How to Choose the Best Wood for Your Kitchen Cabinets

Wood cabinets are appealing because of their distinct and unique character. Some prefer the predictability of engineered materials like thermofoil and laminate but if you want a natural look, nothing compares to the beautiful color variations and grain patterns found in real wood. Choosing the right wood species for your cabinetry largely depends on your personal style preferences and budget.

1Maple

Characteristics

Maple is a hard wood which ranges from nearly white to cream colored and has a fine, smooth grain.

Availability

Maple is a popular wood choice because it’s readily available and reasonably easy to work with.

Style

Can be used in traditional, transitional, contemporary and modern styles depending on door style, finish and surrounding design elements.

Finishes

Because of its fine grain, Maple can be stained or painted with beautiful results.

2Walnut

Characteristics

Walnut is a hard wood with significant grain and color variation from creamy white to dark brown.

Availability

Walnut is considered a premium wood because it is not as readily available as other more common selections but is reasonably easy to work with.

Style

Because of the color variations, Walnut can be used in traditional, transitional, contemporary an

Finishes

A light finish will emphasize Walnut’s beautiful, natural color variations while a dark finish will give a more consistent, classic look.

3Rift Oak

Characteristics

Rift Oak is a hard wood with a distinctive linear grain that can be used in a horizontal or vertical application and has a slight range in color from beige to creamy tan in its natural state.

Availability

Rift Oak is reasonably common wood only slightly more expensive than regular Oak due to additional work in milling and is reasonably easy to work with.

Style

Because of the linear grain and consistent color, Rift Oak is a popular choice for modern styles but can also be used for traditional and transitional styles depending on depending on door style, finish and surrounding design elements.

Finishes

Rift Oak is almost always stained, but any finish will allow the natural beauty of the distinctive linear grain to show through.

4Clear Alder

Characteristics

Clear Alder is relatively soft wood with a moderately fine, uniform grain. With color that ranges from light tan to reddish brown, Clear Alder is similar in appearance to Cherry but much softer which is useful when producing distressed and antiqued finishes. Unlike Cherry, Clear Alder gets lighter with age and exposure to sunlight.

Availability

Clear Alder is a reasonably common wood in the West because it is readily available and is a less expensive alternative to Cherry.

Style

Clear Alder is a popular choice for traditional and transitional styles and is a go-to selection for a worn or distressed farmhouse look.

Finishes

Because it is soft, Clear Alder is easy to distress and its fine grain looks beautiful when stained, glazed or painted.

5Cherry

Characteristics

Cherry is considered to be a hardwood, but is softer than other woods in this category. It has a rich grain with occasional small pin knots and pitch marks and is often associated with high end woodworking.

Availability

Cherry is a reasonably common wood because it is readily available but is typically more expensive than Clear Alder and Maple.

Style

Cherry has a timeless, classic look often used in traditional offices, libraries and kitchens.

Finishes

Cherry lends itself to reddish and brown stains and is associated with a dark, rich look.

6Knotty Alder

Characteristics

Knotty Alder is a relatively soft wood, typically with knots throughout. These natural features, combined with nicks and dents from distressing and accumulated over time, make this wood a popular choice for a rustic look.

Availability

Knotty Alder is a common wood in the West because it is readily available.

Style

Knotty Alder is less popular than it used to be, but is still used to achieve a rustic look and often combined with a distressed or worn finish.

Finishes

Because it is soft, Knotty Alder is easy to distress and looks beautiful when stained, glazed or painted.

7Oak

Characteristics

Oak is a very hard wood which is light to medium brown in color and has a coarse, uneven grain.

Availability

Oak is readily available and is a less expensive alternative to Rift Oak.

Style

Oak cabinets are associated with an older, outdated style, but new finishes (and the lower price point) have given this wood species a modest uptick in popularity.

Finishes

Oak was traditionally stained, but new paint finishes allow the the distinctive grain to be featured in an updated look.

 

Other Tips

Keep in mind that each wood species’ colors and grain patterns are affected by the environment in which they’re grown. These naturally occurring features in wood make it impossible to guarantee that all pieces of wood within a kitchen will perfectly match in grain pattern and color. This organic variety is what makes natural wood products so appealing.

The finishing process enhances and protects the wood’s natural beauty, highlight the inherent qualities of genuine wood to create an appealing and functional product. Each wood species used has its own unique characteristics, and some species and color combinations will further accentuate the natural wood color and grain variations. In addition, grain texture and mineral composition in individual pieces of wood may also range from even and consistent to varied and dramatic. All of these factors combine to create the distinctive beauty that makes genuine wood cabinetry so desirable.

Ultraviolet inhibitors in the finishes slow down the effects of aging from sunlight and fluorescent lighting; however, long term exposure to these light sources will ultimately change the appearance of any wood. The effects of this aging will occur on all species of wood but are seen more quickly on Cherry, Alder and Maple.

Meet with One of Our Kitchen Design Professionals to See Wood Samples

Ask your designer to show you samples of your preferred wood species to demonstrate how factors like finish and light exposure will impact the look of your cabinets. Stop by our showroom or enter your information below to schedule a personal design consultation with one of our professional designers to learn more.