Built-In Question

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Forum topic by Chris Speights posted 06-04-2012 05:04 PM 1444 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Chris Speights

129 posts in 2595 days

06-04-2012 05:04 PM

I have noticed most built-ins appear to be plywood that matches the hardwood facing. So, cherry plywood for cherry facing, etc. If I was going to attempt a built-in that would be painted, does the wood itself matter, much? It would be painted black, as that’s the decor in our office. I of course want it to look nice, but if I could cut the cost in half by using cabinet grade pine plywood and facing everythng with pine boards, that would be nice, too.

Another question, if painted the way I presume, what do you finish it with? Do you just paint and leave it, or topcoat with something?



11 replies so far

View PurpLev's profile


8548 posts in 3886 days

#1 posted 06-04-2012 05:13 PM

if painted, you can also use MDF. but other than that, you are correct. as long as the ply is cabinet grade, if it is painted, the ply material is less important.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3235 days

#2 posted 06-05-2012 12:05 AM

Pine is tough to get a good finish on though. The alternating hard and soft rings make for uneven sanding. As long as you can live with the grain showing, it works just fine. Structurally, it is great stuff. If you want an inexpensive smooth finish, some of the other cheap plywoods are a better bet such as Luan. There is also MDO (Medium density overlay) which is what they use on road signs and some concrete form work. It is pine ply with a resin impregnated coating.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View BentheViking's profile


1782 posts in 2801 days

#3 posted 06-05-2012 12:33 AM

Maybe try using poplar? Or birch?

-- It's made of wood. Real sturdy.--Chubbs Peterson

View dhazelton's profile


2805 posts in 2534 days

#4 posted 06-05-2012 01:29 AM

A friend has a cabinet company, and they do high end stuff. Paint grade is MDF where it isn’t structurally necessary. Every part of a door EXCEPT the style that requires screws for a hinge is MDF. Carcasses are prefinished birch ply. The MDF is just much more stable than real wood.

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 2913 days

#5 posted 06-05-2012 02:52 AM

Sure it matters. Pine is a softwood that dents easy. The grain will show through a dark solid color finish. Most AB pine plywood is full of footballs and voids you can’t see.

Many cabinet makers will steer you to using MDF with a hardwood or maple veneer in order to get the flatest, most stable surface for paint. I am forced to agree except I just can’t stand working with it. It’s so heavy you have to have help ripping it on a table saw. The edges are very delicate and it doesn’t hold a screw. God forbid it gets wet.

The dust is horrible and you end up with easily breakable IKEA furniture. Might as well buy one. It would be cheaper than making it.

I would like to recommend maple plywood with solid maple or poplar face frames. Maple is one of the hardest woods and holds a (pre drilled) hinge screw very well. If your cabinet has doors on it, you can leave the inside natural which looks great, helps with the light and is easier to finish than solid black.

I seriously doubt you can actually save half off the whole project just by switching to cheap plywood. If the cabinet is 6 ft. long by 7 ft. tall you will only need 3, maybe 4 3/4” 4×8s and 2 – 1/4” 4×8s for the back. How many cabinets like this are you planning to build for yourself? Might as well take your time and make it nice.

I always say – Take it to the next level. You will never regret spending a 100 bucks more and using the right material. All your best cabinet work won’t hide wavy pine grain or a bad finish done quickly.

Speaking of finishing – if you really want a nice finish, you should spray it. One coat of black tinted primer and 1 or 2 coats of black semi gloss, maybe satin is all you need. I prefer oil base but I’m old school and refuse to change.

Does everything have to be black? Natural maple looks fantastic next to black and is so much easier to do.

Good luck with your project and please post pics when you’re done… can’t wait to see it!

View a1Jim's profile


117417 posts in 3815 days

#6 posted 06-05-2012 03:03 AM

I agree with Mark using different types of plywood have different grain patterns and will really be highlighted especially when dyed or painter black making them stand out like a sore thumb.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View waho6o9's profile


8539 posts in 2814 days

#7 posted 06-05-2012 03:08 AM

+1 for MDO it paints up real nice. I installed MDO in a rec room and painted it and the results were
very good.

View TCCcabinetmaker's profile


932 posts in 2592 days

#8 posted 06-05-2012 04:15 AM

Ick MDF…

MDF ain’t high end stuff sorry.

OK, I NEVER use mdf, and I’m a custom cabinet maker… MDF is glue and sawdust, it’s not quality material period.

If I need to make a carcass for paint grade I will use China birch, which now there are two grades apperently and I pay the extra 4 bucks for the better… For wood panels, I will either use birch ply for flat panels, or I will glue up poplar for raised panels, price wise it’s the same and the end effects are better, yes it’s a little more work, but I have no help to pay…
I use lacquer to spray everything, and even with gloss black done correctly, the wood grains will not show through, however, gloss black does take some expertise to use.

-- The mark of a good carpenter is not how few mistakes he makes, but rather how well he fixes them.

View dhazelton's profile


2805 posts in 2534 days

#9 posted 06-05-2012 12:08 PM

Don’t want to get into the politics of MDF, but his company is over twenty years old and they do six figure kitchens in Greenwich CT area. As I said, it’s the non structural parts of the door, and usually end panels and fridge surrounds. Every material has it’s place. I’m sure plywood was considered to be cheap garbage by some carpenters when it first came to market, as well.

View Chris Speights's profile

Chris Speights

129 posts in 2595 days

#10 posted 06-05-2012 12:20 PM

Thank you all so much for your input. This tabled a lot of issues/considerations I had not even thought about. Of course, this is exactly why I asked here. You guys are all great.

As for cutting costs in “half”, it wouldn’t literally. However, the hardwood plywood available around here (Southeast Texas) is Birch and Oak. They are approximately $45 per 4×8 sheet. The cabinet grade pine is about $28. The project itself will be pretty massive (at least by my stanards, anything over a bookshelf is “massive”). I haven’t drawn it all out, yet. But, the general idea is there will be 5 bookcases across the top section. There will be a 2.5’ area between the bookshelves, then there will be 3 base cabinets. One on the left, one in the middle and one on the right. The “gaps” created by the cabinets will be desks (2). The wall it will sit on is 12’ wide. So, in total, it will be about 8 foot +/- tall.

With all the above said, I completely agree I do not want the grain showing through from the pine/sanded ply. I also like the idea of leaving the indsides of the cabinets unfinished (well, not painted). Again, you all have given me a lot to think about and I really appreciate your input.

Thanks again,


View joebloe's profile


157 posts in 2532 days

#11 posted 06-05-2012 02:29 PM

If you are going to paint the cabinets,make sure that you use primer first. what I do is apply 3-4 coarts of primer,lightly sanding between coats.Then apply 2-3 coats of paint,also lightly sanding between coats.This should give you a smooth finish.

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