Melamine Carcasses

      Can melamine interiors be considered high end? April 18, 2004

I see a lot of melamine interiors on cabinets these days. Is this considered high-end cabinetry? Melamine doesn't scratch easily and is easy to clean up, but has the industry gone away from using ply?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor R:
They use it because it is cheaper than plywood and they don't have to stain the inside. I don't consider it high end. I use only A1 ply in our cabinets - never particleboard.

From contributor D:
We use 99% melamine on cabs with solid doors and we do almost all high middle work - not the $100,000 European/Canadian kitchens. All glass doors or open bookshelves we use 90% wood veneers.

99% of all new homes here in Vegas have melamine interiors in all homes, from $150k to $6 million homes.

Melamine is a wonderful product that excels at its use as interior of cabinets. It is durable and very easy to clean - easy to work with, very consistent in thickness.

From contributor T:
Melamine is not even high end in a closet application. It's not the melamine so much as the particleboard that it is laminated to.

From the original questioner:
How would you make end panels with melamine interiors and high-quality RP end panels?

From contributor O:
We use a lot of melamine on cabinet interiors. It is not considered a high end interior, but it is a good cost saver so the customer can afford a high end exterior and high quality hardware.

You can attach a RP end panel with screws from the interior of the last cabinet. Ours extend 13/16 in front of the cabinet, so they finish flush with the front of the doors.

From contributor V:
If you're doing raised panels, build cabinet side with a wide enough scribe to plant on a panel, leave enough extra - 1/32 or less - to router flush after panel is applied.

From contributor D:
We also make separate end panels and screw into cab ends.

Here is a picture of one of our kitchens in progress - melamine cabs except for glass door cabs. I consider this kitchen high end.

From contributor T:
We used to have different values as to what constituted "high end." High end started as the same material on the inside as the outside. Or as AWI puts it, "premium." Premium does not have any particleboard or MDF. Now we have used everything we can think of to make a cheaper cabinet, as if we were doing the customer a favor.

Importers are bringing in cabinets made to the high standards that we used to have. And you want to know why we are getting killed? My house is filled with mahogany furniture (imported) for a ridiculously low price. I'm not proud of it and it probably is made by a bunch of little hands (and imported by Americans) but all of it is made from solid mahogany. Not a single piece of plywood anywhere and the moldings are cut by hand, not mass produced on a machine. It's gorgeous, and did I mention that it is cheaper than the plywood units I make with shop maple interiors? If I can figure out what is wrong with this picture, I might stand a chance in the furniture business. I believe it is quality, and quality is the hardest thing to sell. We let our standards slip and the whole time we defend it. For what? You reap what you sow. And don't blame it on the workers. 95% of all business failures is management.

From contributor M:
Melamine is available one-sided with different veneers on the flip side, such as cherry or maple. This is great for finished ends of bottoms of uppers. I like the look of pre-finished maple plywood 4X8 sheets available now for carcass construction, and would prefer to use it for high end work. Finished ends are needed to be attached separately.

From contributor Z:
I still consider my kitchens that have veneer in and out with solid wood edgebanding to be high end. I offer white melamine backs and often the customer will choose that to lighten up the inside of the cabinet.

I have used the hybrid layup mentioned above (melamine one side and veneer on the other), but actually found it to be more work than just veneer - it's too easy to visibly damage the melamine face when applying edgebanding, and the interiors of the boxes must be masked off for finishing.

Those of you who use melamine, how do you treat the visible edges? What edgebanding do you use? My customers all want wood edgebanding and I haven't figured out a good way to handle the mood/melamine interface yet. I had a client once call me to ask if I could change all the edgebanding on her newly installed (by another company) kitchen because she didn't like the white behind the reveal on the closed doors.

And those who use pre-finished sheets for the cabinet boxes, how do you treat the edges?

From contributor C:
First of all, melamine is an excellent product for cabinet interiors and is allowed in AWI premium grade casework. I will happily have any of you to my shop and show you two different jobs. One is a high end kitchen that has A1 Columbia products maple ply interiors. It is warped and not consistent in thickness. This material is some of the best money can buy. I can't wait for my installers to call me and let me know about the joys of that install. The other job is a melamine one. Neat, easy to clean and, yes, cost effective. If profit is a bad thing, we should all give ours to the government like good communists.

