prefinished or unfinished plywood for Kitchen Cabinets

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Forum topic by mickeyh posted 08-18-2014 11:08 PM 4922 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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22 posts in 2247 days

08-18-2014 11:08 PM

I’m planning to build my own kitchen cabinets (big project, I know) with Baltic Birch plywood with no edge banding. I really like the look of the exposed edge. Should I buy the prefinished Baltic birch plywood or unfinished ones? Do the cabinet carcasses need to be finished or can they be left untreated? Thanks for all your help.

14 replies so far

View Redoak49's profile


3670 posts in 2192 days

#1 posted 08-19-2014 12:52 AM

While you may like the look of the exposed edges, over time, they will start to splinter and separate.

If it were me, I would finish the inside and out. I think that it makes the entire cabinet more stable and less vulnerable to any kind of moisture issues.

View JAAune's profile


1853 posts in 2520 days

#2 posted 08-19-2014 01:00 AM

The prefinished stuff is a good way to go. It’s more durable than anything you can do yourself, cleans easily and isn’t much more expensive than unfinished plywood.

-- See my work at and

View OldWrangler's profile


731 posts in 1798 days

#3 posted 08-19-2014 04:35 AM

My home was flooded under 10’ of water in 1994. We lost everything and was left with just studs. I chose to rebuild it myself. I have always been a woodworker and decided to really do a job on the kitchen cabinets. A local hardwood supplier let me pick out whatever I wanted from a huge stack of nice and dry Pecan. I was able to find a lot of boards with knots, bark inclusions and nice grain. It took almost a month to do the kitchen and the vanities in 2 baths. But if you can afford it, use a good hardwood instead of the plywood. Everyone has the plywood cabinets but seldom do you get a chance to make something you can show off. The stain was Golden Pecan finished with 3 coats of poly. At the time I was 55 y/o, in great health and working for my self. I had the time, bought all new shop tools and worked in the house for 14-15 hours 7 days a week. We got back in 1 day short of 9 months.
Sure it cost more and I made a number of mistakes, this is the only way I would go. I have now lived in this house for 44 years. The cabinets are now over 20 y/o and there has been no movement in the wood and it almost looks like the day I built it. And I couldn’t count the number of compliments from family, friends and neighbors who have seen it. This is just my 2 cents worth.

-- I am going to go stand outside so if anyone asks about me, tell them I'M OUTSTANDING!

View Earlextech's profile


1162 posts in 2894 days

#4 posted 08-19-2014 01:26 PM

Pre-finished and then finish the exposed edges with poly to reduce moisture absorption.

-- Sam Hamory - The project is never finished until its "Finished"!

View skatefriday's profile


426 posts in 1686 days

#5 posted 08-19-2014 03:00 PM

I’ve been debating the same thing with respect to the cabinets themselves.

Use prefinished or not? The plan is to use biscuits and pocket screws
for joinery. If I use prefinished I’m assuming I won’t get good glue
adhesion along the butt joints (although will with the biscuits) but
that will be made up for with the pocket screws. The idea isn’t to
get any strength with the biscuits, simply to aid in alignment because
I’m not skilled enough to do that freehand.

There’s a local cabinet maker right next to my plywood supplier and I
dumpster dive every time I go to the plywood place and am able to
pick up 2 and 3 square feet pieces of scrap that he throws out. 98% of
what he throws out is prefinished. I’ve been wondering how he does
his joinery.

Built all of my wood storage shelves with all that scrap, and it makes
great material to use for practicing stuff. But I digress.

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

5177 posts in 2697 days

#6 posted 08-19-2014 03:41 PM

I see prefinished as being so much easier (and the finish is better) than unfinished I won’t use anything but prefinished anymore. In fact, if it’s cabinets I’ll paint, I’ll get prefinished both sides, and then paint the finished side….no prep other than prime. If I have to glue along a finished side, I have cut a rabbet to remove the finish…..that’s actually a fair amount of work on a lot of cabinets, just butt joint with screws through the side is easier. I never finish the un-exposed side of cabinet carcasses, just the interiors (the prefinished part) and then cover the exposed sides with a panel or veneer.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View mickeyh's profile


22 posts in 2247 days

#7 posted 08-19-2014 03:44 PM

Thanks for all the responds. It looks like prefinished is the way to go. Now I have to find a place that carries prefinished Baltic birch plywood. Maybe I can finish it myself.

skatefriday: I plan to use either pocket screws or Gregory Paolini’s method from his video so I don’t have to fuss with glue and biscuits.

