Selecting Cabinet Woods

When consumers take on a kitchen remodel, the first and most important step in the decision-making process is wood species. The wood can have the greatest impact on both the price and overall look of your design.

The majority of cabinet makers offer a large range of hardwoods, like Alder, Cherry, Maple, Oak and sometimes even an exotic wood like Lyptus. As all are hardwoods, they are all very different in character and appearance. First off, Alder, although moderately light in weight and considerably softer than other wood species, is a very popular hardwood. It has a straight fine grain like that of maple and cherry, and is often offered with knots to give off a rustic appearance.

Cherry is most often considered the richest-looking wood, as it darkens with age and has smooth, even grain. Exposure to bright or direct sunlight will cause the wood to darken and redden significantly, so it’s often sold in medium to dark stains. But expect to pay a little more for Cherry, since it remains the most sought-after species in cabinetry.

Maple, the most popular wood in the low-to middle-price categories, is one of the hardest of hardwoods, but the density is often uneven. This causes stains to penetrate the wood in an irregular fashion, often showing up as blotchy or muddy spots. Maple is characterized by its smooth, even, and fine grain pattern, which makes it the one wood cabinet companies offer with a “painted finish.”

Red Oak is known for its predominant grain patterns that run from straight line to arched and pointed. Oak is one of the stronger hardwoods, but is now beginning to lose much interest in kitchen remodeling as it seems to appear as an “outdated” wood.

There are a number of wood species that make up a small percentage of the overall market. These are exotic (imported) woods like Lyptus, a managed-growth hybrid of two species of Eucalyptus trees. Lyptus is grown in South America and its tremendous growth values allow it to produce 30 times the volume of wood per acre, compared to unmanaged forests.

This exotic wood compares favorably to maple in terms of density, strength and technical properties, and it has an appearance similar to that of cherry or mahogany. But because it is common for Lyptus to exhibit a wide variety of colorations and grain patterns, the consumer needs to be aware of what other materials do and do not work around it.

With so many possibilities in cabinet woods, homeowners really should use the services of a cabinet or kitchen designer to wade through it all, and get the wood that’s just right.