Wood or MDF painted white cabinets?
March 21, 2012 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Looking for real world experience with white cabinets. Should I go with wood for a higher end look or high quality MDF lacquered and avoid possible hair line cracks in the finish? For the look we want, thermofoil is out.

I am going around in circles as to whether the risk of hair line cracks is common and how noticeable is it in a working kitchen. We live in an area (Ottawa, Canada) with dramatic temperature and humidity changes from season to season and we do not blast our AC in the summer.

This is a high end place and the prices aren't much different between lacquered MDF and lacquered wood.

What would those of you with white cabinets do if you did it all over again?
posted by FastGorilla to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you talking about choosing between solid wood cabinets and MDF cabinets? Because solid wood is always, always going to be more durable, no matter the finish.
posted by Specklet at 11:52 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, I am talking about solid wood versus MDF kitchen cabinet doors. I am mostly concerned about how bad the cracks on the paint will look as the wood shrinks and expands.
posted by FastGorilla at 11:54 AM on March 21, 2012

I'm on my third kitchen with white painted cabinets. Two in Tennessee (massive humidity and heat) and one in St. Louis (massive humidity, heat and cold). I've had painted solid wood in all three and never had a single issue with cracking.

If you're doing the painting yourself, make sure you get a good glossy paint that is washable and that the wood for the cabinets is properly dried and kilned. That should prevent the most extreme issues.

The trick with white cabinets is don't leave the kitchen without a wipedown. I rented my previous house out, and the tenents weren't the best about wiping it off. Somethings, like cherry Koolaid stains wicked bad and had to be painted over.

And to that...ALWAYS keep a quart or so of the original paint for the cabinets. All white paint is not the same and there is nothing worse than going to touch up and discovering that your bright white is more of an eggshell and having to repaint the entire freaking cabinets.

That said, we're looking to remodel our kitchen in the next year or so and the only thing I know for sure is that I want white cabinets again.
posted by teleri025 at 12:22 PM on March 21, 2012

Yep, absolutely go with kiln-dried, solid wood cabinets, which will have zero-to-little expansion and contraction (unlike MDF). As teleri025 says, use a high-quality glossy paint.
posted by Specklet at 1:30 PM on March 21, 2012

another problem with MDF is any slight bump on a corner can cause the layers to seperate. This is not a fixable thing and will only get worse as time and moisture have their way with the inside of the MDF
posted by Redhush at 1:46 PM on March 21, 2012

If I was really really worried about hair line finish cracks (and only that) I'd go with MDF since it doesn't do all the expansion/contraction things that wood does (no grain). But in the big picture MDF has a lot of wear issues that solid wood does not have and so I'd go with that.

If I were building these cabinets and you were super concerned, I'd go with a panel in frame design (which exists to accommodate wood movement) with air dried (like three years or so) quartersawn lumber, but I'd tell you that it was massive overkill.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:35 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's some contradictory advice in here about MDF versus solid wood. Particleboard and MDF are both made by grinding up wood into small bits, mixing them with glue, and pressing them into sheets. Because they have no grain, they have almost zero seasonal expansion and contraction. They're sturdy enough as long as their outer coating remains unbroken, but once an edge or a corner starts coming off they slowly disintegrate. They'll tolerate humidity changes very well, but neither one likes being actually wet - particleboard especially will swell up and fall apart if it gets wet.

Solid wood will be the most sturdy, but will expand and contract with temperature and humidity changes. You shouldn't get hairlines if the paint is decent - it should have a little bit of elasticity in it.

As a middle ground, can you get them made of plywood? It's seasonally stable, but more sturdy and water-resistant than MDF and particleboard.
posted by echo target at 9:46 AM on March 22, 2012

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