15/11/2022  •  , ,

The Best Wood Species for Painted Cabinets

Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes 


Are you trying to pinpoint the aesthetic of your next kitchen cabinets? With so much emphasis on the look of your cabinets, selecting the perfect painted finish is a significant decision in the kitchen design process


But not all painted cabinets are the same. One thing homeowners may not know is that there are a variety of different woods you can choose as your canvas for pristinely painted cabinets. 


So, which wood species are the best for painted kitchen cabinets? We’re here to help! 


At Deslaurier, for over 40 years we’ve specialized in manufacturing and designing custom cabinets with equal parts beauty and function. In that time, we’ve installed thousands of homes with painted kitchen cabinets made from a number of quality woods.


In this article, we’ll take a look at 5 of the most popular wood species to use for painted kitchen cabinets.


Let’s get to it!


Table of Contents

Paint-Grade Cabinet Woods

Birch Painted Cabinets

Maple Painted Cabinets

MDF Painted Cabinets

Poplar Painted Cabinets

Oak Painted Cabinets

Discover Deslaurier Custom Cabinets 

Whimsical White

Paint-Grade Cabinet Woods


Choosing a cabinet material for painting is a lot different than it is for staining. For starters, you’re not inclined to select a wood species for its natural appearance because it won’t show through the paint (ideally). 


Rather, the focus is on functional characteristics that will make one wood better for painted cabinets than another. These are considered “paint-grade” woods. 


A paint-grade wood will have two key features:


  • A flat, smooth surface


  • They either won’t have any knots or heavy grain patterns, or those will have been removed in the manufacturing process. 


These are typically hardwoods as opposed to softwoods, as their added strength and durability make them more resistant to scratches and dents. 


They also tend to be more affordable woods. You wouldn’t want to pay top dollar for a pricey walnut or cherry wood just to cover them up with paint.

New call-to-action

1. Painted Birch Cabinets


Birch has a pale colouring that can look slightly yellow-ish. It has a simple, rather open grain that is typically made up of straight (ish) lines. Birch is also one of the few kinds of wood that actually develops colour with age, gaining a yellowish-red tint as time passes.


Birch is considered a paint-grade wood thanks to its low-key grain and uniform surface.


It should be noted that since birch – and almost all of the other woods on this list – are solid natural woods, they’re therefore living, breathing products. What that means is these wood species will expand and contract due to temperature and humidity changes—something known as “breathing” in the world of woods.


Over time, that slow expansion and contraction will cause stress cracks in the paint wherever there are joints in the cabinet door. This is an organically occurring phenomenon and something that will happen to all-natural wood painted cabinets. 


2. Painted Maple Cabinets


Maple is noted for having a simple and subtle grain, with its colour rooted in a gentle white with reddish-brown hues. While maple’s grain pattern is generally quite straight, it does have some waves and curls to it. Maple is commonly compared with birch.


Similarly to birch, maple has a smooth, uniform surface that’s perfect for a painted finish. In fact, maple wood is even smoother than birch in comparison! Making it arguably the best solid wood surface for painted cabinets. 


Maple is unique in that it has two separate types of species: a softwood and a hardwood. Soft maple tends to be used for custom woodworking like furniture, desks, and even doors. While hardwood maple is far more practical for things such as flooring and kitchen cabinets. 


3. Painted MDF Cabinets


The gold standard for painted cabinets, medium density fiberboard (MDF) is a material manufactured by breaking down softwood and hardwood residuals into wood fibers. These wood fibers are compacted with wax and resins, formed into panels, and applied with high pressure and temperatures in order to create a durable, condensed board.


Being a man-made material, MDF lends itself perfectly to painted cabinets for a number of reasons. 


Firstly, MDF is free of any knots, blemishes, or tactile wood grain that is commonplace for natural woods. Its engineered surface offers a pristine canvas for the paint to adhere to. 


Furthermore, MDF is the most stable “wood” product available. Since it is not solid wood, MDF is much less susceptible to “breathing,” meaning its painted finish is not as likely to crack due to cold, dry winters or warm, humid summers


The only downside to MDF is that its surface is not as durable as solid wood. That being said, no one intends to subject their kitchen doors to heavy abuse, so having MDF for cabinet doors instead of wood will not be a detriment.


4. Poplar Painted Cabinets


Poplar is one of the softer hardwood species; a characteristic which may make it slightly less durable than others, but it also makes it extremely easy to work with—a benefit to any woodworker, carpenter, or cabinet maker. 


It’s also one of the most affordable woods you can find, making it a popular choice for plywood, furniture, cabinets, and even paper (pulpwood)!


Poplar has that smooth, uniform surface that is a must for any painted material. It is extremely porous, which makes it a less ideal wood for staining. With the right primer to reduce absorption, however, poplar can take paint exceptionally well. 


Lastly, as we mentioned, poplar is a lot softer than the other woods on this list. That means it needs additional sealer and protective layers for added resistance. Even then, painted poplar is still far more vulnerable to dents and dings than maple or birch. 

New call-to-action

5. Oak Painted Cabinets


Most people don’t view oak wood as a quality choice for painted cabinets, and they’re not necessarily wrong. Oak doesn’t have that smooth, uniform surface as the other woods on this list, and isn’t considered a paint-grade wood by the traditional standard. 


In fact, oak has a very prominent, textured grain, which isn’t a characteristic commonly associated with painted cabinets. 


However, that prominent grain can actually be an aesthetic benefit for some people. Oak’s grain offers a unique, textured surface you won’t find with other painted cabinets. 


Oak is one of the most durable, long-lasting woods in the world. That longevity can actually be a detriment, as older honey-coloured oak cabinets tend to look outdated (while still being in pristine condition!). 


Chances are if you’ve had oak cabinets for a couple of decades, they’re still in pretty good condition. Adding a vibrant paint colour can be a great way to add a modern touch to older oak cabinets. 


Not a fan of the pronounced grain on painted oak? Have them refinished with a sanded and smoothed surface ready for paint!


Design with Deslaurier Custom Cabinets


If you’re looking for the perfect painted cabinets for your kitchen, Deslaurier Custom Cabinets has a selection that will fit your needs! 


Deslaurier proudly carries MDF and several of the paint-grade natural woods listed above in our extensive product catalogue. 


Add to that our collection of over 70+ cabinet door styles – and the possibility for hundreds of paint choices to pair with them thanks to our custom colour match system – there’s no doubt we have a cabinet for every design style. 


Book a consultation today with a Deslaurier design expert at our Jupiter, Florida Showroom or schedule a virtual meeting! With over 40 years of experience to our name, we provide our clients with a fully customized design process with our talented team of designers

Interested in becoming an authorized Deslaurier dealer? Visit our Become a Dealer page to learn more! Live outside the area? Visit our Find a Dealer page to connect with a Deslaurier dealer near you!

Request a Consultation

Contact Us

We’ll team you up with one of our designers and set you on the road to design perfection.

Connect today

Follow Us

Check us out on social media to stay in the loop on the latest trends.

Visit Us

Come by one of our showrooms to see our stunning designs in person.

See our locations