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Types of Wood Species for your Cabinets

Education Desk - Wood Species


Oak Tree

Gleaming, golden oak cabinets are a homeowner favorite. Prized for its uncommon strength and distinctive appearance, oak is both durable and affordable. The porous surface takes a stain well, and the distinctive flame-like pattern of the grain is instantly recognizable. Oak lends a warm and welcoming atmosphere to both urban and country kitchens. When treated with darker stains the grain becomes more noticeable, appearing deep brown or black, and the cabinets have an old-fashioned feel that works well in traditional or rustic settings. Lighter honey stains complement contemporary looks. Lightweight, attractive and easy to clean, oak is sturdy enough to take the abuse of everyday use and resists dings, dents and cracks, making it an attractive and inexpensive hardwood option.


Birch Tree

Known as “poor man’s maple,” birch cabinets are a blank slate for decorators. Less expensive than maple and other popular hardwoods, birch lends itself readily to a variety of designer looks. Birch cabinets have a uniform appearance and lack of distinctive graining that make them unusually receptive to staining. Birch can easily be finished to impersonate costly mahogany, walnut and maple. The surface is closed and non-porous, and can be painted to suit or used as a canvas for faux marbling or other decorative treatments. Both yellow and sweet birch are known for their durability. Yellow birch in particular has a tensile strength that holds nails well, making it especially useful for constructing cabinets.


Maple Tree

Commonly seen in home decorating magazines, maple cabinets are in a class of their own. A sturdy and durable hardwood, maple is treasured for its unusually fine texture and smooth, uniform grain. Generally pale to creamy white naturally, maple often includes reddish streaks that deepen with staining and enhance the individuality of the wood. Randomly occurring bird’s eye dots, mineral streaking, a curling grain or fine brown lines also add depth and interest to the appearance of maple cabinets. Maple takes a stain well, and is available in a variety of colors that highlight the wood beneath. Maple has the strength necessary for frequent use and is especially prized by people who want to design a modern kitchen while retaining the warmth of natural wood.


Hickory Tree

A striking, sturdy and rustic alternative, hickory cabinets are famous for their country charm. More affordable than cherry, hickory has an unusual two-toned appearance made up of natural streaks of lighter white and darker reddish wood. This veining can vary tremendously, even in a single cabinet. Hickory is usually sealed with clear finishes to reveal and highlight the variegated coloring below. The grain is so tight that stains don’t really penetrate the wood, but rather float atop it. Taking care to use the drawer pulls and cabinet handles can prevent premature wear of the finish. Hickory is one of the strongest woods available, and high-quality hickory cabinets can last for decades. The uneven coloring of hickory cabinets isn’t for everyone, but if you like their looks they can create beautiful, one-of-a-kind kitchens.


Pine Tree

Pine cabinets are often associated with the outdoorsy look of mountain cabins, but decorators are using pine cabinets with great success in contemporary kitchens. In addition to being the most reasonably priced solid wood option available, pine cabinets are durable and readily obtainable, and because pine trees grow quickly, they are a more environmentally friendly choice than hardwood. Pine is a light-colored wood that will take stains ranging from pale naturals to deep and dark. Pine is a thirsty wood, so expect to apply several coats to get the look you want. The familiar graining and knots of pine will usually persist after staining, but by using up-to-date hardware and modern countertops and flooring, you can easily bring these affordable cabinets out of the forest and into the future.


MDF Wood

Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is an affordable and versatile alternative to solid wood. Although some people resist the idea of using this manufactured material, there are also several applications in which MDF does a better job and holds up better than wood does. If you’re looking to get designer style with painted cabinets or doors, you can’t beat MDF. Wood will always expand and contract with natural temperature fluctuations, leading painted finishes to bubble or crack. MDF resists climate changes and the paint surface will remain smooth and blemish-free for years. MDF has no graining and is ideal for cutting with a jigsaw to create custom inlays or embellishments. To achieve a magazine-ready custom-painted look without the headaches of real wood, MDF cabinets are the way to go.


Cherry Tree

One of the most highly sought after amenities in elegant kitchens, cherry cabinets look beautiful in both traditional and modern settings. Cherry is not technically a hardwood, but it is strong, durable and longwearing. Its most notable characteristic is the naturally rich, dark color that lends luxury to any room. Cherry varies from deep yellow to pale red in its natural state and takes most stains well, though it looks its best in deep mahogany or walnut shades. Cherry cabinets are equally stunning in high-gloss lacquer or matte finishes, and naturally darken as they age, eventually achieving a patina of uncommon depth. Cherry is one of the more expensive cabinet woods, but it seldom chips or dents and will last a lifetime with routine care.


Bamboo Tree

Do something nice for the planet and set your kitchen apart from the rest with unusual, renewable bamboo. Unlike traditional wooden cabinets that are cut from planks made from large trees, bamboo boards are assembled from stalks that are cut into strips and laminated together. The way the strips are orientated creates horizontal or vertical “graining” that affects the appearance of the finished wood. Different grains can be used in a single cabinet to achieve a multidimensional finish. Bamboo cabinets are extremely sturdy and the laminated surfaces easily resist dents, chips and dings. Bamboo cabinets are resistant to climate change and won’t expand or contract like wood. Best of all, the light colors add a light, airy and modern look to kitchens large and small.

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