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What to Use for a Cabinet: Plywood or Particle Board?

What to Use for a Cabinet: Plywood or Particle Board?
Although you may be tempted to buy a particle board cabinet because of its low price, this material is not as sturdy, moisture-resistant, or long-lasting as plywood.
DecorDezine Staff
Last Updated: Mar 26, 2018
Did You Know?
The German inventor Max Himmelheber invented the particle board in 1932.
For those looking for a suitable and sturdy material to use for cabinets, the confusion may arise while comparing plywood with particle board. The main factor to consider is the cost of buying new cabinets and getting them installed, which in itself may range between USD 5,000 - 20,000. With this range in mind, it is all the more essential that the material of the cabinet be worth every penny spent and should last for several decades without much complaints. This DecorDezine guide seeks to help you make a more informed cabinet purchase by comparing the features of plywood with particle board.
Plywood Vs. Particle Board
Manufacturing Differences
Plywood sheets
Plywood is manufactured by laying 3-13 layers of veneer/ply and gluing it with a strong adhesive known as phenolic resin (phenol formaldehyde). The upper surface or face of the plywood sheet is often of a better grade than the underlying layers of ply. Plywood has a distinct alternating pattern to its grain, which lends thickness and makes this material suitable for being used for structural and furniture application.
wood boards
Also known as a chipboard, a particle board is an engineered wood product that involves a completely different manufacturing process as compared to plywood. This board is manufactured by gluing discarded chips of wood and remnant sawdust, using phenolic resins. Thereafter, this mixture of sawdust and chips is pressed and bonded under high pressure and heat to form boards. The uneven pattern created by wooden chips gives particle boards an interesting look.
Density and Strength-to-weight Ratio
Wooden shelves
Since cabinets are used for storing dishware such as heavy plates, cups, bowls, and pots, and other kitchen paraphernalia, it is imperative that the main cabinet box should be sturdy enough to hold and maintain this weight.

Although particle board may be denser than plywood, it has lesser strength-to-weight ratio than plywood, thereby, making it a weaker substitute. Plywood with its uniformly cut and shaped hardwood layers has a more consistent density and higher strength-to-weight ratio than particle board.

The difference often lies in the backs of the cabinet boxes, wherein plywood boxes are comparatively more solidly built than particle board. Thus, if the strength of the two materials was to be compared, a plywood cabinet would lend more stability to the weight that is piled upon it.

On the other hand, particle board cabinets may not be able to sustain the weight of granite countertop or may bend under the weight of all its folders. However, it is extremely unlikely for good-quality plywood to give away in such a manner.
Durability
A cabinet must be durable enough to withstand everyday wear and tear and physical damage. The reason being, cabinet doors and drawers are often mishandled, banged shut, or not opened with care. Therefore, if the main frame and body of the cabinet are not made of a sturdy material, it can develop dents, chips, and cracks. Plywood cabinets rarely show such signs of wear and tear, unless the damage inflicted was heavy, and tend to last (10-20 years) if looked after well.

However, particle board being a composite material lacks the strength or durability offered by plywood because of which it tends to disintegrate.
Resistance to Moisture
Although plywood is not exempted from moisture damage, it does tend to resist moisture based on its grade and quality. Moisture-resistant plywood which is also the most commercially available type is able to keep moisture away to a large extent. Slight exposure does not affect the shape and form of a cabinet with plywood parts. However, persistent exposure to moisture will cause this type of plywood to get damaged eventually.

Unfortunately, particle boards do not hold well against moisture. These boards tend to delaminate and swell when exposed to moisture and never regain their original shape and form, thereby, making it difficult to close or use the cabinet properly.
Issues with Off-gassing
Formaldehyde, a volatile organic compound (VOC), is off-gassed by both plywood and particle board, because of the urea formaldehyde adhesives used in it. However, particle boards tend to off-gas more than plywood. Therefore, go in for American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-approved plywood and particle boards, which off-gas less and are safe to use indoors.
Warping
One of the downsides of plywood is that anything other than the highest grade of plywood may warp if there were gaps between its layers of veneer, during its time of manufacturing. Secondly, warp can occur post manufacture depending on change in moisture content (MC). In order to curb future warping problems and to keep the wood flat for longer, consider going in for a cabinet with veneered MDF (Medium-density Fibreboard) core. Being stronger and denser than plywood, MDF resists moisture better and warps less if sealed properly.
Cost
Plywood cabinets are more expensive than particle board because actual hardwood veneer is used for manufacturing its plywood, and the manufacturing process is a lot more expensive. Secondly, higher-grade plywood is stronger and more durable than chipboards, thus, costing more.
KCMA (Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association)-certified cabinets comply with the strict standards of the ANSI. KCMA-certified cabinets of plywood or particle board are exact replicas of cabinet models that have been made to go through strenuous quality tests and are of extremely high quality. Therefore, consider opting for a cabinet with this seal for greater assurance about its manufacturing process, make, grade, and longevity.