Best Wood for Painted Cabinets (+Painting Plywood vs. Solid Wood)

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Painted cabinets look smart and can have a direct impact on the ambiance of a room. You can choose the style of paint you use, which may be bold and bright shades, light, crisp, and clean or dark elegance.

However, if you are going to use wood to make your cabinets, the choice of wood is critical. Different types of wood take on paint differently. With the right kind of wood, you can get a smooth, painted finish. Hence, with this in mind, we bring you some of the best types of wood for painted cabinets you can use.

Best Types Of Wood For Painted Cabinets

An artist has to decide on what medium to use; a woodworker chooses what kind of wood is required for a project. Different factors like color, availability, ability to take paint or stain, and so on, are all taken into consideration.

Here are a few types of wood best-suited for painted cabinets:


Poplar wood
Poplar wood (Image: Associated Fabrication)

Over the years, poplar was the preferred choice of wood for painted cabinets. Maple is a strong competitor, though. The reason for this is that poplar tends to “fuzz up” during sanding. If the woodworker doesn’t notice these imperfections, they can show up after painting, marring the overall look of the cabinet surface. However, poplar continues to be used thanks to its affordability.


Alder wood
Alder wood (Image: Liga Eglite)

Although alder also takes paint well, it has a high rate of absorption for primer. It is one of the softer types of hardwood that is found in the northwest and perhaps not available in the rest of the United States. Hence, you will find alder more on the west coast.


Birch wood
Birch wood (Image:

Birch is suitable for painting, and you can also get it in the form of birch plywood. It is sturdy and durable, so this wood can take a beating from kids around the house as it is less prone to scratches. It requires less sealant or primer that the other varieties of woods, but costs more.

Soft Maple

Soft maple is another favored wood in cabinetry. Unlike alder, there is no tendency to fuzz up with soft maple as you sand it. You will also find this wood an easy one to sand and paint. The rate of paint absorption is even less than other wood, and you get an excellent and smooth finish on painting it.


Pinewood (Image: decar66)

Due to the wide availability of pine, you will find it used in furniture all over. It is an affordable variety of wood. You can get different pine grades, so ensure that you get a one that is suitable for painting.

Hard Maple

Hard maple is the most expensive paint-grade wood that you can get. However, it also costs the most. The National Hardwood Lumber Association does not monitor hard maple color, so you are likely to get some off-color wood.

Woodworkers find this grade of wood challenging to use with natural finishes, but it takes on paint quite well. Due to this reason, you can look for off-color hard maple to get paint grade wood at no extra cost.


Plywood Substrate
Plywood (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Plywood is a combination of different layers of wood veneers glued together into boards. You get different grades of plywood, namely, structural, exterior, interior, and marine. For making cabinets, we use interior plywood.

The grain of each layer of plywood is at right angles to each other. This orientation makes plywood extremely tough, and it does not crack. It would help if you looked for ‘A’ grade plywood, which you will find to be the smoothest and most comfortable to paint.

Medium-Density Fiberboard (MDF)

MDF (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Unlike plywood, medium-density fiberboard (MDF) comes under the category of what we call “engineered wood”. MDF gets formed by breaking down wood fragments into wood fibers and then converting them into boards. This type of wood serves well for making recessed doors for cabinets.

Pro tip: Avoid using oak plywood if you want to paint your cabinet. Oak plywood absorbs primer and paints rapidly

Plywood vs. Solid Wood: Pros And Cons

Solid wood
Solid wood (Image: Indo Gemstone IndoGemstone)

Now that you have had a good look at the various types of wood that you can use for painted cabinets, you may wonder about the comparison between plywood and solid wood.

Plywood is an extremely versatile form of wood for making cabinets. It is tough, cuts easily, and you can get huge sections of it. Moreover, you can shape plywood, and it also takes paint very well.

However, the limitations of plywood make solid wood a favored choice for cabinets. That said, even solid wood has its downside, so ultimately, you need to consider the pros and cons of both types of wood to make a suitable choice.

Here is some interesting information:

Plywood Pros

  • Plywood is a manufactured wood
  • Easy to maintain
  • Better strength and dimensions
  • ‘A’ grade doesn’t have any defects
  • Easy to select as there are fewer categories and types than solid wood
  • Suitable for applications where we need sheet material
  • Readily available

Plywood cons

  • Tendency to sag under heavy loads
  • Need to paint or cover it
  • Layers may separate out through exposure to moisture over time
  • Prone to tearing on the edges and corners while cutting
  • Required to add “edging strips”
  • Not possible to sculpt plywood

Solid Wood Pros

  • Solid wood can also have great strength
  • Beautiful, natural look
  • Rigid and stiff
  • Less tendency to sag under heavy loads
  • You can plane and machine solid wood easily into precise shapes and sizes
  • It is stronger as it is homogenous unlike plywood
  • Easy to maintain depending on the type of wood used
  • It is possible to create intricate carvings with solid wood

Solid Wood Cons

  • Tendency to warp and expand with exposure to moisture
  • Difficult to select solid wood  due to complicated grading
  • Need polish it every two to three years
  • More expensive than plywood
  • Not as readily available as plywood


If you want to paint your cabinets, feel free to do it. By reading this article, we hope that you have got rid of any apprehensions you may have had regarding painted cabinets.

You can select some suitable wood for your next woodworking project once you know the best types of wood for painted cabinets. You will be able to create some beautiful, painted cabinets for kitchens, bathrooms, or wherever you locate them.

Featured Image by Pixabay