Behind luxurious maple or cherry wooden frames and doors of kitchen cabinets are cabinet boxes. Though mostly unseen, the box makes up most of your cabinet. Since it wouldn’t make sense to construct the entire cabinet out of rare and expensive woods, manufactures predominantly use plywood or particleboard cabinet boxes. The 3 main differences between particleboard and plywood are construction, water resistance and cost.
Particleboard is made of wood fibers compressed and glued together. The techniques and technology have drastically improved over the years; making it easier to get quality particleboard that is comparable to most plywood. Quality is measured by the size of the wood fibers and the adhesive that is used. The smaller the fibers, the better quality of particleboard. Because of thier density, particleboard cabinet boxes can get heavy, especially with large cabinets.
Most consumers do not realize plywood is not solid wood, rather it’s wood with composite between each layer. The more layers, or plies, the stronger it will be. Plywood is normally viewed as superior to particleboard but be wary if there aren’t many plies. Additionally, plywood is lighter than particleboard which can be a positive during installation.
Exposed particleboard will chip off in larger pieces over time. Plywood will only splinter along its edges as it ages. However, many cabinet lines come standard with a particleboard melamine coated interior. Melamine is a special laminate that protects your cabinets from water, scratches and chips. A melamine coating can be found on both particleboard and plywood cabinets. While the melamine coating is waterproof, trouble can arise if water reaches the wood beneath.
This leads us to the biggest difference in durability consumers should be aware of; water resistance. A particleboard cabinet will easily swell and be ruined by water, while a cabinet made of plywood will give you a little more leeway because of its plies. There are other ways to protect your cabinets if you’re worried about water damage but everyone should remember, composite or not, there is wood involved— and wood doesn’t like water.
Plywood is more expensive than particleboard. In fact, a plywood upgrade will add an extra 10-15% to your overall cost. If you’re cost conscious, using a particleboard cabinet box is a great way to save some money. However, there is something to be said for the look and feel of real wood. Plywood is a great option if you are looking for a first-class lacquer or matching stain (or paint) interior.
In general, for a budget savvy remodeler, most brands such as Legacy and Mid Continent would be the best choice. They offer particleboard as a standard, and have a plywood upgrade option. Other brands, such as Starmark and Plato only offer a high-quality plywood option.