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Types of wood used making kitchen cabinets.

All types of wood have different characteristics. Recently we received the edited inquiry below on our blog.

Question about types of wood.  Hi – I am looking for cherry wood cabinets in a light stain. We do not like it when a door has very different shades of color. I read all your posts and agree that getting a veneer panel will give me a more consistent color. However, looking at photos of Kraftmaid and other brands they still have very different shades between the panel and the individual parts of the frame on the doors. What cabinet line would you recommend?

Cherry wood kitchen. Example of one type of wood.
2017 Swarthmore PA Kitchen Cherry Kitchen

Here is an edited version of our response:

All wood pieces on a cabinet door will have color variations between each piece of wood.

Cherry wood in particular. While not as severe as hickory or walnut, cherry has more color variations than many other types of wood. Another property of cherry wood is cherry pits (small holes on the surface of the wood). These characteristics are natural and while some more expensive custom cabinet lines will have slightly less variation in their cherry cabinetry than say the Kraftmaid line you mentioned, you must expect any cherry kitchen to have these properties.

Customers that can’t accept the properties of the wood they select for their kitchen can be a nightmare for kitchen designers. Maple has mineral steaks, oak and birch are consistent but people like the grain and colors of other woods more. You cannot have your cake and eat it too, as the saying goes.

I think that you should not be looking for a cherry kitchen but for types of wood that can look like cherry or at least be stained to a cherry-like color but that will be more consistent. Some people select maple cabinetry and a stain that has a red cherry-like tone. In the Kraftmaid line you mentioned the chestnut finish looks cherry-like on maple. Alder is a wood that can be more consistent than cherry, and look like cherry, but you would need a more expensive manufacturer to avoid the knots that can also be found in alder.

All good kitchen designers explain the properties of all the different types of  wood and finishes that a customer considers.

It is incredibly frustrating arriving at a customer’s home to go over their concerns about their cabinets to find dozens of pieces of blue tape on cabinetry marking variations in the grain, wood tone differences, pits, or other properties of the stain and glaze that were selected, and that the  customer should have been expected. These blue tape customers will usually tell us that they “feel” that they should have gotten more consistent cabinetry for the money they spent. Despite the type of wood that they selected.

When I have explained or even warned a customer repeatedly about their selections before they order their kitchen and they then have these unrealistic “feelings”, I tell them that I “feel” like I should be 6 feet tall but am actually 5’9″ and shrinking with age. While very few enjoy the joke, they get the point, and we compromise from there. Replacing 3 or 4 doors that are fine but have characteristics a customer doesn’t like for an entire kitchen is fine and par for the course for kitchen designers. Customers that want more than that will find some cabinet dealers less flexible than others.

U shape kitchen in painted Maple wood2017 Warrington PA Kitchen in painted Maple

Below is a list of the most common types of wood kitchen cabinetry is made from, and the properties of each type of wood. And here is a link to wood descriptions from Osborne wood products.

Cherry – Larger grain. Medium to high variation in wood color. The lighter the stain the greater the variation. Cherry pits. Turns more red as it ages.

Alder – Alder is popular in higher end cabinet brands as it is usually less expensive than cherry, but has similar and more consistent grain patterns. It is also less dense, so a softer hardwood than most other hardwoods. Alder is popular, especially rustic alder, because the with rustic alder the knots are distinctive. Alder stains easily and can be stained to many colors successfully. This adds to its popularity.

Red Oak – Large grain. Medium color consistency. This was the most common wood used in kitchen cabinetry from 30 to 60 years ago. However it is VERY unpopular today.

White Oak – Denser and has tighter grains than red oak. More resistant to water.

Quartersawn Oak– More popular today than flat sawn oak. Very tight grain and very consistent in color. Worm tracks looking like stain burs are occasionally visible.

Rift-Sawn Oak – Due to added waste more expensive than Quartersawn oak but similar grain and even more consistent. No worm tracks. Available in custom cabinet brands.

Maple – Light graining. Consistent color. Mineral streaks (grey blemishes), Difficult to stain some colors. Very dense and difficult to kick or scratch. Turns yellow as it ages.

