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MDF vs. Plywood Cabinets [Which is better?]

Today, we’re tackling another question many people have when it comes to kitchen cabinets: which is better--MDF or wood cabinets?

mdf vs wood cabinets which to choose which is better

What is MDF?

First, let’s define what MDF stands for. MDF is short for medium-density fiberboard. Its rise in popularity stems from its affordability and versatility compared to plywood and other engineered wood products. It’s quite easy to work with and unlike real wood, it has no knots, grain or warping and is best used for light carpentry.

How is MDF made?

MDF is made from sawdust and shavings that are byproducts of milling. These bits are then mixed with resin and wax, then formed into panels with heat and pressure. Next, they are sanded down and cut to sellable dimensions. This sanding process is what gives MDF that smooth finish!

Where is MDF most commonly used?

MDF is most commonly used for smaller projects, like bookcases or light carpentry due to its affordability. These projects tend to be for indoor applications, as MDF has poor moisture resistance. It is not recommended to use MDF for bathroom cabinets or any other damp environment as they can be easily damaged when in contact with water. When MDF gets wet, it swells and distorts.

As MDF does not warp or crack because of fluctuations in temperature and humidity, it has become a popular choice for many when it comes to kitchen cabinets. MDF is usually used on the doors and interior paneling of cabinets.

Painting MDF

You can definitely paint MDF! Due to the sanded nature of MDF, the face is ready to paint, but make sure to prep the porous edges before painting as well. Due to MDF’s poor moisture resistance, make sure the initial coat is not a water based product.

MDF vs. Plywood

mdf vs wood cabinets which to choose which is better

Wood Durability

Wood has traditionally been chosen as kitchen cabinets due to their strength and durability. Wood furniture or cabinets will last for decades and tend to retain its value more than other forms of engineered wood. Of course, wood cabinets are also an investment, as they tend to be slightly higher in price than MDF cabinets.

Unlike MDF, which is quite soft, plywood anchors screws well. So if your kitchen cabinets have a plethora of screws and nails, plywood is the best way to go.

Warping and Cracking

Changes in temperature and humidity will not affect plywood--it won’t contract, warp or expand even under extreme temperature changes.

Painting Wood Cabinets

While MDF takes well to paint, plywood’s best finish is staining, due to its solid-wood-like grain and finish. When painting wood cabinets, make sure to strip the original paint, sand down the surface, prep and prime, then begin staining or painting.


Both MDF and plywood have their own pros and cons when it comes to kitchen cabinets. Our recommendation is a combination of both--a wood cabinet structure with mdf door fronts. This ensures that you have the durability of plywood cabinets in the box frame, while the flexibility to change door colors in the future.

Shop our plywood cabinets with MDF fronts at!

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