A lot of people ask what is a better substrate for kitchen cabinets: plywood or particle board? This question has a difficult answer. Most people are in the camp that thinks plywood is the better option. This in most cases is true. However, depending on what your plans are for your kitchen this could just be an unnecessary luxury. I have seen numerous particle cabinets withstand the test of time. I have been in kitchens that are 20-30 years old with cabinet boxes that are made strictly of particle board and the kitchen has sustained the years. How could this be when plywood is all the rage?
To answer this you have to think about who says plywood is the standard. For example, American made kitchen cabinets usually come standard with the particle board boxes with plywood being an upgrade. Often times this upgrade can cost in the realm of 20% more. However, the standard cabinets still come with a lifetime warranty. If particle board is such an unsuitable substrate, how could the manufacturers offer a lifetime warranty?
Most of the time when you see kitchen cabinets that advertise “all wood” or “solid wood” they are implying that they do not use particle board in the cabinets. These tend to be the Chinese, or import, cabinets. It is extremely inexpensive to upgrade to plywood sides when they are manufacturing on such a large scale. Often times it is only a few dollars more per cabinet, but it allows them to advertise the plywood as a standard feature as opposed to an upgrade. This helps them sell their cabinets. When a customer is deciding between American or Chinese cabinets, even at the same price point, the Chinese are able to offer standard features that are upgrades in the American cabinets.
Both substrates are more than suitable to hold up a counter top, even a heavy natural stone such as granite or marble. Some consumers believe that plywood is more suitable to high humidity environments. This is definitely true, however, plywood has its own drawbacks in high humidity environments. For example, most cabinets that come with plywood sides are also finished with a veneer or laminate that matches the stain on the cabinets. More times than not, I have seen this veneer peel off when exposed to extreme humidity. So even though the plywood is stronger, it creates a cosmetic problem that needs to be addressed.
As it turns out, plywood is only marginally better than particle board. If price is not an issue, than obviously plywood would be a welcomed upgrade. But for those consumers that are on a shoestring budget and are looking to get the best for the price, compromising on the substrate that makes up the kitchen cabinet box is not the end of the world. For most applications, a particle board kitchen cabinet will hold up just as well as a full plywood kitchen cabinet box.