Birdseye Maple – Very expensive and high end wood that is available only in the most expensive custom cabinetry brands.

Soft Maple – Usually used when painting cabinetry. Other popular woods that can be painted are Asian birch and popular wood.

Birch – Consistent tight light grain. Less expensive and a popular grain pattern, so a good value with inexpensive cabinetry. Asian birch has less distinctive graining and so like soft maple and popular wood paints well.

Hickory – High color variation between pieces. Expect “stripes” on your cabinets. Large grain and some small knots are possible.

Walnut – Available in custom cabinetry. The most extreme variations in color.

Bamboo – VERY consistent VERY tight grain.

Mahogany – Usually actually Liptus wood today. Tight consistent grain.

Below is our 2024 cabinet ratings for the top 130 kitchen cabinet brands. These ranking are used by consumers far above Consumer Reports or other cabinet review sites.

Cabinet Reviews: Ratings for the top 150 cabinet brands.

Main Line Kitchen Design wants all our customers to love their completed kitchen. Please make sure you understand the properties of the wood you are selecting and keep the blue tape within reason.

Bon Appetit!

Paul and Julie

16 Replies to “Types of wood used making kitchen cabinets.”

  1. Lynn

    How about Alder?

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Lynn,
      I’ll add Alder to the list, as well as a couple of other woods. Alder is popular in higher end cabinet brands as it is usually less expensive than cherry, but has similar and more consistent grain patterns. It is also less dense, so a softer hardwood than most other hardwoods. Alder is popular, especially rustic alder, because the with rustic alder the knots are distinctive. Alder stains easily and can be stained to many colors successfully which also adds to its popularity.

  2. Sajjad Ahmad

    Great post. Really looking forward to read more. Will read on…

  3. Pashmina

    Any thoughts on beech wood for cabinetry? Is it consistent or inconsistent on grain and knotting?

    1. ITSAdmin

      Hi Pashmina,
      Are you sure you don’t mean Birch wood. Beech is a very unusual wood for a cabinet.

  4. Brian Frankland

    Hello Paul,
    I would really appreciate your opinion on an option I am considering for our kitchen remodel. Omega has pecan wood and I was told it is their baseline price. I was surprised because I have not seen pecan typically in the other cabinet lines. I assumed it would be an Omega upcharge because it seems to be rare for cabinets. What are your thoughts on it. We were considering a Butternut or Ginger finish. Thank you so much for this wonderful website.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Apparently Pecan has just begun being used as a hardwood for kitchen cabinets. I have never seen pecan cabinetry in person but from photographs it seems to have some of the grain characteristics of both Oak and Hickory. This type grain would look best for rustic or country type styles. Expect extreme grain variations like you see in hickory, although I like the grain pattern a little more. One thing I would say is that when you are getting something in the kitchen world that is new you should do a little extra investigating to make sure there haven’t been any issues with kitchen orders placed before yours. Maybe ask if another customer got pecan and get their number to see what they say.

  5. Mike

    Just wondering if you have any opinion on Wellborn cabinets and if you know anything about Phoenix Cabinetry? Try to web search on Phoenix returns results all over the place but nothing that looks to pertain that cabinet maker. Phoenix is being featured by a local cabinet retailer (northern Illinois) called Cabinetry Direct. Any assistance is very much appreciated because you really know about this topic. Thanks

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Mike,
      Don’t know Phoenix but a name like Cabinetry Direct suggests that you shouldn’t buy cabinets from them. Good kitchen designers do not work at those type places. Upgraded Wellborn is great. Here is a link to our 2018 cabinet ratings:

  6. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

    I have not noticed much of a difference between ANY painted line and durability. All painted cabinets are easilly scratched and more easily damaged by water than stained cabinetry. We have had several customers though who have gotton Brighton after Kraftmaid or other popular lines that claim that Brighton is much more durable. I think though that as the kitchen becomes more beautiful and striking that people take better care of it and that this is the real reason for the difference. There definitely could be a difference but it just can’t be as significant as these customers claim. Also as people get older their families are less rough on their cabinetry which could be another explanation. Possibly a little of all three reasons.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Many higher end cabinet lines now do custom color matched stains and paints. For example in the lines we carry Bishop, Brighton, Wellsford and the other custom lines we sell all do custom finishes. Bishop and Brighton will not do custom glazes so while they do custom stains and paints the glazes must be among their standard colors.