Come on, guys - progress is good and the 60's are over. Open your eyes to what is out there. I love wood as much as the next guy, but we must get off our high sawhorse and stop preaching the evils of particleboard.

As to contributor T's statement about his top quality but real cheap furniture, I say: You are supporting all but slave labor. The countries that this stuff is made in pay next to nothing in wages, unlike the U.S., where it's still possible to be a blue collar guy/gal and own your own house. Even up here where I am in the Northeast.

If it's all for the love of the wood, then put on a toga, don't sell what you make but give it away (the gods demand it), and re-read (some of you have read it, I'm sure) Zen and the Art of Woodworking.

From contributor S:
I have always used veneer banding and finished to match. Now that we use more pre-refinished maple interiors, I am looking at woodgrain PVC. The color choices are very good, it is more durable, less expensive, and I just don't think the customers are looking at the edge banding. I think the edge needs to be covered with a durable product that is close in color to the cabinet face. All of our edge banding is behind doors. If we band a panel that is not behind a door we use solid wood.

From contributor D:
We band with wood veneer tape and finish very carefully. I would like to begin using matching PVC tapes a bit, but so far haven't.

From contributor P:
High end - low end. The real problem with melamine is that the particleboard core degrades over time. Do your clients care that the cabinets will be falling apart in 10-15 years? In my experience, no, especially when the clients are builders. If you are in a selling situation where price trumps longevity, melamine is the way to go. Not my cuppa tea, but with the business climate in NC being what it is, I'm not turning my nose up at anything...

From contributor Z:
This thread is certainly raising some blood pressures in the cabinetmaking world. Just to keep things hopping...

I agree with contributor P above. Melamine itself is an incredibly clean and durable substance (remember the miraculous melamine plates in the 50's that you could drop on concrete without breaking?), but the overall quality of sheet goods also depends largely on the substrate or core. And particleboard is pretty awful. It won't hold screws very well even if carefully pre-drilled, and any joint involving biscuits or dowels and glue will break right at the glueline.

Aside from being so fragile, any moisture intrusion and you're in trouble, not to mention that the stuff is so heavy. MDF core melamine is better in all the above mentioned areas, but not by much. (I think one of the best applications of that material in the past few years has been the use of a thin layer of it right below the veneer face in veneer core plywood).

Contributors S and D, I have two problems with any edgebanding tape I've used; durability and longevity. They seem too brittle and way too thin to be a lasting protection to a panel edge. I have been thinking of pre-finished panels for my boxes, though, so I'd be interested in any feedback about how various wood tapes fare in these two areas.

From contributor K:
From AWI's Quality Standards 7th Edition:

"Particle Board and MDF are the recommended substrates for high pressure decorative laminate and wood veneer work because of their excellent flatness...."

"....Particle Board is used in the broadest applications of architectural woodwork. It is especially well suited as a substrate for high quality veneers and decorative laminates."

I consider the work my company does to be in the high-end market. We work almost exclusively in homes from 2 million to 10 million dollars. Most of these jobs rely heavily on AWI specs. Our use of particleboard ranges from the predominant use of melamine casework, to the substrate used under grain matched veneer doors.

Even when we're asked to provide a veneer interior rather than melamine, you can bet it will be particleboard core. In fact, the idea of using plywood for anything other than subtops is ridiculous.

I can understand someone using the plywood vs. melamine argument as a sales tactic when you have no other way to distinguish your product. Generally, the public falls for this argument. But to actually believe it is naive at best.

Every single one of our high end projects uses particleboard core sheet materials.

