Painted Cabinets. Wood Vs. MDF

So you have decided to get that beautiful classic painted white kitchen of your dreams? Now for the next challenge/question…should I buy wood or MDF? Many people cringe when they hear the wood MDF. The initial thoughts are that “it is not real wood so it must be cheap”, “its going to fall apart in a few years”. Well, rest assured that cabinet makers and manufacturing standards have evolved over the years and MDF is still used in kitchen cabinetry of all quality and price levels. In fact, most high quality custom cabinetry shops will recommend MDF over wood when going with a painted finish. Wood is a natural product, and by virtue of that reacts to humidity levels. When paint is applied to wood, you run the risk of “cracking” or “joint separation” in the joints of the doors when humidity levels are not controlled. With MDF the product is man made (of wood fibres) and isn’t subject to expansion and contraction to the extent that solid wood is. For that reason, MDF is usually recommended over wood when painting – and if customers choose wood they are asked to sign off on a document that warns them of joint separation. The industry has seen improvements in the MDF product and has also seen the introduction of HDF, which is a higher density fibreboard – giving you a heavier stronger door that is less likely to chip. Higher end cabinet makers will also offer a one piece routered HDF door that has no joints whatsoever…
Now, that is not to say that you shouldn’t buy painted wood cabinets. If you do, you should pay close attention to the type of joint that is used in the door construction and the quality of the finish applied to the door. Mitred doors (joint is a 45 degree angle) have a greater possibility to separate than Mortise and Tenon joints (90 degree angle). while the mitred joint is more elegant and visually attractive to some, the strong simple nature of a mortise and tenon joint will reduce the likelihood of joint separation with a painted wood door. So make sure you have these discussions with your cabinet supplier when buying a painted kitchen and ensure you are aware of the various properties and options with both wood and MDF/HDF.