Unfinished Pine Cabinets
Pine is the only soft wood usually considered for use in cabinetry, primarily because of its low cost. While cost is typically the most important feature to put in the “pro” column, for certain styles, especially more rustic styles, its frequent knots can lend a great deal of charm to a cabin-style kitchen.
You can also find pine without the knots. Look for “clear pine” in that case, but expect the price to be more in line with oak. The downside of this stylistically is that it isn’t generally very interesting to look at, with very broad, straight grains that can lend a kitchen an almost “striped” look if you’re not careful.
The main down-side of pine is that it’s soft enough to dent and scar easily, even from comparatively minor impacts. A durable finish can help mitigate that, of course. Pine does take to painting relatively well, however if you go with the less expensive pine with knots, expect to use half a dozen coats or more before the knots can no longer be seen through the paint.
Unfinished Oak Cabinets
Oak is the single most popular wood for cabinets for good reason. Though it’s not the hardest of the hardwoods, it’s much more durable than pine, and able to resist nicks, cuts, dents, and scratches effectively over a lifetime of respectful use.
Unless you specifically want to achieve a rustic, cabin-like appearance, oak’s smoother grain pattern and low incidents of knots and blemishes will work much better for a more traditional or elegant design.
Oak is also among the least expensive hardwoods, another important reason for its popularity. For example, we have oak cabinet sets starting right around the $1,000 mark for a 10’ x 10’ kitchen.
The main con when it comes to oak is that it has a strong, striking grain pattern that can be extremely difficult to cover up with paint. If you don’t mind a subtle grain pattern showing through your paint, oak is a fine choice, but if you’re looking for a smooth, satiny finish, it can take numerous coats and quite a bit of thickness before the grain pattern of oak fades away completely. Of course, if you intend to stain your oak cabinets, its striking grain pattern turns into a pro instead!