From contributor C:
Thank you for adding to what I said in my previous post. Particleboard seams to be the red-headed step child of the kitchen cabinet world. One post early on said: melamine is more scratch-resistant, easier to clean and cheaper than plywood interiors. Hey, that's a good thing. Another post said: particle board degrades after time. Yeah, if you put it under water. We normally use a ply ladder frame for toe kick and set the cabinet on that. Or we use adjustable legs. If 4" doesn't keep your cabinets out of the water, then you must live in Atlantis. Believe me - while my shop is an AWI certified premium shop, I don't agree with everything they say. But they are right on this - particleboard and melamine are top quality goods and are worthy of our respect and use.

From contributor T:
You all have some very good reasons for defending the use of particleboard, but the bottom line is what the customer will buy. Put a particleboard cabinet next to a wood cabinet and ask the customer to choose. Some customers will not go near a plastic lam cabinet. I like the PVC edgebanding because it is tough, but again, the customer does not want plastic on their cabinet. I don't want to get into what is right or wrong. I only care about what the customer will buy. I have spent too much time working showrooms not to come out with some understanding of what customers want.

This is why the importer is killing us. Look at the product that they bring in. Do you see plastic or particleboard? No, you see wood. What else do you need to know about what the customer wants? My statement was, we used to build like this and we could sell all day long. It is all perceived by the customer as a quality issue. They associate wood with quality. They associate plastic with junk. I'm not dissing anyone - just passing along what I have observed over many years of selling both wood and plastic lam furniture. Just to amplify this, I had an adv. of a beautiful plast lam cabinet from a trade show that I did. By the way, plast lam photographs better than wood. Actually, it looks beautiful in a photograph. Anyway, the customer got to the showroom looking for this beautiful (quality?) piece and as soon as they realized that it was plast lam, they walked out. Annoyed as if I had pulled a fast one. I learned something from this. I know my own personal tastes and I buy accordingly, just like anyone else.

From contributor M:
Just a minor, insignificant point... Melamine (or the core it's on) is not particleboard! That was 20 years ago. Melamine cores have advanced way beyond those days and there are even some cores that water does not affect; it's being used in many million dollar yachts today. It is wood fibers and sometimes wheat stalk fibers combined with all different types of resins, etc. Anyway, it is preferred over plywood, even in high end cabinets, because it will stay true when plywood will not, and melamine cores are calibrated for accuracy (ISO standards), where plywoods are not. Most mills will calibrate and guarantee a plus or minus of .004 in a 17 point test over a 4 x 8 sheet. As stated before, times have changed people, and technology is moving on. If you are having trouble with your particleboard falling apart or breaking out, etc., it is most likely because you are in fact using particleboard, not a melamine core. Hey - not to totally change the subject, but you melamine users know that there is a huge cost increase coming. There is a melamine shortage due to the Euro coming. They would rather sell it in Europe for more than sell it here for less. Better stock up now - we just purchased 48 units (2592 sheets) to hold us over this thing in the next 3 months.

From contributor S:
Contributor K, what are you using for banding?

From contributor K:
Most of the time we use a wood veneer tape to match the species of the door. The edgetaping gets the same finish as the cabinet doors.

On certain jobs, on request, we've used solid 1/8" banding, and there have been clients that were more budget-oriented where we've used color matched PVC. But real wood tape is by far the product we use most.

From contributor A:
Plywood... expensive, tendency to warp, need to finish the interior and after sliding dishes on a lacquered shelf for 2 years, your customer calls you back screaming. I build only what I consider high end custom kitchen in the $40000 to $80000 range and after asking several customers what they though of it, 99% of them like the scratch-resistant, easy-to-clean melamine interior. The other 1% can pay 30% more for their kitchen if they want to show off to their neighbor.

As far as construction, I use veneer on one side, mela on one side, combination for end finished panels with matching wood edgeband. For painted kitchens I use birch edgeband with mela on one side, MDF one side for end panels. Thermofoil kitchens get matching PVC edgeband and I get the Thermofoil door manufacturer to laminate a couple sheets of melamine for end panel.

You guys complaining that the interior side of the melamine needs cleaning after finishing, think about it for a minute. What is faster - masking tape and newspaper or simply cleaning a few panels with acetone or lacquer thinner for finishing edgeband? Stack a bunch of parts one on top of the other and clamp them together for spraying.

For those that still screw and veneer finished panels, think biscuits!

