Plywood should be one of your first considerations when creating any cabinet, whether for a kitchen or any other space in your house. But if you’re new to woodworking, you may end up buying the wrong type of materials that can destroy the whole project.
So, I created this guide to tell you everything you need to know about cabinet plywood grades, ensuring you use the right one.
What is Cabinet-Grade Plywood and What Kind of Wood is it?
Just about any timber can be used to create cabinet-grade plywood. But it’s typically crafted from low-priced hardwoods like birch and mahogany. Labels on the plywood tell you what wood was used to create the type of plywood.
What is it Made of?
In its various forms, cabinet-grade plywood refers to a family of woods that includes rough and smooth varieties. Plywood doesn’t need to be incredibly strong, but most companies also try to build it to be moisture-resistant.
How Thick Are Cabinet-Grade Plywoods?
The sheets used for cupboards can vary in thickness from 1/4″ to 3/4″. Cupboards are typically built with a type of plywood that is 3/4″ thick, while thinner plywood could be utilized for other furniture pieces like dressers.
Drawer bases are the only common application for plywood thinner than 1/2″. The drawer bases should be constructed from 3/8″ plywood if storing bulky things. The standard plywood thickness for cabinet sides is 1/2″, while drawer fronts are often built of 3/4″ or hardwood boards.
How Much Are Cabinet-Graded Plywoods?
Although these are not deemed as “real” wood by woodworkers, depending on the source, and the current cost of wood, a single standard cabinet plywood grade sheet can cost anywhere from $80 to $150.
How Is Cabinet-Plywood Graded?
The term “cabinet grade” plywood is solely based on the quality of its veneer surfaces. These surfaces are graded independently of one another, unlike softwood plywood, which only has one face graded. The front, or “good,” side is assessed with letters, while the reverse side is graded numerically.
You can tell a piece of hardwood plywood is “cabinet grade” instead of “structural grade” solely by looking at the type of wood it is composed of and the quality.
Also Read: Grades of Marine Plywood
Visible Cabinet Grades
Back Face Cabinet Grades
- Same species, sound, specifically cut
- Same species, solid, specifically cut
- Rotary Grain
- Reject Back
Plywood manufacturers label on both sides to show you what you may expect to find on either side, like A2 for A grade on its face side and 2 on its reverse.
Staining and varnishing are best performed on wood with a grade of A1, A2, or above. Plywood grades B3 and lower are suitable for painting.
Factors to Consider in Choosing Plywood for a Cabinet
The edge provides vital supplementary support in traditionally constructed face-encircled cupboards. Because of this, you can use thinner and less stable materials inside the bureau.
However, as trends evolve, more homeowners are leaning towards frameless cupboards, demanding a fresh cabinet design perspective and sturdier materials.
Although cabinet-grade plywood is available in thicknesses beginning at a one-eighth-inch, many regional fabricators prefer the strength and versatility of ANSI HP-1, ostensibly 3/4-inch boards. 
A large, frameless bureau box that may be hung directly to the stud with no spikes is the result of using boards that don’t require propping or fastening on the sides and backs of the bureau. Suppliers of cabinet-grade plywood ensure that the material is precisely the right thickness.
Bureau-grade pressed wood is examined in terms of the face reviews applied and the type of center used in its manufacturing. Many different centers are available, each with its advantages and disadvantages, varying depending on the manufacturer.
This type has a wooden core surrounded by two thin facades (the front facade and one reinforced layer). The core is constructed from progressively wider 1-1/2″ to 2″ edge-stuck wood planks.
You find this center only in pressed hardwood of at least 3/4″ thickness will you find this center. As a result, the resulting compressed wood is remarkably resistant to clasping, wrapping, and distorting.
Although facade centers are the most commonly seen centers used by a cabinet-grade plywood manufacturer, the more rated a center is thought to be, the more commonly it is used.
Particleboard center and fiber core are considered the best types of pressed wood for office use. Of course, the higher price of this compressed wood is due to its higher quality, but in my opinion, the result is well worth it.
Particleboard Core (PBC)
This type of plywood is similar to MDF but with a particleboard core instead of an MDF core. As with MDF, PBC provides an exceptionally smooth surface for exterior cladding. The downside is that it’s not quite as sturdy as MDF.
Makers also provide another “center-supportive” option. This combines the hardwood facade layers with the MDF layers. This not only preserves the MDF’s flat, smooth surface, which is necessary for the facade to adhere to it, but it also adds a quality that the MDF lacks.
The MDF layer will be directly beneath the face facade, with the façade’s centers oriented toward the inside.
Only one medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is used across the entire lumber core (MDF). In most cases, this will result in a more stable board. The board has no dead spots and is hence very machinable.
The smooth surface of the fiber core provides a superior core to that of a finished front and back facade. The heavyweight is the primary drawback of these types of plywood.
Veneer core (V/C)
This is the usually compressed wood core, with the facade in an unusual number of parallel layers. The number of layers may be anywhere from three to eleven, depending on the thickness of the pressed wood and the density of the compressed wood sheet.
