Critics of IKEA kitchen cabinets like to point out that they are not "real wood" but rather are made from medium-density fiberboard (MDF). While it's true that IKEA makes extensive use of MDF—they are the biggest users of MDF world-wide—this by no means makes them unique among cabinet manufacturers, nearly all of whom use some form of engineered sheet products in the construction of the basic cabinet boxes. And it is somewhat inaccurate to say that MDF is not wood, since the material is fabricated from hardwood and softwood byproducts that are bound together with resins and waxes and pressed into sheets under high temperature and pressure. MDF is "wood" to the same degree that plywood is, which is made with glues and resins that bond thin plies of wood into structural sheets for a variety of uses in construction and furniture-making. What some critics call a "real wood cabinet" is very likely a cabinet made from cabinet-grade (AC) plywood, not solid wood.
Evolution of IKEA Kitchen Cabinets
First, it's important to note that IKEA no longer offers the confusing mishmash of cabinet lines featuring those easily parodied names in all caps, such as VÄRDE, AKURUM, PERFEKT, RAMSJÖ, and ATTITYD.
In early 2015, IKEA slimmed it all down to one core cabinet system called SEKTION. For more than two decades prior, AKURUM had been the kitchen cabinet base system, but according to IKEA, the new system "allows for individual solutions with the excellent use of space and functionality." Being more modular, the SEKTION line allows for interior space to be shared among cabinets. And it's easier to add in-cabinet lighting with the SEKTION system.
IKEA Cabinet Box Construction: MDF and Melamine
The main body of a base cabinet or wall cabinet is called the cabinet box. As the name says, this is the large, boxy structural part of the cabinet, minus doors, drawers, and all fixtures. It does include working elements that are permanently attached, such as drawer rails and dampers. In IKEA cabinets, the boxes are constructed with:
- MDF for the box core
- Melamine foil (a type of laminate that contains no wood) for the veneers covering the sides of the box.
IKEA Doors and Drawers: Several Classes
In the IKEA system, the cabinet doors and drawers are purchased separately from the cabinet box system. This is what allows consumers to choose the cabinet style they prefer. There are many styles of drawers/doors for IKEA kitchen cabinets, and they fall into four classes of materials:
- Class 1: real wood and MDF: At this time, only four lines of IKEA doors contain any amount of real wood, and no doors are made entirely of solid natural wood: the LAXARBY and BJORKET lines (door frames are solid birch; door panels are birch veneer on particleboard), FILIPSTAD line (door frames are solid oak; door panels are oak veneer on particleboard), and EKESTAT line (door edges are solid oak or ash; door panels are oak veneer on particleboard).
- Class 2: MDF and foil: This class is the main category of IKEA doors, with melamine foil and/or thermofoil applied to a fiberboard base: RINGHULT line (fiberboard and melamine foil); GRIMSLOV and MARSTA lines (fiberboard, foil, and melamine foil); BROKHLT, JARSTA, and EDSERUM lines (particleboard and foil); and TINGSYRD and HAGGEBY lines (particleboard, polypropylene, and melamine).
- Class 3: MDF and paints: Glossy paint is applied directly to the particleboard for a bright, in-your-face style: VEDDINGE line (particleboard, acrylic paint, and polyurethane), FLADIE line (fiberboard and acrylic paint), and BODBYN and HITTARP lines (fiberboard, acrylic paint, polyester paint)
- Class 4: glass or metal: These doors may contain some particleboard, but their chief appearance is that of glass or metal: the JUTIS line (glass and aluminum), and GREVSTA line (stainless steel, melamine, and particleboard)