From contributor N:
Get a professional automotive pin stripe attachment that does 18mm stripes for melamine with wood or veneer edgeband. It's a wheel type tool with a screw-on bottle for holding finish. First sealer, then you know what to do. For smaller shops, it's good, but I haven't seen any production shops working this way. It's also used to do touchup. If the bottle is too small, find a way to put a bigger one on that suits your situation.

Euro is Euro. There's only so much you can do and then it starts looking anti-aesthetic. I've torn out 20 year old cabs and the edgeband was on there tight. It's the glue. 20 years - that's the lifespan. Sink cab might go sooner. Put in an aluminum liner. The edge band hurts usually on cabinets that are in the range of steam from cooking. They only break if they get mishandled. They won't break once they are installed. We use wood for rear cleats to secure them to brick walls.

From contributor W:
This is one of the best threads I've read in a while. Very informative (and mature) discussion on an interesting topic. I am not a pro like the rest of you, but I recently built new kitchen cabinets to replace the original 1975 cabinets in the house I bought recently. My first major woodworking project, by the way, and they came out great. Interestingly, the old ones were made of a kind of particle board, and all were in excellent condition after all of those years. None had fallen apart, no water damage, and all of the door screws were still tight. I'm sure the new particleboard is superior to that in those old cabinets. The only thing wrong with them was that they were suffering from terminal ugliness.

From contributor T:
I can't find my 8th edition AWI book. Would you confirm that melamine interiors are acceptable in a premium wood cabinet?

From contributor I:
You can view the AWI 8th edition at use the "AWI technical search" button.

From contributor G:
Do you guys use 1/2 or 3/4 melamine? I recently switched from 1/2" with 1/4 backs and a nailer to 3/4 all around. Makes for a very heavy cabinet! I recently made a kitchen out of 3/4 maple ply and was very pleased with the outcome. Not as heavy and no splitting when assembling the cases. I was just wondering what everyone else uses.

Also, if it matters, I only make face frame cabinets.

From contributor U:
I have seen cabinetry from the outside and it looks very high end, great finish, clean work. Then I open it up to look inside and it's that bright white melamine with 5/8" shelves. I see this on dark colored cabinetry a lot.

I can tell most clients don't even know or care what's on the inside as long as it fits what they need it for and the outside is what they want. In today's world with designers and people relocating for jobs, some of the kitchens and built-ins we make only stay in the house for ten years or so. We still use plywoods, but are going to give the option to the client for the melamine inside and show the cost difference. We may be losing jobs when a designer sees our price for plywood boxes, then sees the next shop's price for melamine. That shop's price is cheaper, so they get the job.

From contributor A:
Exactly my thoughts. Give the option to the customer. It's their money we are spending. I'll build the cabs either way, just as long as I can laugh all the way to the bank.. I build a good high end either way. I've put melamine in million dollar houses and ply in dumps. There is no accounting for taste or where people are willing to put their bucks. Remember - the object is to build something that you can be proud of and make money on.

From contributor F:
White is acceptable because it looks very sanitary, not just clean, and hard rock maple, etc. will give a clean, easily maintained surface as well. In the same ballpark is the metal drawer - very serviceable, very acceptable and not a wood grain in sight.

From contributor O:
Hmmm... give the customer what they want... what a concept. You hit it on the head. Show them both materials, explain the pros and cons, give them the price difference and let them decide. I have never had a customer go for birch ply or maple ply over melamine, but the cost is usually the deciding factor.

Lately we have been using hard rock maple (the color of the melamine pattern) instead of white. Two things to keep in mind: more waste in the HR maple because of grain direction and slightly higher cost than white or almond.

I may not be the brightest bulb in the lamp, because it took me two jobs to figure out why I was making so much less than I thought I would.

We tried one time using PVC edgeband that matched the HR maple, figuring that it was the same as clearcoating a birch or maple cabinet with a birch or maple edgeband. The customer did not like seeing the light color between the doors (3mm space). So we have gone back to staining and clearcoating the edgeband the color of the exterior.