View Charlie's profile


1100 posts in 2490 days

#8 posted 08-19-2014 04:42 PM

You doing face frames or frameless?
When I built my kitchen I actually did a combination of both. Face frames for the uppers and frameless for the bases. All the bases got drawers instead of doors. Man…. what a back saver! I used the drawers system by Blum (TandemBox) and everything is soft close and they’re EXTREMELY heavy duty. I have a 36 inch wide drawer full of dishes, and another in my wife’s “baking center” with glass and ceramic bakeware plus big canisters of flour, sugar, etc.

I built the base cabinets as boxes. No toe-kick cutout. Then put them all on adjustable legs. Leveling was a snap.
The bases against a wall don’t have legs in the back. I put a ledger on the wall. The back of the cabinet box sits on the ledger screwed to the wall and then I just leveled the fronts using the adjustable legs. Snapped on a plinth and…. done!

The 8 ft by 3 and a half ft island… all those cabinets are on legs all the way around. Made it very easy to get them leveled up to set the walnut counter top. I would use prefinished if I were to do it again. I didn’t use pre-finished and it was a pain to finish all the insides AND… the pre-finished ones have a finish that’s probably more durable than what I could do on my own.

Exposed edges….. don’t do it. It will be the single biggest point of failure in the entire cabinet. I like the look too. ESPECIALLY on really nice Baltic. But I strongly advise against doing this. I shaved 1/8 inch thick pieces of hardwood and “edge banded” with that for all my frameless cabinets. Glued, clamped, and shot with with some small nails.

Good luck on your project! It’s a lot of work but there’s a great sense of satisfaction at the end.

View mickeyh's profile


22 posts in 2247 days

#9 posted 08-20-2014 03:57 PM

Charlie, I’m doing frameless. What you have is very similar to what I’m planning to do. Where do you get your TandemBox? I’ve seen cabinets by Kerf Design and doors by Semi-Handmade that has exposed plywood edges and they look really cool. How would exposed edge fail?

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

5177 posts in 2697 days

#10 posted 08-20-2014 05:49 PM

To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve seen seen BB prefinished. The stuff I’ve always bought was the cabinet grade ply offered by Columbia Forest Products (5 ply core). Excellent product, but not BB. You may indeed have to do it yourself, just be sure to use a finish that won’t smell after the cabinets are assembled (no oil based products).

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View skatefriday's profile


426 posts in 1686 days

#11 posted 08-21-2014 05:01 AM

Baltic Birch is typically only used for drawer sides in cabinets. I see a lot of prefinished
drawer side blanks at my plywood supplier. They all have exposed, poly sealed, edges.

My supplier also has prefinished BB, but of course if you cut it you need to seal the
edges with either banding or polyurethane.

I can’t see that there’s a real problem there.

View MT_Stringer's profile


3183 posts in 3435 days

#12 posted 08-21-2014 07:57 AM

Personally, I think you are wasting money on the Baltic birch for the carcasses. I use the basic construction work flow of Kris Reynolds (You Tube). His videos are easy to watch, and no BS or rambling like a lot of guys do.

I used refinished birch good one side…3/4 for the sides, 1/2 for the backs. Glue, screw and a dado and rabbit or two. Pocket screws for the face frames and to attach them also.

I built a buffet from five cabinets. I wrote a blog documenting it. Currently I have the upper cabinets installed in our kitchen and starting on the bottoms in the next few days. Blog also. Check em out.

Good luck.

-- Handcrafted by Mike Henderson - Channelview, Texas

View mickeyh's profile


22 posts in 2247 days

#13 posted 08-21-2014 03:28 PM

Great blogs Stringer.

I agreed with you regarding wasting money on Baltic Birch if I was going the face frame route like you did. I plan to build frameless cabinets with exposed edges so Baltic Birch would look nice.

View dozer57's profile


92 posts in 1703 days

#14 posted 08-21-2014 04:05 PM

I agree exposed edges do have a charm of there own. I have did this and had no issues with plys coming apart My main concern in a kitchen would be from water damage in sink area. I would use several coats of sanding sealer before my final finish. Seal the edges and you should be ok.

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