We get a lot of questions about whether solid wood or HDF is better for cabinet doors.
The answer is always, "it depends".
It depends on many factors. The space they're going in, the budget you're working with, and the details that are most important to you and your customer.
That being said, solid wood has always been perceived as the clear winner. But there are a lot of great qualities about both materials that work great for different cabinetry projects.
Here's an in-depth guide on the advantages and disadvantages of each material to help you choose which one is the best for your project.
What is solid wood?
As the name implies, solid wood is... solid wood. 100% natural lumber. And it has been the go-to material for cabinet doors since the beginning of time.
Advantages of solid wood:
Strong. If you're looking for something that will last for decades, solid wood is probably your best bet. Known for its strength and durability, wood has been used for centuries for interiors, exteriors, and even structural use. However, not all woods are the same. Some hardwoods, like hickory or maple, will resist scratching and denting more than softwood species, like alder and poplar.
Aesthetics. You just can't beat that natural wood look. Its timeless and distinct beauty is something no man-made material can replicate. The warmth from the wood instantly makes a home feel more inviting, warm, and cozy - characteristics that may be lacking with other synthetic materials.
Customization. Solid wood is very versatile when it comes to design. Whether you have a traditional, country, transitional, contemporary, or modern style, solid wood can fit any design.
Value. Solid wood, generally speaking, holds more value than engineered wood. And can actually increase the value of the home due to it's visual aesthetics and long lifespan.
Variety. There are several species of wood to choose from and each one has their own look and durability to fit your needs.
Disadvantages of solid wood
Moisture damage. Wood is not waterproof. When wood is exposed to moisture, humidity, and temperature changes, it can rot. Which isn't an easy or cheap fix.
Warping and cracking. This is probably wood's biggest downfall. Wood is an organic substance that expands and contracts when humidity levels rise and drop. Because of that movement, the functionality of the door is effected. Warping, swelling, shrinking, and cracking are just a few of the noticeable damages that can happen when your cabinet doors are not in a controlled environment.
What is HDF or 'engineered wood'? While solid wood consists of wood only, High Density Fiberboard (HDF) is an engineered wood product that is a mixture of wood fiber, real wood, resin, and adhesives.
How does HDF compare to other engineered woods? When it comes to engineered wood, HDF is a step above MDF and plywood. It stands for High Density Fiberboard, and like the name suggests, it is the hardest of the three with a density of 800 to 1040 kilograms per cubic meter. It requires a lot more heat and pressure when it's manufactured, making it more durable and comparable to solid wood.
Advantages of HDF
No warping or cracking. This is probably the biggest advantage to HDF over wood. HDF does not experience movement from expansion and contraction like traditional wood does, so there is no warping or cracking when you choose this material.
Smooth Finish. HDF is made from very fine particles, which means there is no noticeable grain. This can be an advantage for your cabinet project especially if you're painting and looking for that sleek, flawless finish. When it comes to painted cabinet doors, we recommend HDF over solid wood.
Versatile. HDF can be cut, routed, and modified easily into different shapes and sizes with a CNC machine. If you have a project that demands no joints, 1-piece HDF doors are the recommended choice.
Affordable. HDF is a more affordable, inexpensive option compared to wood.
Disadvantages of HDF
Limited finish options. HDF almost always needs to be painted. Since it has no wood grain, stains don't produce great results. However, you can use veneer to replicate that natural wood look.
Sensitive to extreme heat. HDF does not do well in high temperatures, making it not suitable for outdoor use.
Moisture damage. In its natural state, HDF will soak up water and swell if directly exposed. To avoid this, HDF can be treated and sealed to become resistant to moisture.
HDF vs. Solid Wood
So what's the verdict - HDF or solid wood? When it comes to cabinet doors, solid wood has always won the popular vote. But as mentioned above, each material has its own pros and cons that depend on each individual situation and environment. For cabinet doors, we highly recommend HDF. It's durable, economical, and extremely versatile for any and all cabinet projects.
If you haven't worked with HDF before, you can request a sample box here and we'd be happy to send you one.