We let the customer decide on drawer material, also. Dovetail solid maple or rabbeted Baltic birch. More customers seem to pick the maple drawers and undermount slides than the plywood cabinet interior. Yet the cost difference for a kitchen is usually higher for the drawer upgrade than the plywood interior upgrade.

You said "We may be losing jobs when a designer sees our price for plywood boxes." You are probably right.

From contributor U:
I think everything is acceptable no matter what color, but it is up to your client to decide what color the inside or the drawers, etc. should be. It comes down to giving the client options on what they can have and the cost of it. If a shop only offers white interiors with metal drawers and lists it on the contract, that's great, but the next guy that is bidding the job also may get it because he can offer these options. Cabinet shops ask how we can beat the big guys or the overseas importers. This is how - offering truly custom work.

From contributor F:
Of course you give the customer a choice, and melamine is a choice that's usually acceptable, as are metal drawers. I am not a metal drawer lover, but it is an acceptable option to buyers. I neglected to point out that a kitchen with a white or rock hard maple melamine interior is much different than a dining room piece of furniture. Buyers who want real wood furniture may accept other than "wood look" kitchens, i.e. melamine cabinet interiors or metal drawers, but don't mess with the wood in the dining room or the maple drawers in the china cabinet.

From contributor T:
I don't see the customers objecting to melamine interiors. I do see them objecting to the color in the gap behind the doors. I think a matching color edgebanding to the exterior is preferred by the customer, but I have heard objections to the PVC (in matching colors). I guess they are saying that they don't want plastic. So matching stain is king right now. I do hear objections to particleboard. Customers do not consider this quality and PB does have a bad rep. Plywood is not the objection, but in higher end pieces, a matching interior is always going to command attention. Cost is the deciding factor, though.

Choice is good! It shows your ability to satisfy the customer's wants. Customers like Metabox. I hate the stuff, but the customer rules.

When I sub my work and walk into your shop, if I see particleboard on the racks, I go elsewhere. You have the right to use what you want.

From contributor C:
It's important to remember that the customer has the final say. The main part of my work is architectural woodwork. So that means that details are dictated by the job spec ahead of time. However, we also do a fair amount of high end residential work. Again, the customer knows what they want. Maybe not what they need. It's our job to show them what's right and wrong. By reading this thread, you can see that we pros differ on what's right and wrong. So if you had a bad experience with a product, you'll walk the customer away from the item.

Contributor T said that if he comes to your shop to sub work to you and you have particle board in the rack, he walks out. He assumes that because you work in particle board, you can't work in other material if so directed by job specs. That's a small view of the abilities of the shop.

From contributor L:
What if I could develop a new pre-finished building component made primarily of a waste product, to a consistent thickness under heat and pressure, that was abrasive, heat and moisture resistant, came in a thousand possible colors, could be cut and bored accurately, fastened with compatible adhesives, properly designed screws, dowels or splines to make a durable "finished" cabinet ready to hang a door on and cost half the amount of another typically used raw sheet good? What if I created a cabinet system that through the use of computers and equipment, would allow me to produce cabinetry accurately, consistently, with less labour and for a profit? The Europeans know what I'm talking about. For those of you who do not understand this concept, there is plywood.

From contributor H:
Contributor L, you really nailed it. There are all kinds of purists in our biz, including those who feel it's a travesty to outsource doors and drawers, even though these suppliers can do it as well as we can in house at less cost to us as fabricators.

I seldom get this "particle board is crap" stuff from my clients, perhaps because I don't make it an issue in the presentation.

We build mid-to-high end cabinets, and as the front man for my shop, I make melamine interiors look as attractive as $20 gold pieces. Of course this starts with my belief that melamine over particle board is the best value for the money, allowing hundreds or thousands of extra dollars to be spent where it counts, on the exteriors and on the goodies, like rollouts, which are very hot in our area (LA), and for which we charge a premium.

Those of you who think melamine is an inferior product because it's clad over particle board should talk to your suppliers and find out about the different grades of particle board and particularly the grades that are used to make melamine panels. You might come away with a different view of this subject.