  7. Diane

    Thank you for the help about Brighton cabinets vs Omega. What is your experience with painted finishes on Brighton? For example, have you seen them chip, peel, bubble, be more susceptible to water damage than other cabinets, or wear easily? We’re thinking of maybe a soft white color but there are no showrooms in our area that he have that on display. Also, using it in a kitchen is different than seeing it on display. Have there been any recurring issues that you’ve seen across your customers with painted Brighton cabinets?

  8. Diane

    I just wanted to say thank you for your blog. In reading it I’ve learned at lot about what to look for in a good quality cabinet. We are looking at kitchen cabinets from Brighton and Omega Dynasty. First I wanted to confirm that the Brighton cabinetry that you refer to in your blog is the Brighton in Neoga, Illinois. With there being so many cabinet lines names I wanted to make sure I’m looking at the correct line. Also, of the two, which do you think has a better quality stain/finish? I’ve read that Brighton’s stains are hand rubbed and Omega Dynasty is sprayed. I’m not sure if one way of applying stain is better than the other.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Diane,
      Yes that is the same Brighton that we rate. I think that as far as a finish is concerned how the finial finish looks and how much you like that look is most important. One technique isn’t necessarily better, hand rubbed is usually more expensive but possibly less consistent. We carry Brighton because we believe they are a particularly good value. Omega makes some fine cabinetry as well. I understand that Omega now sells a framed Dynasty line. I know less about Omega than Brighton but the Omega upgraded framed cabinetry we give good reviews. And if you are getting European frameless cabinetry in a contemporary slab door style this was what Omega Dynasty was originally known for. Remember that unless your kitchen is a modern or contemporary slab door style we would not recommend designing in a frameless cabinet line. Both Omega and Brighton make Frameless cabinetry.

  9. Rhianna Hawk

    My husband and I want to get a new set of custom cabinets for our kitchen, and while we have the overall design figured out for the most part, neither of us know anything about wood types and what we should aim for. It’s good to know that a good designer will be able to go over the pros and cons of each wood type with us, and I actually really like the variations in the grain that natural wood brings. I know that we want to get something darker in color, so maybe cherry would be a good fit for us due to the variation in color, or mahogany for consistent grain but darker color.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Rhianna,
      Yes designers will be able to help you selecting a type of wood. Mahogany will be much more expensive then cherry.

      Since it sounds like you haven’t met with a kitchen designer yet the design you are considering can almost certainly be significantly improved. When you are willing to spend money on expensive custom cabinetry don’t waste the splurge by having the most important element of a kitchen renovation directed by a novice. Namely the kitchen design itself being done by you.

      Good kitchen designers will surprise you with alternative designs that you hadn’t considered. One of the great frustrations for kitchen designers is that most of our customers come to us believing that the know the design that they want and don’t want to even see better designs we as professionals would recommend for their space.

      At Main Line Kitchen Design we insist that customers first at least look at more professional designs, BEFORE we change the design into what they originally wanted. The result is that 90% of our customers get completely different designs than they thought they wanted. They often spend less money and the value of their home improves significantly from the more professional layout.

      When you are willing to splurge on expensive cabinetry, expensive countertops, or professional appliances it makes no sense not to spend a little more on construction by removing a wall, moving a doorway, enlarging a window or some other change that creates a better kitchen. As kitchen designers we know that it takes at least ten years working full time as a kitchen designer to become even competent designing kitchens. So there should be a big difference between what a very good kitchen designer would do with a space and what a homeowner, real estate agent, contractor, or architect would come up with. Often people with some design experience, like contractors or architects, will firmly believe that they don’t need help designing a kitchen. But in reality the more confident non-professional kitchen designers are the worse the designs are that they come up with. As the saying goes “A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

      Our video, link below, tries to make this point in a funny way.

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