When building cabinets, how do you decide what type of lumber to use?

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Forum topic by Budk posted 02-24-2013 10:26 AM 1309 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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8 posts in 2140 days

02-24-2013 10:26 AM

Obviously, I am new at this but not at life. I’m 53 but just getting into taking woodworking seriously. My main exposure up to now has been on the construction side. I’m ready to start enjoying myself and I recently picked up a table saw, jointer and a planer to augment my other tools.

I want to build a set of cabinets for our Laundry Room. There is a window that I need to work around so the washer and dryer will be under the window and I will mount a counter top above those 2. On both sides of the W/D, I will have a tall cabinet (likely 85”) with at least 2 doors. To the right of the tall cabinet on the right will be a utility sink cabinet and a wall cabinet above it. Finally, above all the cabinets will be a set of 3 cabinets, each 3ft long that will run across the top and use almost all the available height. I’ll trim out the top to the ceiling.

So, I have a basic design. Plywood construction, face framed cabinets with a flat-panel insert doors. Basically, a Rail and Stile constuction of door with a flat insert panel rather than a raised one.

My question is, how do I decide what type of lumber to use ? We are thinking that we want to stain the cabinets a dark color (although that may change as well). How do you decide between using something like cherry, hard maple, oak or ???. I know where I can get all different species of plywood and I assume that I want to get the same species of plywood for the cabinets that I will use for the doors. Any help is greatly appreciated.

Also, any sources of lumber near Pittsburgh, PA are appreciated as well as any woodworking groups in the area.

11 replies so far

View Woodknack's profile


12430 posts in 2578 days

#1 posted 02-24-2013 10:42 AM

Staining presents several problems, that many woods blotch and that plywood and solid wood take stain differently meaning the plywood will be a lighter color. I recommend keeping it simple and choosing a wood the color you want and using a clear finish. Oak and mahogany accept stain well but oak will always look like oak though you could use a pore filler to get an interesting look.

-- Rick M,

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

30050 posts in 2536 days

#2 posted 02-24-2013 02:40 PM

What type of wood depends on your own taste and budget. Staining and finishing can create their own problems, but that can be dealt with. Different woods come with very different price tags. In a laundry room, pine with stain is fine. In the kitchen, den or other rooms you may want to skip the stain and use the beauty of natural wood. More expensive maybe, but more of who we are.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View JesseTutt's profile


854 posts in 2308 days

#3 posted 02-24-2013 02:49 PM

Select plywood that already has the correct veneer on it. If you want to stain first apply a thin (wash) coat of dewaxed blonde shellac to help prevent blotching. Try finishing scrap pieces first and see what the final color will be. That way you can adjust the amount of stain or how fine you sand to get the color you want.

-- Jesse, Saint Louis, Missouri

View DevilDoc's profile


8 posts in 2132 days

#4 posted 02-24-2013 03:10 PM

agree with the rest but will add my 2 cents, Walnut makes a good option i think and you don’t have to stain it to get a “dark Stain look” ..........

View camps764's profile


867 posts in 2558 days

#5 posted 02-24-2013 03:16 PM

all of the advice is spot on…depends on where it will be an what quality you are going after.

Make sure you call around, even to the larger suppliers…even though they advertise that they only sell to commercial accounts I have found some in Omaha that will let you drop in and take stuff off the top of the pile…usually just means you can’t root around for specific pieces…typically have let me come back as long as I don’t make a mess of the joint and put everything back like I found it.

For a laundry room I’d be tempted to get a small piece of the ply you plan on using and follow Jesse’s advice on the wash coat to help prevent blotching.

Do a lot of tests before you commit to building out of specific material – other than natural hardwood veneered ply. That way you know what to expect BEFORE you commit lots of man hours and cash-ola to the project.

-- Steve

View Budk's profile


8 posts in 2140 days

#6 posted 02-24-2013 03:29 PM

Great suggestions – testing for the final finish/look first makes a lot of sense. While I said it’s for a laundry room, the rest of the house has high-end custom millwork and cabinets and the laudry room is the main entrance when coming in through the garage so I want it to look like the rest of the house in terms of finish.

View skipj's profile


97 posts in 2471 days

#7 posted 02-24-2013 05:13 PM

All real good answers. A few years ago i built a entertament center that went into the living room.
There were no walls between the kitchen and living room so everything had to match.
It was all red oak in a less then a year old house,the center was 11 ft.wide. I found out who made the
cabnets for the kitchen and they told me the finish they used.My customer was very happy with
the results.I’ve done more work for this customer sense. If you can post some photos of what you wish to match it would help us out to anser your question.

View Budk's profile


8 posts in 2140 days

#8 posted 02-24-2013 06:57 PM

Thanks, but I don’t want to match what I have in the kitchen either in color or even in design. It’s a seperate room so it can be different but still have a high end look. Before I decided to build my own we looked at what Ikea had to offer. They have a straight rail and stile style door (ramsjo) that they refer to as black-brown color. That’s the style and color I think we want… but frankly, we are still open to other options. We don’t like golden oak or beech or most light colors although a white wash type finishish may work.
To clarify my original question, how do you decide whether to use maple or cherry or ?? if you plan on staining it to a dark color or even a light color? I assume that each species looks different even with the same color stain?

View ShaneA's profile


7052 posts in 2796 days

#9 posted 02-24-2013 07:14 PM

Budget is a main factor. I would guess in most places, cherry costs more than maple, especially in plywood. Staining cherry, well…that may not always be a good idea. But, they are your cabinets. Maple or birch would be good options with plenty of places stocking reasonably priced ply to go with it. Walnut w/an oil and clear coat of some type will yield you a nice look and be dark. Remember, cherry will darken significantly with time.

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2685 days

#10 posted 02-24-2013 07:26 PM

You could always use oak plywood and fume it with ammonia. It gives it a nice dark coloring that looks aged but natural.
It also helps to equalize different types of oak from different batches.

This was a method used in the olden days for Craftsman, Mission and even Shaker styles at times.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View RogerInColorado's profile


321 posts in 2152 days

#11 posted 02-24-2013 07:50 PM

Take your bride to a home center that has a large cabinet display. Find a cabinet that has the grain and color you like. Find out what species of wood it is.

Pay attention to the interior of the cabinets as well. You may find that the boxes (in good ones) are made of good quality birch plywood with just a veneer on the end cap that matches the face frames. That’s much less expensive than buying plywood with matching veneer throughout (and, in my opinion, stronger and easier to work with, too).

Go to the lumber yard and get a stick of the wood. Get enough to do lots of experiments with color. While you are there, pick out a small can of stain that matches what you remember the color to be on the cabinets you like and a small can of polyurethane.

Cut a manageable length off the board, a foot or so. Sand it smooth down to about 150 grit. Put a coat of stain on according to the instructions on the can. When it’s dry, add a coat of polyurethane to two thirds of the board, preserving the stained but unfinished end for comparison. If you like the result, put a second coat of urethane on a third of the board and see if it’s still ok. Otherwise, turn the board over and do a different color (or no color), different sand-to grit, lacquer instead of poly, different sheen, extra coats of stain, etc. This is the cheapest way I know of to find out what I like and don’t like and what works and what doesn’t. If you think this part of the process is expensive, wait until you don’t do it and find out how expensive THAT it.

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