that of the adjacent layers.

What this means is that the grain directions are arranged in an alternating pattern to give the plywood maximum uniform strength.

These cross-laminated layers of wood veneers are wrapped together with moisture-resistant products like phenol-formaldehyde resin adhesive and forged under heat and pressure.

Although plywood is commonly made from softwood species, some can be derived from hardwood. Among the many variations of dimensions and thickness of plywood on the market today, the prevalent dimension is 4×4 feet and the most common measurement of thickness is ½-inch.

There are lots of alternatives to choose from when it comes to plywood. You can either go for the smooth, natural surfaces ideal for finishing works or the more inexpensive unsanded grades that can be used for sheathing. Of course, you can get them in multiple common thickness measurements and over twenty different grades.

One benefit of plywood is that since it’s made of thin planes of wood veneers, it still has the look of natural wood grain. So you may opt for a plywood option if you are seeking a natural wood look, but you budget cannot afford actual solid wood.

Plywood can be used for a lot of purposes, ranging from furniture, cabinet boxes to single-layer flooring, subflooring, roof, wall, and floor sheathing, webs of wood I-joists, structural insulated panels, and so on.

The lightness of plywood compared to MDF and melamine makes it’s more ideal for upper cabinets than the other two materials.

Some unique advantages of opting for plywood:

  • Hardwood plywood is typically a highly durable material because of its great quality in strength. Plywood is fabricated with an alternating pattern of grains which makes it last longer than fiberboards (including MDF, HDF, and Particle board).
  • The versatility of plywood allows the layers to be altered to afford both strength and beauty.
  • It’s available in a wide range of sizes, including extra-large sizes
  • Plywood is a very close substitute to real or solid wood but doesn’t promote as much deforestation as solid wood products, thereby leading to more tree conservation.
  • Plywood is cheaper than solid wood products.

Some downsides to plywood include,

  • Some plywood constructions are made of a superior wood product on the outside but of inferior wood materials on the inside; hence, you can only get the right plywood grade from a trusted dealer.
  • The average plywood could be prone to water-related damage if exposed to a wet or humid environment. That’s why it’s important to go for a water-resistant version so the layers don’t detach.
  • They can delaminate when subjected to prolonged hot weather conditions because of the layered sheets.
  • Using nails on a plywood cabinet can break the material. Screws are strictly recommended.

Fiberboard (MDF & HDF)

MDF (medium-density fiberboard) and HDF (high-density fiberboard) are two of the trendiest materials in woodworking these days. They’re both engineered by combining wood fiber and glue under immense pressure and heat, and are a suitable alternative to real wood. The recycled nature of their construction makes them environmentally friendly, and the pressure used to create them makes them highly durable. But they carry vastly different price tags, with HDF costing a good deal more than its less dense sibling, MDF.

So, what sets them apart?

It’s tempting to assume that higher density means HDF is always the better choice, but the price isn’t the only thing that differentiates it from the much cheaper MDF. Due to its higher density, HDF is much thinner – and therefore not suitable for creating pieces such as interior moldings or skirting boards. While neither version does well around water, HDF is more water-resistant than MDF, and its density does also make it stronger.

MDF, on the other hand, is much more suitable for furniture and decorative pieces. It’s highly affordable, and has a smooth surface that lends itself well to being painted. Using veneer on MDF can also create the illusion of solid wood. While it’s not as strong as HDF, it’s still a very durable material that won’t expand or contract with heat and humidity. There are various kinds of MDF, such as bendy or ultralite, and each are best suited to specific purposes.

MDF, the lighter and more versatile of the two wood product options, is best used for:

  • Furniture
  • Cabinets or shelves
  • Decorative items


HDF, the stronger and more expensive option, should be reserved for projects such as:

  • High-use furniture
  • Door skins
  • Backing panels
  • Flooring

Fiberboard has a number of benefits, such as being pest-resistant and easy to work with. There are a number of characteristics you should note, though, before choosing to purchase any amount of MDF or HDF for your project.

  • MDF/HDF does not have good holding strength when compared to real wood. If being used for furniture items that need to be frequently dismantled/reassembled, it may not be your best choice.
  • MDF/HDF cannot come into contact with water, as it will make the fibers swell and damage is very hard to repair. Do not use for outdoor projects.
  • Because of the formaldehyde used in their construction, MDF and HDF are less child-friendly than real wood or other wood alternatives. While there are restrictions on formaldehyde amount and the risk of out-gassing is lower with HDF, it is still a risk.

HIGH Density Fiberboard (MDF)

Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) is an engineered wood product made by breaking down softwood or hardwood particles into wood fibers using a defibrillator, then blending it with wax and a resin binder, and applying high pressure and temperature to forge it into panels.

MDF is generally denser than plywood and is made up of separated fibers as opposed to the plane sheets of plywood. But then MDF can be used as a building material similar in application to plywood such as cabinets. It is also typically stronger and denser than particle board which is made of chips and not fibers.

However, although MDF is a relatively heavy material in terms of making cabinets, a few lighter pieces of furniture can be derived from it.

MDF is primarily used for indoor applications since its prone to moisture-related damage. The material is available in raw form, or with a decorative coating, or a finely sanded surface. Hence, it’s more like an ideal surface layer for furniture and the most available alternative to wood veneer. It can also serve as a good filler material.

