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Engineered Products and Solid Wood


Building a Cabinet Vocabulary

Today's cabinets, for the most part, are built with material called "engineered wood products."  Engineered wood is a composite wood product using glued fiber, lumber and/or veneer to meet specific design criteria.  These include:

Melamine   Particleboard
Plywood   Oriented Strand Board (OSB)
Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF)   Speciality Products


A common word hear by woodworkers is veneer. All it means is a thin sheet (fraction of an inch) of wood cut from a log. A veneer can be cut from almost any type of natural wood/lumber. The veneer is what you see and it provides the visually impact of a solid wood - but you never know what is on the inside (core) unless you saw into it.

A veneer is always attached to another product (usually an engineered wood) via a manufactured process involving adhesive, heat, and compression.

Veneer-core plywood is only one option for cabinet work. Manufacturers also turn out a variety of panels with engineered-wood cores: medium-density fiberboard (MDF), particleboard, oriented strand board and even panels that combine engineered wood with solid-wood plies.


Advantages of an Engineered-wood Core (non-plywood):

  • More weight

  • Lower cost

  • Flatter panel

Assuming the cabinets in your home are not all solid wood and if you were to saw your kitchen cabinet into small pieces, you would most likely find one of more of the following:

  • Veneer-core plywood

  • Veneer-core MDF

  • Veneer-core particleboard

To learn more about about plywood and veneers, visit the Hardwood Plywood and Veneer Association website.


Types of Veneer-Cores

  • A) MDF core is heavy and flat. Plywood with a core of medium-density fiberboard offers a smooth outer surface.

  • B) Veneer-core plywood. This 3/4-in. veneer-core plywood is made from five internal plies laid at right angles to each other plus two thin outer veneers.

  • C) Particleboard is another choice for an engineered core. A particleboard-core panel weighs roughly the same as MDF core, but it is slightly less expensive.

  • D) Combined-core plywood is a compromise. Two layers of MDF and a center of wood plies make for a smooth surface and a strong, flat panel.


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