In the final analysis, though, you have to offer the client a product you personally feel good about, and if you don't feel good about melamine you shouldn't offer it. But do your homework before you make that decision. You might be 20 years behind the curve.

And an afterthought… We use MDF for almost all of our paint-grade stuff, like bookshelves. We promote its dimensional stability, uniformly smooth surface and the fact that it's environmentally superior insofar as it's made primarily from byproducts. We get a high-quality end product from it and make a higher profit on it while charging less than we would for a comparable plywood product. Anybody feel about MDF like they do about particle board?

From contributor B:
I've used melamine in a high end product for years. The one place I've encountered problems is in sink cabinets where a leak has occurred or the plumber got sloppy and left a big puddle and the particle board swelled. To solve this we started using melamine on a Medex substrate for the sink cabinets only. Medex is water resistant.

I've never liked the way MDF behaves with fasteners, especially its poor screw holding in the edge, so I don't like the idea of using it throughout a job. Still, when the cabinets are installed, and all tied together and fastened to the walls, etc., they're pretty strong no matter what.

I built melamine boxes for my own house 20 years ago, and they're holding up fine.

From contributor L:
Vinyl hallway runner comes in clear, brown and black, is 3ft wide and bought by the foot. Cut carefully with straight edge and lay over the bottom of the sink cabinet wall to wall. It adds a utility look to the cabinet and clear looks great. (Doug Mockett was selling a product just for this application.) The poorly installed plumbing that inevitably always leaks when the plumber leaves the job site always becomes your problem when the melamine blows up from the water… I install this cover in every wet area cabinet. I also always bring washed out margarine containers and place them below the sink valves/connections. Always checking up on the plumber after his work is complete is a great idea and good PR visit. We blame the melamine, not the fate of the plumber for the swelling and mistakes. In the end, all the mistakes come back to us. Using the right mechanical connector, proper pre-drilling and experimenting with different brands of composites may overcome your splitting in the MDF (or any composite material). All brands are not the same in core construction/materials. The great thing about MDF… it glues really well; use fewer fasteners… use some glue.

From contributor B:
Interesting ideas, contributor L. Do you glue the vinyl runner in with silicone? We used to use a good caulk around the insides of sink cabs (it's only the water that seeps in around the edges that does it - the melamine's waterproof, of course, but when the Medex core melamine became available, that seemed like a good way to go - all the boxes look the same. As for assembly, we use Hafele Confirmats and they're great in particle board but split out the MDF almost every time.

I love the idea of the margarine tubs. But I doubt you've made many plumber friends. They really can get sloppy, can't they? And yes, it always does seem to come back on the cabinet guy. We're the ones who have to deal with the damage. You can always ask the general contractor to back-charge the plumbers, of course.

From contributor Q:
What is everybody's opinion on melamine MDF core versus pb core? Any pros and cons appreciated. I assume MDF core doesn't chip as easily.

From contributor L:
Silicone would most likely not adhere to the vinyl runner. I like the simplicity and the ability to remove the runner for cleaning and eventually wear and tear and sell those features.

What would make us choose between MDF or particle core melamine? Price? Less weight? Better cutting? I use Panval, particle core and stick to one weight of paper (120) for all thicknesses and colours of melamine. All the leftovers will work together without the patchwork of textures and shades of paper you get buying different brands. Try out different brands on your machine for cut quality, and bore it. My distributors always want me to try a free sheet of whatever... Try them all and then stick to one brand. Same thing with edgebanding. It will become your building method trademark. I always use white edgebanding on boxes. Customers either like it or they hate it. I always use white interiors. I don't sell to everybody. I make a profit. Standardize processes and sell them *your* cabinets.

Use a low root fastener, #8 x 1 3/4, and predrill with a 1/8" bit as long as the screw and with a counter sink (Dimar) attached for MDF.

My plumbers never know when their jobs were faulty. I carry a full set plumber's tools to fix the leak…sound nutty? I get my plumbers when I want them and they like me. The customer is happy with the coordination and cooperation with the trades. The payoff: professionalism, then word of mouth.

