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If you’re planning a kitchen renovation or a new build, you’ve probably had trouble determining which material to choose for your kitchen cabinets.
It’s no surprise. Kitchen cabinets are one of the largest investments you will make in your home, and you’ll want to get it right. The amount of quality materials available for kitchen cabinets doesn’t make the decision any easier.
This leads us to the two of the most beautiful, natural wood cabinet materials: Maple and Cherry. Both are stunning, high-end solid wood choices. So how do you decide which is the better material for your kitchen?
At Deslaurier Custom Cabinets, we specialize in providing our clients with beautiful, high-quality cabinetry for their dream kitchen. As two of our most popular cabinet materials, our clients often ask us to compare the qualities of maple and cherry wood.
This article will take you through all the characteristics of maple and cherry as kitchen cabinet materials. We’ll compare the two options side by side to help you determine which wood species is right for your kitchen cabinets.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
Maple vs. Cherry Cabinets: Appearance
Maple and cherry are two of the most elegant and eminent wood species available for kitchen cabinets. They both offer unique characteristics when it comes to their colour and grain variations, distinguishing them as two recognizable high-end cabinet materials.
Maple’s appearance is noted for 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’s patterning is commonly compared with birch.
Maple and cherry are uniquely different when it comes to their appearance, as you can see below, with maple on the left, and cherry wood on the right:
Prized for its aesthetic, cherry offers a more traditional look. Noted for its rich, dark, reddish-brown colour and smooth, closed grain pattern, cherry is one of the most luxurious woods you can find for your kitchen cabinets.
Remember, hardwood products are natural products—just like the trees themselves, no two cabinet doors are exactly alike. There will always be differences from one slab to the next, and that’s part of their beauty!
A key characteristic to note about cherry wood is its aging process. Starting almost as a light or golden pink, cherry gradually gains deep, alluring reddish-brown hues as it is exposed to oxidation and natural lighting over time.
This quality makes it important to ensure that your cabinets are positioned correctly with regard to any windows and doors that allow sunlight in. You’ll want your cherry cabinets somewhere that allows them all to receive the same amount of sunlight. Otherwise, be prepared for some cabinets to become darker than others.
To be clear, sunlight doesn’t cause this aging process, it only advances it. Cherry wood will naturally grow darker with age.
Maple vs Cherry Cabinets: Finishing Options
A major influence when deciding which cabinet material to select will come down to the type of finish you intend on applying.
If you desire a perfectly uniform painted cabinet, you’ll want a wood species with a smooth surface. If a beautiful stain is what your kitchen needs, choosing the right cabinets will come down to the colour and grain patterning of the wood.
How you want to present maple and cherry with different finishes, like stains and paints (see our article comparing stained vs. painted cabinets), is often a big consideration in a homeowner’s cabinet selection.
After all, when you’re choosing your kitchen cabinets, it often comes down to an aesthetic decision.
Cabinets stains are a great choice for both maple and cherry cabinets to highlight the beautiful, natural character of each wood species’ grain. The beauty of stained natural wood is that you can go as light or as dark as you want: from a clear coat to almost a black.
Take a look at these dark-stained maple cabinets from our Ebony & Ivory showcase:
These cabinets have such a dark stain that from a distance, they almost appear to be painted. As you get closer, however, you see the subtle maple grain pattern emerge triumphantly.
What might be surprising about a wood-like cherry is that you’re actually less likely to apply a deep stain to them than you would with a wood-like maple.
Rather, most people use a clear coat finish to enhance the rich, natural colour and grain of cherry wood.
Cherry’s aging process, as we mentioned earlier, lends itself to a clear coat finish rather than a stain. Since the wood naturally gets darker with time, it doesn’t require a deep, heavy stain like some other woods might.
When it comes to painted cabinets, maple is about the best natural wood species available. That’s because maple is considered a premier paint-grade hardwood thanks to its low-key grain and uniform surface.
