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MDF painted cabinet doors rate best!

MDF or Medium Density Fiberboard is no longer a negative cabinet door feature!

Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) used to be substantially different in quality than High Density Fiberboard (HDF) cabinet doors.  Today, the densities are now extremely similar.  Furthermore, the denser material is actually harder than solid wood. Painted finishes are also less likely to dent or chip on these improved MDF/HDF doors than on solid wood doors. And yes . . . there’s more!  There are also no expansion joints and the obvious seams that can ruin the look of painted finishes on solid wood door styles.

Solid Wood painted kitchen was most popular in the past MDF and HDF painted doors are now becoming more popular.

Main Line Kitchen Design tested the denting and chipping properties of doors made of birch, maple, and popular woods up against the new composite doors.

It’s one thing to say MDF has become durable.  It’s another to prove it!  The Main Line Kitchen Design team devoted one recent staff meeting to confirming that the MDF doors sustain less damage from a hammer and as well as wood on wood collisions.  No designers were hurt in the testing 😉 .  

Due to this change in the durability of MDF doors, Main Line Kitchen Design now recommends using denser MDF doors for most door styles with painted finishes. Particularly for simpler door styles like recessed panel doors, shaker, and skinny shaker door styles.

When these MDF doors became denser. they did become a little more expensive.

Photo of MDF doors being manufactured

Unlike the MDF doors common years ago, the new MDF/HDF doors are no longer less expensive than real wood. However, they do look nicer, have a smoother painted finish, are more difficult to dent and chip, and because they are also heavier, they feel more substantial when doors open and close.

It is understandable that homeowners are confused with so many options.  Plywood sides and solid wood face frames are still the best option for Cabinet boxes and face frames. Although, now exposed cabinet box sides with a painted finish are better looking and more durable with a 1/4″ HDF skin over 1/2″ thick plywood. The new development is that MDF has become nearly as durable as HDF so using an MDF skin over the plywood sides give homeowners the best of both materials.

Watch a video of our test on YouTube link below:

Read about other cabinet properties and what makes cabinetry better constructed in the blog below:

Main Line Kitchen Design wishes all our customers and followers Happy Holidays . . .


Bon Appetit!

Paul, Julie, Chris, Ed, Jeremy, Juliet and Mark

Main Line Kitchen Design

6 Replies to “MDF painted cabinet doors rate best!”

  1. Lea

    Are these the same as melamine cabinets?

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Lea,
      No melamine is a plastic. If you want the technical info READ THIS.

      In the cabinet world it is used as a veneer. The same melamine type plastic can be used for other purposes like solid plastic silverware.

      With cabinets it is like a laminate (for example Formica), However it is thinner and less hard. It can be put over plywood or particleboard. It is usually used for the surface of the sides, bottoms, shelves, and the backs of cabinets.

      If you used melamine (a low pressure laminate) on cabinet doors it would be far les desirable than a high pressure laminate surface like Formica. It would also be less desirable then other coatings on doors like thermofoil.

      The sides of the cabinets and the rest of the cabinet box are always best made out of plywood. For framed cabinets the fronts are solid wood for frameless cabinet the front edge of the cabinet box could be melamine along with the surface of the rest of the box.

      MDF very dense and very different from the particleboard that the sides of cabinetry can be made of. It is used for the cabinet doors and not usually for the cabinet box.

      Because MDF is so hard and can be sanded perfectly smooth it makes for a good surface to paint.

      1. Lea

        Thank for your response. A salesperson was trying to convince us to get melamine cabinets after my wife said she wanted low maintenance. But she couldn’t articulate the value, durability compared to wood.

        1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

          Hi Lea,
          A laminate, an expensive acrylic door, or a foil door like Timberlake’s Duraform surface would have the least maintenance. Traditional themofoil is also longer lasting then it once was and has no maintenance until it starts to delaminate after 20+ years. Painted wood and MDF doors will require professional touchups over the long run but look less artificial.

  2. Richard Cullmer

    Are VOCs a concern with MDF/HDF door panels?

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Richard,
      Good question. Since all cabinetry sold in the United States since 2019 needs to comply with what used to California’s strict CARB2 levels for VOC’s, the answer is that the VOC levels would be considered low. Especially if the cabinet box is all plywood construction. MDF and HDF off gas less than the particleboard that the sides of many cabinet brands like IKEA are made of.

      However since solid wood doesn’t off gas at all the VOC levels would be more than had the doors been all wood.

      Since some people are hyper sensitive to any off gassing, people that are concerned should take the precautions that we discuss in the blog below:

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