From contributor B:
Just kidding about the inter-trade relations with plumbers, contributor L. Hey, you brought up the margarine tubs! Most of my work has been with high-end custom contractors who usually use very capable subs. It's the occasional dimwit the plumbing sub hired yesterday who's leaving the leak or the puddle. But regardless of who's to blame, there's still a box with a blown-up bottom for the cabinetmaker to fix. Yes, I'll fix a leak, but often I have no idea when the plumber has been there to do his trim-out. Besides, it's costly to go to every site to check out somebody else's work. I always try to emphasize to the job super that he should keep an eye out for water. And painters' overspray and splatters. And plasterers' messes and grit in the Accurides. And electricians' scratches. But we've all got to get along and though I know cabinetmakers are perfect, I assume there must be some other subs out there somewhere who think we make problems for them.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor J:
I have used melamine for all my cabinets - 1/2" for the ends and drawers; 3/4" for shelves; and 1/4" backs. All hardwood parts are stained and finished before being applied to the cabinets. Shelf edges have a 1/4" thick X 13/16" stained hardwood strip. Why spend the time and cost of masking the melamine? All hardwood face frames are attached to the cabinets with pocket holed screws - no nails. All drawer edges are covered with white PVC edging. Simple, clean and easy. Yes, all of my customers like the white clean look of melamine, especially the older ones.

Comment from contributor X:
To the best of my knowledge, in Australia 99% of kitchen interiors are melamine on particleboard or MDF. In 15 years experience I have seen nothing else in new work. As a few contributors have noted, it is the substrate that matters. Quality Highly Moisture Resistant (HMR) board for high end work and cheap non-MR board for low end work. Techniques use sond much the same as discussed for board products in carcasses. I have not seen any problems with the failure of carcass joinery in kitchens yet, mostly due to the fact that they are just sitting there taking the loads vertically or from the doors/drawers. All failures that I have been asked to repair have resulted from water ingress or hardware failure, both of with can be avoided by using quality products. In this case, I think that it is the quality of the products that determine the quality of the job, not the materials.

Comment from contributor Y:
I can't recall the last time I saw a kitchen that was not made from mel board. As per the previous post, 99.5% of kitchens here in Australia are made using mel board for all cabinets. 50 to 65% of doors are MDF wrapped. The remaining are 50/50 solid timber and painted MDF. Our end panels are mostly finnished by screwing an end panel finished off as per the doors and drawers.

Over the years we have had zero problems with the product. All our joins are glued and screwed. We use plastic edges and wood veneer only when we have a solid timber door kitchen. When we use veneer edging, we hand trim with a knife we made up that has a groove allowing a little edge to be left. We then hand sand the edge with just three to four quick runs of the paper.

Here in Australia I think what determines a high end kitchen job to a medium one is not the carcasses - they are always mel board - but the door finish and the drawer and cupboard setups.

High end will have all the bells and whistles, chrome this and that, illuminated drawers, cupboards, pull out everything, etc. Medium kitchens would have solid tiber doors, or high gloss. Lower medium would be routed vin wrapped and low end would be square edged, flat melamine.

Most (85%) of our bench tops are post formed lami in low to medium end kitchens and high end would be polished stone and/or treated glass, stainless, etc.

Comment from contributor E:
I use melamine interiors on 95% of all my cabinets, even those with glass panel doors. It is all in the sales pitch. If you want to save the finishing step or sell melamine but don't find yourself able to sell particleboard, sell ply-core melmine. Melamine doesn't lay as nicely on ply-core, but what customer is going to care? You can barely notice it on a full sheet, let alone a shelf or bottom of a cabinet. We try not to, but have put in a lot of wood-grain PVC tape. Again, it is all in your marketing and sales ability. We have put PVC wood-grain banding tape on euro frameless cabinets into several-million-dollar homes. Sell the positive attributes of non-wood products that are made in the US. You don't have to bring back the 70's, you just have to sell the new concept with your all-wood doors and drawer fronts (that is all they see, anyway).

Comment from contributor P:
Here in the UK we also have a market dominated by MFC (melamine-faced chipboard). To us high end is in the worktops, doors, lighting and trims, etc. Better quality kitchens have color-matched carcasses in decor-melamine, such as beech or maple, but only small builders bother to put on a veneer or solid wood lipping.

