Four Kinds of RTA Cabinet Drawer Faces

Let’s face it: not all drawer faces are made the same! But they can be placed into broad categories, based on the material they’re made out of, so let’s take a look at the advantages and drawbacks of each.

The Cheap – Particle Board

Particle board is basically sawdust glued together and pressed into a mold. This makes it cheap, and… well, cheap. That’s it, pretty much.

It doesn’t hold a very good finish, thanks to the random arrangement of particles and little strips of wood. It also doesn’t hold fasteners very well, because it’s full of voids and gaps, like a sponge—ever have the screws that hold a drawer face, or even the drawer pulls themselves, strip out and just spin and spin as you turn them? Well, that was probably a particle board drawer face. Heck, the stuff even tends to disintegrate when it gets wet. You don’t ever use any water in your kitchen, do you? Yeah, we thought so.

So, we don’t use the stuff. Ever.

Now on to the real materials.

The Common – Plywood

Plywood is great stuff! We use it all the time … for our box frames, that is. Its many-layered design of criss-crossing grains make it hold fasteners like nothing else, and make it strong and long-lasting, and even warp-resistant. But it also makes for a bunch of straight lines at the edges of the drawer fronts, which you can either cover up with strips of veneer that are doomed to start to peel off in a few years, or with paint, which will never look perfectly smooth with the gaps between the plies being so porous. Well, not without a whole lot of coats, anyway, and that comes with its own problems.


The Best for Staining – Hardwood

This one’s a no-brainer. Hardwood is pure wood, cut from a tree other than pine and its many relatives. It is a little bit susceptible to warping in a warm, humid environment like a kitchen, but with careful design, other elements can hold it flat for many, many years. Its natural wood grain makes it exceptionally beautiful, even on the edges, whether flat or beveled, when it’s stained. It’s durable, because underneath that smooth-finished grain surface, if you happen to get a dent, ding, or cut in the finish, there is, you guessed it: more hardwood.

We love it! We use it in almost every cabinet line due to its superiority and its popularity, even if it isn’t technically the best for certain applications…

The Best for Painting – Fiberboard (MDF or HDF)

Wait, what? Isn’t fiberboard just glorified particle board? Well … kind of. Yes, it’s made of particles of wood, but in MDF and HDF, those particles are made carefully and on purpose, out of genuine hardwood. The particles are all the same size and shape, so they pack densely and evenly, unlike particle board which is full of voids and gaps. Then they’re cured under extremely high mechanical pressure, using much more carefully-engineered binding agents. The result is that medium density fiberboard has a density and strength on par with hardwood, and high density fiberboard is actually heavier and stronger, which is why it’s commonly used in commercial and industrial applications.

The downside to these engineered materials is that they have no grain pattern. This means you can’t stain them, unless you put a thin sheet of wood veneer over them. But painting … ah, painting is another matter. Fiberboard sands down to a glass-smooth finish, and the porosity is perfectly evenly distributed. This means no need for layer after layer after layer of grain-concealing paint, no bumpiness in the final finish, just one satin-smooth painted surface, in one flawless coat.

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