Over the years many customers have found themselves in front of an important decision for their cabinet box material selection: particle board or plywood. One of the most frequently asked questions we get at Cabinets Quick is what’s the difference between these two materials, and is plywood really superior to melamine aka particle board.
So let’s talk about melamine first. Melamine is basically the outside two layers, it’s thermally fused on to a particle board core, and forms a hard outside layer. Because there are so many different colors and finishes available melamine is called melamine even though it has a particle board core. Particle board is actually wood chips glued together, then compressed into a board. Many people have a bad experience with particle board because they’ve experienced a low quality board or have been misled with something that looks like melamine but is actually called “printed paper” and the density of the particles are much less than what we use, value engineering at its best.
Particle board is made by taking wood chips recycled from the lumber industry and then compressing them. Vendors like Ikea use 60 pound density board, this board is less compressed and it’s less likely to hold up, along with that the outside show/finish layers are very thin or not melamine. We use 90 pounds density boards which means that the board is compressed to 90 pounds of pressure per square foot. This is a commercial grade board, at Cabinets Quick we also use a board with pine in the core as compared to others who use different fillers.
Some pros to a melamine are that it comes in a lot of different colors and finishes. It also is very cost effective and has a wipe clean surface. The surface won´t age and it’s able to wipe clean and stand-up to abuse or harsh environments. Some of the cons are it has a bad reputation, it is also heavier than plywood and it’s not as strong as plywood.
Then you have the different kinds of plywood, but before we talk about plywood, there is a material which is a combination of plywood and melamine. This board has a plywood core with melamine outside faces. Many people want to have a white interior but don’t want to have the particle board core of melamine. This is an in between material with the best of both worlds. In terms of cost this is still the same cost if not a little bit more than a regular prefinished maple plywood.
Now let’s take a look at the different plywood materials, plywood is made out of layers of thin wood and then the ply layers are stacked together with glue between each ply holding everything together. Then the two outside out-side show/finished layers are prefinished with an environmentally friendly UV coating or left unfinished to be custom finished later.
Some of the pros and cons to using prefinished maple plywood: A pro is that plywood is a little bit stronger than melamine, it is also lighter than melamine. The screw holding strength is about equal to both melamine and plywood with plywood being slightly stronger. A con is plywood dings and dents easily on the faces and the surface will age because it is real wood.
Let’s take a look at what prefinished maple plywood is. When a sheet/board of plywood is purchased, we can get it as a natural unfinished maple veneer on the outside to show layers, generally used when the customer wants to have a custom stained finish. The alternative to this is to have a board with a finish already on it. We call this prefinished maple plywood because the material comes to our factory with a durable UV finish on it. This is very cost effective because the cabinets don’t have the expense of having finished applied after it’s made.
Many people are also concerned about water resistance. Over the years through testing and experience that we have found Melamine is more water resistant. That may be surprising considering that historically people had bad experiences with melamine or what was called melamine. Both materials plywood and melamine are made from real wood the difference being the glue that is holding them together. In melamine the wood chips are compressed and coated with glue much like a big ball of dough. Why is this important? Because the wood is coated with glue and therefore prevents water from migrating through. The outside melamine faces are also water resistant. Plywood is made up of multiple layers with each layer having a glue line. Water will still migrate through the layers and then ultimately degrade the glue lines between the plies. The outside two layers of plywood are also wood so have less water resistance.
So why all the bad experiences with Melamine? This simple answer is unfortunately many people were sold something completely different to what they were expecting to receive. We at Cabinets Quick are working to change this with articles like this to educate people about cabinets and what they should expect when they purchase cabinets from any vendor.
There is a new plywood out in the marketplace. Well, not necessarily new, but new to be used for cabinets instead of drawers and it’s called Baltic Birch. This material is basically wood from the Baltics glued together in multiple layers, many more layers than regular plywood. The pros to this, is its lightweight, is much stronger than regular plywood, and this material actually has a water resistant glue line. You can identify the glue being used by looking at the edge where you can see the glue line being a darker color between the layers. The dark glue color represents that the glue is water resistant, but this plywood still has some of the same problems of regular plywood where the layers of solid wood and water were still wick through. It also has similar pros and cons to regular plywood as well.
A solution that we found over the years to the water problem is to put sealer edging on every exposed edge. When we put the sealer edging on there no water penetration into the material. We do this for many jobs we do by the ocean or when a finished cabinet look is desired. This also is a pro for melamine because even if there is a little more cost for sealing every exposed edge it is less expensive than using plywood overall on medium to larger jobs.
So what should you have your cabinets made out of? The answer to this boils down to the look and feel you would like for your cabinets. Both the materials plywood and melamine are used in the industry as a staple.