What is the difference between solid wood and MDF cabinetry?

If you are reading this, you are in the process of researching kitchens. Whether refacing, or replacing your kitchen cabinetry, you might be considering painted MDF (medium density fiberboard) which is made up of recycled wood fibers and resin, or a solid wood like maple.

Painted wood kitchen doors are strong, durable, and beautiful. Painted wood has been around for a long long time, and sometimes people wouldn’t consider using a man made material like MDF, but painted wood can have some downfalls.

Solid wood expands and contracts with the changes in humidity and temperature which could cause cracking between joints. MDF is likely not going to have the same fluctuations. Your home is typically around the same temperature at all times if you have air conditioning, but you should also regulate the moisture in the air with a humidifier if you go with solid wood.

Medium Density Fiberboard MDF does not require as much care and maintenance. It will hold up in a variety of different environments.

MDF is often the more favored choice between the two because it takes the paint better because it doesn’t have any grains or knots. A painted oak door can look grainy. MDF maintains a consistent colour and texture and often will look exactly the same as a painted maple door.

How MDF doors are made is a little less involved too. When making solid wood doors you would need to make the frame around the door out of 4 pieces, and add a center panel which must be a little smaller so it can float inside the frame to compensate for any shrinking and swelling.

MDF kitchen doors are usually made on a CNC machine that mill the doors in one or two pieces with the centre cut out. MDF is resistant enough that it doesn’t need the centre panel to float. The MDF is very consistent and moves as a unit so there is very little chance of shrinking and cracking. McFadden’s does a great job of making these doors.

Possibly the biggest advantage to MDF vs wood is cost. A painted wood kitchen would typically cost about 15-20% more than the exact same door style in MDF.

We would consider both options to be a great choice for your kitchen cabinetry, but most of the time we would recommend a painted MDF door if the two door styles look identical.

We would be happy to show you two side-by-side examples anytime.

For your interest, there is currently an open discussion about Wood vs. MDF custom painted cabinets on houzz. We recommend checking it out.