Plywood vs. Particle Board – Your Cabinet of Comparison

plywood particle board comparisonWhen it comes to kitchen remodeling, one of the age-old questions and debates comes in the form of using plywood vs. particle board as your primary building material. Because of their varying forms of construction, each substance can help you achieve different kitchen cabinet quality goals. Depending on the kitchen design ideas you have in mind, each material has its plusses and minuses for your overall remodel. Let’s take some time to dive into these a little more in-depth so we can help figure out whether plywood or particle board is the best solution when it comes to your building needs.

How are Plywood and Particle Board Even Different?

Many who are new to the realm of kitchen remodeling or remodeling in general can commonly be confused about what the differences between these two materials even are. There are many similarities between them that can cause them to seem almost interchangeable. This isn’t the case, and it’s important to understand their basic differences when deciding which substance to use. Here is a list of general features for each:


  • Made of layers of wood veneer that are glued together, using alternating grains of wood to increase stability
  • Features superior shearing properties which allow it to resist pulling forces more reliably
  • Offers higher levels of tensile strength, also giving it a stronger ability to bear weight
  • Often weighs less than other building materials, such as particle board, which can be an important factor when building and hanging new kitchen cabinets

Particle board:

  • Constructed gluing and pressing wood particles together, sometimes by using a mold to do so
  • Features higher levels of resistance to various environmental factors such as temperature fluctuations, which can be beneficial in a kitchen setting
  • Often costs much less than other building materials, including plywood, because of its use of more recycled than fresh materials

Plywood and particle board are both used equally often when used in projects such as constructing kitchen cabinets. When given a cherry, maple, or birch finish, you most often won’t even see a difference in the type of material you choose to use. However, the differences laid out above should be considered in regards to your specific kitchen design goals to determine which route you should choose.

Plywood vs. Particle Board, a Closer Look

Choosing between plywood and particle board doesn’t necessarily mean choosing quality over anything else. When used and constructed properly, each material can result in the same kitchen cabinet quality. However, sometimes achieving that quality can have additional costs associated with it.

One example of this comes when choosing particle board as your main construction material. Particle board is known to have a lower resistance level to moisture. Often, the end grain on particle board cabinets will be left exposed (it costs extra to seal the bottom edge of a cabinet box), and therefore water can be absorbed through this surface. If left unsealed, particle board will tend to swell over time, resulting in a warping or distortion of shape in your kitchen cabinetry. Plywood is much less likely to be susceptible to the same levels of moisture that particle board will be, however neither material is completely impervious to the effects of water damage.

Another thing to consider is that while particle board may be cheaper to use when constructing your new cabinets, the material itself is also often harder to handle when doing so. This isn’t solely because of the fact that it is a heavier material, but also due to the fact that the nature of the wood grains used within it make it harder to drill and screw into. This makes it increasingly difficult to assemble and to hang when the time comes to do so. Many might find the hassle this can cause not worth the money you could save by choosing this material. This comes down to preference.

The Finishing Touch

When it comes to the overall appearance of your finished cabinets, we’ve already said that most of the time you won’t even notice a difference between those built with plywood and those built with particle board. When finished properly, the differences are miniscule. However, the process of finishing itself can sometimes go more smoothly depending on the material you choose.

The consistency with which particle board is manufactured means that it can offer a smoother and cleaner feel to the touch, which can in turn also offer an easier surface to paint and finish. The material is often harder, flatter, and slicker, which means that finishing materials will apply more evenly.

Plywood on the other hand is often a more uneven surface because of the grain patterns that are used during its manufacturing process. This can be remedied with additional sanding, but many renovators and remodelers don’t want to waste their time with that extra step, which is understandable. However, without the manual sanding, the uneven plywood surface can absorb the finishing materials and paint inconsistently, which can then result in a rougher finish that is less pleasing to the eye.

Ultimately, Your Preference is Your Choice

As we’ve laid out the differences and how those turn into advantages and drawbacks of both plywood and particle board, you can see a little more clearly that what this whole debate boils down to is your preference. Maybe you’re okay with paying a little more with a lighter weight set of cabinets, even if it does mean a little additional finishing work on your end. Maybe because of the type of walls and fixtures you can reasonably utilize in your home, plywood is the only option that makes sense for you. If you’d like a cheaper option that might be just a little harder to put together, then particle board might be the best route for you. You can always contract a little help in assembling and hanging your new cabinets, so maybe that drawback is not much of a drawback at all for you. Whichever route you choose, there are always ways to make your new cabinets look their best and give your kitchen the fresh and updated look you have in mind.

About Ron Hatchett

Mr. Hatchett studied Business Management at Old Dominion University and Architectural Design at Thomas Nelson Community College. He holds a building technical license and is RBC and CBC certified. He was a past participant and winner in the annual showcase, Parade of Homes. Mr. Hatchett is member of the National Association of Home Builders, Peninsula Housing and Builders Association, and Better Business Bureau. His motivation for starting Hatchett Contractors, Inc. was his family and his skills in the building and remodeling industry.