Best wood for painted kitchen cabinets

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Forum topic by BJODay posted 09-26-2014 01:59 PM 7066 views 2 times favorited 18 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View BJODay's profile


512 posts in 1367 days

09-26-2014 01:59 PM

Topic tags/keywords: painted finish kitchen cabinet

My nephew is remodeling his kitchen. They wanted to have painted cabinets. We are considering building to help reduce costs. (They have some custom sizes in mind). I have made plenty of face frame cabinets but I have never built for a painted finish.

What is a good wood to use for a painted finish. I’m thinking poplar or pine. Any thoughts or suggestions are appreciated.


18 replies so far

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

3850 posts in 1917 days

#1 posted 09-26-2014 02:05 PM

Poplar works very well, so does maple and it’s usually not that much more expensive. I’ve never tried pine and probably never will (clear pine is very expensive around here). I’ll also suggest pre finished plywood for the carcase, really saves a lot of work not having to finish the interior of the boxes.

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

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2264 posts in 1793 days

#2 posted 09-26-2014 02:29 PM

+1 on the prefinished (1-side for interior) boxes, and I agree on the maple, it’s more durable than poplar. If you have time to wait for a deal to show up, rough cut soft maple can be had on craigslist for $1-2 per board foot. I would save the poplar for drawer boxes and interior pieces that won’t be seen/touched.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1275 posts in 1359 days

#3 posted 09-26-2014 02:29 PM

Poplar and Maple are both good choices. Maple will be much harder, so keep that it mind.

Ditto Fred on the prefinished plywood.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View ChrisK's profile


1797 posts in 2505 days

#4 posted 09-26-2014 02:32 PM

My neighbor does very high end cabinets that are painted 80% of the time and he uses Maple with the melamine plywood for the insides. He also pocket hole joins the sides and bottoms together, no dado’s. I still prefer dado’s to help align the parts and I think they are stronger.

-- Chris K

View jmartel's profile


6475 posts in 1574 days

#5 posted 09-26-2014 02:37 PM

I wouldn’t use poplar. I’m not a fan of it at all with how soft it is. Dents very easily. Use maple.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

View Grandpa's profile


3256 posts in 2099 days

#6 posted 09-26-2014 02:59 PM

Maple. Use Varsity maple ply for the carcass.

View Keith Sonefelt's profile

Keith Sonefelt

18 posts in 775 days

#7 posted 09-26-2014 03:02 PM

We normally used poplar in Dad’s cabinet shop and always had good results with it.

-- "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right"

View ADHDan's profile


799 posts in 1532 days

#8 posted 09-26-2014 03:14 PM

I built my painted built-in cabinets with basic BORG maple plywood and birch face frames (because birch happened to be on sale at the lumberyard), finished with an airless sprayer. I used poplar for some of the trim in places where it’s not likely to dent – e.g. the mantle shelf frame pieces. I thought it turned out pretty good; pics in my project gallery.

-- Dan in Minneapolis, woodworking since 11/11.

View Grandpa's profile


3256 posts in 2099 days

#9 posted 09-26-2014 06:13 PM

I am sorry about the above post. I meant to say Varsity Birch plywood. We get it in my local lumber yard at a decent price. It is finish sanded and paints well. It has more plies than the AC fir and doesn’t show grain through your paint. It is similar but not the same as Baltic Birch.

View timbertailor's profile


1591 posts in 848 days

#10 posted 09-26-2014 08:29 PM

Birch Plywood.

Very stable over time and less likely to warp in humid conditions.

Maple for the face frames. Durable.

Maple for the doors if you are not on a budget. Maybe just the rails and stiles in Maple and use poplar for the door panels to save some money.

Like you said, it is going to get painted. I just use box clamps and glue to assemble.

-- Brad, Texas,

View DrDirt's profile


4143 posts in 3166 days

#11 posted 09-26-2014 09:03 PM

I’ll echo Fred and some of the others.

Get the PREFINISHED PLY for the carcases. The finish is very durable, and you won’t smell your shelves for months, or have canned goods stick to them.
But Avoid menards tigerply.

remember this is likely a one time shot, you cannot go back and fix this, and want cabinet boxes to last for decades, not months.

For the face frames, poplar is the way to go for painted frames.

-- 'Political correctness is fascism pretending to be manners' ~George Carlin

View AandCstyle's profile


2541 posts in 1681 days

#12 posted 09-26-2014 11:10 PM

If you intend to make panels in the doors, consider MDF for the panels. It machines well (except for the dust), takes paint well and you don’t need to worry about movement. Also, it costs less than maple or poplar.

-- Art

View MT_Stringer's profile


2820 posts in 2655 days

#13 posted 09-26-2014 11:20 PM

I used poplar to build these face frames for my mom’s cabinets. Note: MDF for the drawer front panels.

And these cabinets for our buffet

And these cabinets for my brother in law’s kitchen and doors and drawer fronts. Plus birch ply for the carcases.

Prefinished Birch for the inside of the buffet and our kitchen cabinets.

Hope this helps.

-- Handcrafted by Mike Henderson - Channelview, Texas

View DaleM's profile


952 posts in 2808 days

#14 posted 09-26-2014 11:37 PM

Plus one for maple rather than poplar when painting. Poplar grain raises bad when using a water based finish such as latex primer so it requires a lot more sanding between coats. Don’t use pine unless you are going to use Zinsser BIN primer which contains shellac or even the smallest of knots will eventually bleed through the paint. If you do find a deal too good to pass up on poplar, you could seal it first, then sand and prime and the grain won’t raise. Paint looks great over sanding sealer on poplar, but if don’t sand the sealer very well and blow/wipe off all the dust, then the primer won’t stick well.

-- Dale Manning, Carthage, NY

View BJODay's profile


512 posts in 1367 days

#15 posted 09-27-2014 01:56 AM

Thanks for all the advice,

I’m reluctant to use pine because I’ve had some problems in the past with the face frames distorting while clamped. Sounds like poplar may have similar problems. Maple sounds best. I’ll discuss it with my nephew and his wife and see what they think. I’m happy to help them save money but I don’t want to do it on the cheap.


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