Cherry, on the other hand, is not commonly used for painted cabinets. As we’ve stated many times, cherry wood is valued for its natural beauty. As such, you would not purchase new cherry cabinets to paint over their appearance. There are far better (and cheaper) materials to use for painted cabinetry!
If you want to paint your cabinets, you should know that all painted finishes require a high level of maintenance to prevent dings and dents. There are no underlying wood species that can protect your painted finish from damage 100%.
Also, since maple is a solid natural wood (and therefore, a living, breathing product), it will expand and contract with humidity changes. Over time, that slow expansion and contraction will cause stress cracks in the paint wherever there are joints in the cabinet door.
All natural wood species are equally susceptible to cracks, as shown below:
If you want to prevent cracks, choosing a non-hardwood material like MDF cabinets is your best bet.
Although the point of this article is to compare maple and walnut cabinets, we thought MDF was worth mentioning because it’s an ideal product for painted finishes.
While not entirely impervious to cracking, MDF (medium-density fibreboard) is a manmade product formed by combining resins with different hardwood and softwood fibres. As a result, MDF is a more stable product than maple and walnut—meaning it’s less likely to crack due to the natural occurrence of breathing.
Maple vs. Cherry Cabinets: Strength
When it comes to overall strength and durability, maple triumphs.
Maple is a significantly stronger hardwood product than cherry. In fact, maple is one of the strongest and most durable natural wood options available. It holds up well resisting significant dents or dings.
We’ll use the Janka hardness scale to show you. The Janka scale is used to measure the strength and hardness of various wood species, thus determining their resilience to dents and scratches. The higher the rating (measured in pounds of force they’re able to withstand), the harder the wood species is.
Maple has an impressive hardness rating of roughly 1450, while cherry measures at a still respectable 950. As you can see, maple can withstand roughly 500 more pounds of force than cherry can!
So what does this mean? If you were to put maple and cherry to the test to see how they would stand up against general dents and dings, maple would perform much better.
Of course, if you’re careful around your cabinets, this difference in strength may be negligible to you as a user. Cherry is still a strong and durable hardwood choice for any kitchens - but if you’re concerned about your cabinets being vulnerable, maple is the way to go.
Maple vs. Cherry Cabinets: Cost
Maple and cherry, while both premier wood species, can come at significantly different price points.
Maple will almost always be less expensive than cherry. That’s because maple trees are grown all over North America and are much easier to source. Conversely, cherry wood is not as populous, which results in it being harder to source and more expensive.
However, the cost is always dependent on the grade of the wood, market conditions, and manufacturer.
At Deslaurier, for example, our cherry selections can cost as much as 20% more than maple.
This, of course, is conditional on the type of finish applied to the cabinets. It will cost roughly 15% more for painted cabinets rather than stained ones. This is due to the increased labour involved in the painting process, as well as the cost that can come with high-end cabinet paint selections.
In the end, with the added 15% cost added, painted maple cabinets can come in at nearly identical prices as stained cherry cabinets.
Ultimately, the cost of kitchen cabinets will fluctuate depending on both the material chosen and the finish that is applied.
Maple vs. Cherry Cabinets: What’s Right For You?
When choosing between maple and cherry wood, it ultimately comes down to your personal aesthetic preferences.
Since both options offer beautiful cabinets in their own unique style, it's up to you to decide which avenue suits your dream kitchen best.
Do you like the prospect of simple, subtle grain patterns or the potential for painted cabinets that maple provides? Or is the rich, luscious red hues and traditional style that come with cherry cabinets better suited to you?
Ultimately, it’s always important to consider your budget, your design style, and your lifestyle to choose the best cabinet wood species for your dream kitchen.
Discover Deslaurier Custom Cabinets
If you have your eye on custom cabinetry, Deslaurier Custom Cabinets has everything you need: from our solid wood cabinets to our partnerships with some of the finest stone countertop suppliers in North America.
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.