If you are in the market for new cabinetry then one subject that may come up during a meeting with your cabinet provider is your preference regarding particleboard versus plywood construction. In general, most cabinets boxes or carcasses on the market today are made of either particleboard or plywood, so which should you choose? Let's explore the characteristics of each option.
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Furniture board is a fancy way of saying particleboard. It is a press board made of wood particles in a 4' by 8' sheet. It is used as the substrate that gets covered with a melamine layer for the construction of cabinet boxes, drawer boxes and shelves.
Over the years particle board has gotten a pretty bad rap and in general there is a negative connotation surrounding it because of how older cabinets turned to mush with when they got wet from leaky plumbing.
Luckily particleboard has... come a long way since the 60's and 70's. There are different grades of particleboard. The best is termed as furniture board because it is furniture grade.
Fine and strong, particleboard holds a screw better than plywood because it is denser and the material is not as vulnerable to expansion and contraction. That is a plus when cabinets are made with tons of screws holding moving and working parts.
Melamine in Cabinet Construction:
Melamine can be used as the finish material to the particleboard or furniture board used to make cabinet boxes, drawer boxes and shelving. Melamine is a less expensive option that can take on the look of wood or be be a solid color, such as white. When adhered to its substrate (inner layer material such as particleboard), it is smooth.
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Plywood is a panel material, also made in 4' by 8' sheets. Plywood is made of thin strips or veneers of wood that are cross-laminated (rotated every layer and glued) to form a strong panel for constructing cabinet boxes, drawer boxes and shelves, like the above particleboard.
Usually made from lighter woods, it is finished with a clear coat that is attractive for cabinet interiors.
A structurally stable material that is lighter than particleboard which is why some local cabinet makers... prefer to work with it (easier to move on a table saw).
Typically plywood is the more expensive cabinet box construction, but check the thickness before you decide to go plywood. Some manufacturers use 1/2" thickness to keep the cost low and tote that it is a premium feature. Good cabinets should use 1/2", 5/8" or 3/4" plywood construction.
Think plywood will absorb less water than particleboard? Think again! Since particleboard is denser than plywood, it absorbs water faster. If you are worried about a potential plumbing leak, install a water pan or divit mat to catch water before it touches your cabinet.
Why choose plywood?
There is something to be said for the look and feel of real wood. If you enjoying looking at real wood grain, knots and mineral streaks on the interiors of your cabinets, go for the plywood. If you can't tell the difference between melamine and particleboard, you might save the cost and go particleboard/ melamine.
As is the case with most everything in the kitchen, there is not cut and dry, right and wrong answer for which cabinetry construction is best. The final decision comes down to the dollars you are willing to invest and the features that are important or relevant to you.