Painted cabinets and cabinet doors are timeless and beautiful, and based on the number of painted displays at the 2016 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, they are extremely popular across all price points.
Which base material makes the best painted cabinet door is a source of much debate between cabinetmakers. Below we give pros and cons of the most common options so you can weigh the differences and make the decision for yourself.
Open Grain Wood Species
We don’t typically recommend open grain woods like red oak, white oak and ash for painted cabinet doors due to the porous, prominent woodgrain texture that shows through the paint, creating a rough finish. Some remodelers or homeowners wanting to reuse and paint over existing cabinet doors in an open-grained material, take several extra steps like filling in the woodgrain with putty or sealer and sanding the surface so it is smooth before applying paint.
Closed Grain Wood Species
Common closed-grain material options for painted cabinet doors include soft maple, hard maple, poplar and hardwood frame with Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) panel.
Painting Solid Hardwood vs MDF
Paint grade hardwood frame combined with an MDF panel is a top-selling combination. Many cabinetmakers prefer an MDF panel because of the stability MDF panels provide against movement and potential paint cracks between the panel and frame. The relatively narrow stiles and rails framing the panel typically remain more stable than the wide piece of wood that makes up the door panel.
Hard Maple, Soft Maple, Poplar: Top Picks for Painted Cabinet Doors
Some cabinet makers and homeowners prefer solid wood cabinet doors, because they want to stay away from adhesives used to bond the fibers in MDF or they want the ability to strip down the material and repaint at a later date. This group typically chooses solid hard maple, soft maple or poplar frame and panel for their doors.
Despite the name, soft maple is still considered a hardwood. As mentioned in our article Hard Maple vs Soft Maple Cabinet Doors, soft maple’s hardness rating on the Janka Hardness scale is 950 while hard maple is rated at 1450. The difference is significant however soft maple is still a very hard wood. Soft maple is harder than alder, African mahogany and poplar, and is a great choice for painted cabinet doors.
Paint grade poplar is typically the least expensive paint-grade material option, with soft maple being the mid price point and hard maple being the highest. Poplar is not as stable as maple and customers typically choose it for it’s lower price point.
Poplar is considered a hard wood although it is not quite as hard as soft maple or hard maple. See the Janka hardness rating scale below for a comparison of popular wood species hardness.
For a complete description and photo examples of poplar, soft maple and hard maple, see our wood material description pages.
Let us know your material choice for painted cabinets and cabinet doors and why you like that option best. We’d love to get your feedback!