The consensus is that pressed wood is superior the more layers it has. A potential problem with front-center pressed wood is that any defects can “transmit” to the face layer and show up as gaps or stains. This is most noticeable with a thin facial profile.
The Face Veneer
These questions are crucial when it comes to thickness, grain appearance, and whether or not the grain is book-matched.
When finished with stain or varnish, cabinet plywood grade sheets should give the impression of being made of individual boards rather than plywood.
Plywood sheets always have some curvature, but you don’t want it to be too severe. Plywood sheets with excellent flatness provide a stable foundation for the cabinet’s structure and ensure proper alignment during construction. Concerns with the core can be seen as excessive bending or warping.
These won’t come out as you’re putting together your project, but they’ll keep exerting pressure, which might shorten the product’s lifespan.
There is a direct correlation between the number of veneer layers and the quality of veneer core plywood. Even when using low-quality hardwoods, hardwood cores are superior to softwood ones.
Inspect the straightness of the adhesive or rosin lines to see if there’s a problem with the core that could damage the veneer’s appearance on the face.
Plywood vendors give veneers for furniture cabinetry an aesthetic, an extra slight edge, or an edge band treatment. The condition includes more than just the appearance of the bureau box.
You’ll also need a bureau that fits comfortably in your building’s layout. That’s why it’s important to use a face-and-back-rated compressed wood board for quality-finished end boards, edges, and surfaces.
I’ve come across Euro Ply Plus in my work, and I have to say, this product with its unique all-birch, multi-handle edge has proven to be quite handy on occasion.
Trends in cabinetry have moved away from the sturdy square lines and boxy bureau construction that most of us are used to seeing. More and more homes include curved cabinetry, such as island cupboards or bow-front cabinetry.
A certain type of pressed wood substrate is required to achieve this effect. It should swoop to meet your needs. Despite this, it must be durable enough to withstand the cover and the ensuing creation when put to rigorous use in the kitchen.
Choosing the right plywood with proper thickness is crucial to the success or failure of a project since the thinner the ply, the quicker it is to twist into shape.
Now, here’s a pro tip: if you’re aiming for a stunning final product, consider flexible plywood with a high-quality veneer. This combination can truly elevate the overall appearance and durability of your construction. So, when it comes to top-notch results, this type of plywood is your best bet.
Other Considerations When Buying
You should evaluate both faces of cabinet-grade plywood before selecting it. The plywood’s reverse side won’t be seen in some contexts, such as the outer shell of a dresser.
However, the reverse side is always visible on other projects, like kitchen cabinet doors. This means that the plywood grade may need to be greater than usual, even though kitchen cupboards aren’t in the same league as exquisite furniture.
For consistency’s sake, my advice is to source the plywood from the same factory when working on a construction project.
Is Buying Cabinet-Graded Plywood Worth it?
You can’t go wrong with cabinet-grade plywood for your bathroom or kitchen cupboards. This type of plywood lasts so long that many people consider it a significant improvement over the items. Cabinet-grade plywood is so realistic that many people mistake it for the real thing.
For me, plywood offers an affordable yet effective alternative to hardwood, making it a savvy choice for maximizing the value of your renovation.
Should You Opt for a Prefinished Cabinet-Grade Plywood?
Buying prefinished panels is a good way to save money and time and ensure a uniform appearance throughout the project.
The huge volume of finishing labor involved in creating prefinished plywood will result in a significantly consistent product due to the approach used. Implementing procedures in a factory setting allows for output uniformity, improving the final product’s quality.
What cabinet grade has the best quality?
Grade A plywood cabinetry is the best quality and most expensive option because of its flawless appearance. Plywood should have a high enough grade to be paintable and have a smooth, knot-free surface.
What’s the ideal plywood grade for cabinets?
Plywood grade A is ideal for cabinets and also for doors of furniture. While the surface of B-grade plywood is also smooth and sanded, it is more likely to have fixed faults up to 1 inch in size.
How should you cut cabinet-grade plywood without splintering?
Pick a blade with sharp teeth that makes quick work of plywood. These often feature a sharper bevel angle and more TPI or teeth per inch. If you can, cut with the grain rather than across it.
What’s the cheapest cabinet-grade plywood available?
There are four grades of plywood, ranging from A to D, with D being the least expensive. Because it lacks aesthetic appeal, has a high resin content, and is challenging to deal with, D-grade plywood is inexpensive.
Is plywood more durable compared to MDF?
Since plywood is manufactured in a different method than MDF, it is often more durable. Plywood cupboards have this advantage over MDF cabinetry, among others. Choose high-density or load-bearing plywood if you’re looking for the most durable option.
Why has lumber become so expensive?
The COVID-19 pandemic is directly responsible for the current increase in lumber costs. During the height of the pandemic, demand for woodwork increased dramatically.
But because of employees being unable to get to work and supply chains being halted, there was a severe shortage.
The different cabinet plywood grades can be difficult to understand if you’re unfamiliar with plywood. Familiarizing yourself with the various plywood options and how they could affect your final product is important to get the best results from your upcoming cabinet project. I hope this guide has helped you in differentiating the available options in the market.