What type of plywood should I use for cabinets?
November 14, 2012 6:38 AM   Subscribe

What grade and variety of plywood should I buy for hidden, inside cabinet carcasses?

I've decided to build new cabinets for our kitchen, and while I'm pretty handy with power tools, I'm having trouble deciding just what type of plywood I should get for the cabinet bodies, especially for the parts that are going to be hidden on the sides against the wall. So far, I know I should get 3/4" for the sides and 1/2" plywood for the backs.

I'm planning on using poplar for the face-frames, for what it's worth.
posted by jacob to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
MDF is the go-to choice for carcasses. Inexpensive, machines well, takes paint and formica like a champ.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:44 AM on November 14, 2012

Best answer: Paint-grade birch plywood is what I tend to use for a lot of utility work. It's easier to join up than MDF is if you are of the screw-the-corners-together school (MDF tends to split apart if you screw into the edge. There are good ways to join it, but you need to be more careful than you need to be with plywood). Sometimes it's called "shop grade". "Stain grade" is more expensive.
posted by BillMcMurdo at 6:48 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: An AC plywood is what is usually used if you care about the look or BC if you don't. You need the smoothness of the A or B on the inside of the cabinet so you can wash it but the other side can be pretty rough.

One of the home improvement borgs around here fairly regularly has ungraded prefinished AB 3/4 inch plywood for less than regular AC. I wouldn't ever use it for anything structural but it's pretty well perfect for cabinets.

MDF (or more usually particle board) is the go to for low end commercial cabinets but it is fairly hard for an inexperienced user to work with and it isn't water resistant at all. It's also pretty hard on tool edges. If I was going to the effort of making custom cabinets I wouldn't use it.
posted by Mitheral at 6:53 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

MDF finishes nice, but I think it's about 50 times heavier than plywood. Think about that when you have to hang the cabinets.
posted by sanka at 8:16 AM on November 14, 2012

My local lumber yard sells a birch "shop ply" (as BillMcMurdo mentioned) for, I think, about $65 a ¾" sheet. It's void free, has a nice surface on it, way better than the $45 a sheet "hardwood" faced plywoods from the big box stores.

For exposed portions of cabinets I build, I've gone all the way to appropriately veneered ApplePly, but that's overkill for hidden stuff.
posted by straw at 8:37 AM on November 14, 2012

You might want to track down a copy of The Complete Kitchen Cabinetmaker by Bob Lang. I have it and I think it's well worth the read. Anyhow, he says that veneer cored plywood (Birch, et al), MDF, particle board and melamine board are all commonly used.

Personally, I'd go with the plywood.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:41 AM on November 14, 2012

nthing paint grade birch. I might use melamine for a pantry cabinet or other area that might need to be easier to clean and resistant to oils and moisture.
posted by humboldt32 at 1:27 PM on November 14, 2012

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