MDF is also widely applied in furniture such as cabinets because the strong surface it provides is ideal for cabinet boxes/storage shelves and since it’s available in different thicknesses and sizes.

Here are some key advantages

  • MDF is more cost-effective than plywood or real wood.
  • It has a consistent smooth feel (without knot holes) all over the surface area with consistent strength as well.
  • Unlike real wood, MDF promotes tree conservation since the production process mainly requires wood residuals.
  • The smooth surface makes it easier for painting, screwing, and gluing
  • The smooth consistency of the material also makes it easier to cut through with tools such as a jigsaw or band saw
  • It can be used for multiple designs
  • The consistency and stability of MDF makes it an ideal substrate for veneer work.
  • It’s a very heavy material compared to plywood and would pose both logistical and installation issues
  • The poor resistance of MDF to water can make it soak up a high amount of water within a short time. That’s why it’s always recommended to apply an oil-based sealing product (primer).
  • MDF is more prone to chipping and splitting, especially when working on the edge of the wood with screws. Moreover, repairing the chipped part is more difficult compared to real wood.
  • In the process of cutting and sanding, it is advisable to use an industrial-grade mask. The reason is that MDF is known to contain a substantial amount of formaldehyde which can cause irritation, allergy, or even increase the chances of malignancies like cancer.

Melamine Board

Melamine is a popular plastic material for every modern cabinet builder which can either be used to laminate a design onto substrates like plywood or particleboard or can be used in building cabinets more specifically when integrated with MDF or Particle Board, which are made from wood chips to form HPL or TFL. That’s why comparing melamine, MDF, or particleboard directly is a bit tricky.

One thing users love about Melamine is that the material is not only durable but also highly resistant to scratch and has numerous possibilities of hues and patterns. That’s why Melamine fused with plywood or particleboard is arguably the most sustainable option for cabinetry.

Melamine panels offer a lower cost alternative to plastic laminate. The decorative paper faces are saturated with melamine resin and then thermally fused to a substrate using heat and pressure. The paper face permanently bonds to the board with no possibility of delamination. Melamine interiors are stain resistant and extremely durable, requiring no sanding or finish. This makes them a great addition to entertainment centers, laundry rooms, mudrooms, home offices and workshop tables; as the slick surface makes it easy to move heavy assemblies. Select one of our three melamine manufactures to learn more. Melamine Laminate is typically resistant to stain, heat, and fire. It’s moisture and scratch-resistant can be found in many colors, patterns, sizes, and thicknesses making it ideal for particleboard, plywood, or MDF applications. Melamine is more like small pieces of wood (particleboard) glued and pressed together and covered with a plasticized coating.

The word “Melamine” is arguably the most widely used in cabinet construction.

For instance, Melamine is not only used in building woodworks like shelves and cabinets but is the same resin that is applied to plastic lamiante countertops found in many commercial applications.

Melamine is also widely used in the construction of floor tiles. Melamine tile floors are, in fact, more glossy, resistant to scratch, less prone to staining, and easier to clean. Most importantly, they’re relatively more cost-effective than porcelain or stone.

Due to the glossy nature of melamine encased boards and its ability to resist surface scratches, melamine makes an excellent material for producing whiteboards.

  • Engineered products from Melamine are typically less expensive and have proven to be as reliable as possible.
  • Melamine boards feature a uniform surface that is quite durable and resistant to scratch, stain, heat, and fire.
  • The typical Melamine surface is waterproof and hence can be cleaned up with soap and water.
  • The lack of wood grain in a Melamine board is one thing most people prefer, especially those who want solid color cabinets, and melamine is always available pre-finished in a variety of colors.
  • It offers a smooth finish that is ready to use without much construction waste.
  • Cutting melamine is pretty easy as long as you have the right equipment. You can use a saw with a scoring unit and CNC routers as it helps to prevent chipping. It’s also important to support the material while cutting to reduce the incidences of breaking.
  • If you are shipping furniture and/or cabinetry, the particleboard Melamine proves to be very durable and can easily withstand
  • Melamine board tends to bend and warp more easily when it comes under pressure from heavier loads.
  • Melamine material is typically heavy due to its composite nature.
  • Melamine boards are constructed with glues that can emit Volatile Organic Compounds “which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects”, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Particle Board

Particleboard (sometimes known as chipboard) is a multi-purpose material and one of the most widely-used wood-based panels. Particleboard is an engineered wood-based product manufactured from wood chip particles and a synthetic binding resin., manufactured by pressing and extruding various forms of wood fiber such as chips and shavings with a resin binder. The board is then pressed using heat and pressure.

This product is ideal for internal components, the product can also be coated with a decorative surface such as Plastic Laminate or Melamine. It is a lower cost alternative to other interior materials and provides a flat stable panel. Generally, Particle board is used in conjunction with Melamine to provide a hard exterior to the particle board box.


Hardboard is a panel made by compressing exploded wood fibers in a wet process that makes a smooth dense panel that is stronger and harder than regular MDF. It is also available in tempered which is a hardening process using linseed oil and baking of traditional hardboard.

Pegboard is made by perforating the tempered hardboard with ¼” holes so that various hooks and merchandising hardware can be hung on the board itself.

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