18mm (3/4in) is generally regarded as better quality than 15mm, which is what many of the German firms use, but that's probably only because the Germans go in for pull-out pan drawers in a big way whereas here we expect solid shelves to hold the weight.

A better quality carcass is generally a doweled and glued one rather than a KD (flat-pack), but it's still MFC. I have refurbished 20 year old MFC kitchens and the only problem areas are around the sink (water ingress) and above the hob (steam damage), and because we utilize a lot of standard sizes it is possible to remove and replace single damaged carcasses most of the time.

Just as in Australia laminate-clad tops dominate the low to mid market with granite, solid wood and solid surface, etc at the top end, but a good quality Formica-clad top easily has a life of 15 years plus. I find the main thing when installing melamine is to ensure that the exposed edges are sealed against moisture ingress - a thin smear of PVAc (D3 PVA) glue can do this.

Comment from contributor R:
Let's mix things up even more. We use melamine over wheat board core as ultimate high end. The clients get a "green" cabinet, we get points towards earth friendly building, and the stuff is way stronger than fir particle board. We do strictly historic homes and cabinets from a hundred years ago were mostly all painted. The melamine can be purchased in a nice complimentary color and you don't have to have a painted interior which gets all funky over time.

Comment from contributor F:
High end, in my opinion, has to do with the quality of construction, details, and finish. Melamine is an excellent choice for reasons already mentioned. Since the insides are covered about 98% of the time it doesn't matter. I find that with plywood, the inners get scratched and worn over time with dishes getting dragged over the finish.

Would you like to add information to this article?
Interested in writing or submitting an article?
Have a question about this article?

Have you reviewed the related Knowledge Base areas below?
  • KnowledgeBase: Cabinetmaking

  • KnowledgeBase: Cabinetmaking: Commercial Cabinetry

  • KnowledgeBase: Cabinetmaking: Custom Cabinet Construction

  • KnowledgeBase: Cabinetmaking: Cabinet Design

  • KnowledgeBase: Cabinetmaking: Cabinet Door Construction

  • KnowledgeBase: Cabinetmaking: General

  • KnowledgeBase: Cabinetmaking: Installation

  • KnowledgeBase: Cabinetmaking: Residential Cabinetry

  • KnowledgeBase: Cabinetmaking: Store Fixtures

  • KnowledgeBase: Lumber and Plywood

  • KnowledgeBase: Woodworking Miscellaneous

    Would you like to add information to this article? ... Click Here

    If you have a question regarding a Knowledge Base article, your best chance at uncovering an answer is to search the entire Knowledge Base for related articles or to post your question at the appropriate WOODWEB Forum. Before posting your message, be sure to
    review our Forum Guidelines.

    Questions entered in the Knowledge Base Article comment form will not generate responses! A list of WOODWEB Forums can be found at WOODWEB's Site Map.

    When you post your question at the Forum, be sure to include references to the Knowledge Base article that inspired your question. The more information you provide with your question, the better your chances are of receiving responses.

    Return to beginning of article.

    Refer a Friend || Read This Important Information || Site Map || Privacy Policy || Site User Agreement

    Letters, questions or comments? E-Mail us and let us know what you think. Be sure to review our Frequently Asked Questions page.

    Contact us to discuss advertising or to report problems with this site.

    To report a problem, send an e-mail to our Webmaster

    Copyright © 1996-2016 - WOODWEB ® Inc.
    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without permission of the Editor.
    Review WOODWEB's Copyright Policy.

    The editors, writers, and staff at WOODWEB try to promote safe practices. What is safe for one woodworker under certain conditions may not be safe for others in different circumstances. Readers should undertake the use of materials and methods discussed at WOODWEB after considerate evaluation, and at their own risk.

    WOODWEB, Inc.
    335 Bedell Road
    Montrose, PA 18801

    Contact WOODWEB

  • WOODWEB - the leading resource for professional woodworkers

      Home » Knowledge Base » Knowledge Base Article