How to Choose the Right Wood For Kitchen Cabinets

Your house is your castle; it is where memories are made and dreams are built (and where Koolaid spills and muddy shoes happen). Your home is where you are most comfortable, and where you have the freedom to express your taste and creativity through design choices. If you are thinking about installing new kitchen cabinets, it is important to take into consideration not only color or style preferences, but also lifestyle needs when choosing which type of wood to use. The three main points to consider are type, color, and grain, all of which can impact the look and durability of your kitchen cabinets.

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In essence, there are two types of wood: hard and soft. Hardwoods come from broad-leafed deciduous trees, such as oak, cherry, hickory, maple, or birch. Softwoods come from needle-bearing evergreen trees, usually pine. The strengths of each wood type are clearly indicated by their names. Softwoods are more prone to dings, dents, or scratches; hardwoods hold up better to the wear and tear of daily living. Hardwoods are far more commonly used for cabinetry, both for their durability and individual grain detail. However, pine is commonly used in English, French, and American country settings, due to its beautiful knotted appearance and tendency to take on the antique look.


Each wood has its own unique coloration, and each looks different with various stain colors. Your personal color preferences can greatly impact which type of wood you choose. Maple, oak, birch, and pine are lighter, though their exact hue depends on whether they have been cut from the sapwood (outer trunk) or heartwood (inner trunk) of the tree. Heartwood is generally darker and contains more natural color variations, giving your cabinets instant character. Cherry and hickory are darker woods, though cherry is more uniform in color, whereas hickory has greater natural variation.

Maple, oak, and birch take color well, and can be stained in a wide range of hues to suit almost any design preference. Hickory’s natural color variations can be enhanced or detracted from, depending on the stain chosen. Cherry tends to “mellow” over time through light exposure, so its natural color will continue to darken, which is something to keep in mind when choosing stains. Pine accepts stain well also, though it is usually preferred in its more natural color, due to the appeal of its knotted look.


Wood grain varies from straight, fine, and predictable to curled, wavy, and distinctive. Again, it comes down to personal preference. A fine-grained wood is more subtle, allowing for other design features to stand out more prominently. On the other hand, distinctive grains give personality to the wood, adding an additional design element to the space. Fine grained woods, such as maple, are easier to match up more precisely, providing a more uniform look to the cabinets. However, don’t shy away from distinctive grains simply because of the difficulty in lining them up exactly right. Contrary to some prevailing opinions, grain does not have to line up perfectly in order to look good. The beauty is in the wood itself, and the irregularities only add to the unique character.

Additionally, it is also worth considering what style of door you prefer, from modern and cozy shaker or mission style, to a more traditional raised panel crown or round top. This may affect which colors and grains look best. And of course, be prepared to change your mind more than once!

With such numerous options to consider, it comes down to personal style. Whether you prefer sleek and modern, or traditional character, it is easy to incorporate that look into your kitchen cabinetry. The kitchen is the heart of any house; it is where family and friends tend to congregate, and where the majority of traffic occurs. So put your personal stamp on your home and make it something to be proud of for years to come!

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