Just as any artist must decide which medium to use, a carpenter must decide which wood to use. Appearance, color, price, intended use, processability and aging behavior are all considerations. But so is the paintability or staining ability of wood. If staining, you want to know how the wood grain will show and how the wood color will affect the color of the stain. Here's a quick guide from the pros answering the question, "What's the best wood for painted cabinets?" Also be sure to check out our 15 Quick Clean Up Painting Tips.
Blame it on the grain
Paint-grade woods tend to be closer-grained varieties such as soft maple, hard maple, poplar, and pine. Coarse-grained wood has a rougher appearance and may require fillers to look good when painted. It is best to build with dense wood to avoid this. Poplar and soft maple are popular for most cabinet components (face frames, end frames, and door panels), primarily because of cost and workability. However, some carpenters find that poplar dents easily. It also absorbs the first coat of paint quickly. Some other fine-grained woods are easier to work with, but their availability or cost isn't enough of a trade-off. Hard maple might be another good choice, although it moves a little more than other woods as humidity changes.
MDF is available for face and end frames. Some carpenters use it for door panels, but it can be tricky to finish. Because of this, other wood species are often used for railings and thresholds. MDF remains popular because it is dimensionally stable and therefore suitable for larger parts. Prefabricated plywood or birch plywood is another candidate material for these longer sections.
As with most things, you won't find any lack of opinion, but there does seem to be some broad consensus on when the best woods are for painted cabinets. Workable and durable close-grained wood remains a popular choice. No matter what material you choose, the overwhelming consensus is to prepare the surface of the wood first. Use filler if needed, use shellac on knots so they don't bleed, and sand on sharp corners that won't hold paint. Here's a quick breakdown of common woods found in cabinets:
- Hickory <br>Characteristics: Strength, Hardness, Durability; Reddish brown to white Grain: Usually straight and rough
- Soft Maple <br>Characteristics: Medium Density, Hardness and Strength, Paint Grade Grain: Dense, Fine Texture
- Red Oak <br>Characteristics: Very hard, heavy, strong Grain: Rough texture with excellent sanding and finishing properties
- Knotty pine <br>Characteristics: light weight, small and tight knots Texture: straight, fine and uniform texture
- Alder <br>Characteristics: Reddish brown, similar to cherry; easy to dent Grain: Straight grain, uniform texture
- Cherry <br>Characteristics: Medium weight, hard, firm; sand very smooth Texture: Red, fine finish
- Hard Maple <br>Characteristics: thick, light, consistent color Texture: stained grade, fine texture, dense grain (no filling required)
- Mahogany <br>Characteristics: Color varies slightly, from light reddish brown to medium red Grain: Straight to interlocking; medium to coarse texture
- Red Birch <br>Characteristics: Red in color; softer than red oak Grain: Tight grain; very easy to finish
- Beech <br>Characteristics: Heavy, light-colored, medium-hard wood; nicely stained and polished Grain: Close-grained; similar in appearance to maple and birch
- White Oak <br>Characteristics: Very light to dark brown in color; hard, heavy wood Grain: Straight-grained wood, medium to rough in texture
- Douglas Fir <br>Characteristics: Pale rose wood reddened Texture: Tightly knotted and densely grained
We hope you now have some better tools to answer the question, "What is the best wood for painting cabinets?" If you're a pro and have cabinet painting skills, please add them to the comments below – or Contact us and offer your own expertise.