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.
CharacteristicsMaple is a hard wood which ranges from nearly white to cream colored and has a fine, smooth grain.
AvailabilityMaple is a popular wood choice because it’s readily available and reasonably easy to work with.
StyleCan be used in traditional, transitional, contemporary and modern styles depending on door style, finish and surrounding design elements.
FinishesBecause of its fine grain, Maple can be stained or painted with beautiful results.
CharacteristicsWalnut is a hard wood with significant grain and color variation from creamy white to dark brown.
AvailabilityWalnut is considered a premium wood because it is not as readily available as other more common selections but is reasonably easy to work with.
StyleBecause of the color variations, Walnut can be used in traditional, transitional, contemporary an
FinishesA light finish will emphasize Walnut’s beautiful, natural color variations while a dark finish will give a more consistent, classic look.
CharacteristicsRift 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.
AvailabilityRift 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.
StyleBecause 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.
FinishesRift Oak is almost always stained, but any finish will allow the natural beauty of the distinctive linear grain to show through.
CharacteristicsClear 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.
AvailabilityClear Alder is a reasonably common wood in the West because it is readily available and is a less expensive alternative to Cherry.
StyleClear Alder is a popular choice for traditional and transitional styles and is a go-to selection for a worn or distressed farmhouse look.
FinishesBecause it is soft, Clear Alder is easy to distress and its fine grain looks beautiful when stained, glazed or painted.
CharacteristicsCherry 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.
AvailabilityCherry is a reasonably common wood because it is readily available but is typically more expensive than Clear Alder and Maple.
StyleCherry has a timeless, classic look often used in traditional offices, libraries and kitchens.
FinishesCherry lends itself to reddish and brown stains and is associated with a dark, rich look.
CharacteristicsKnotty 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.
AvailabilityKnotty Alder is a common wood in the West because it is readily available.
StyleKnotty 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.
FinishesBecause it is soft, Knotty Alder is easy to distress and looks beautiful when stained, glazed or painted.
CharacteristicsOak is a very hard wood which is light to medium brown in color and has a coarse, uneven grain.
AvailabilityOak is readily available and is a less expensive alternative to Rift Oak.
StyleOak 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.
FinishesOak was traditionally stained, but new paint finishes allow the the distinctive grain to be featured in an updated look.
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.
Connect with One of Our Kitchen Design Professionals in Tucson or Scottsdale 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 schedule a personal design consultation with one of our professional designers to learn more.