Flat Panel Door Material

for the job? February 25, 2005

I have an order to replace about 30 cabinet doors with a five-piece, flat panel door. The doors will be painted white by the customer. I will be using birch for the rails and stiles, but am looking for feedback on the panel. I'm not thrilled with 1/4" panels. Seems cheap to me. Would 1/2" MDF run through the shaper to achieve my 1/4" tongue be too heavy? I'm looking for any ideas on a good paint grade panel. If 1/4" is okay, I would like to hear that as well.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
I don't do 1/4" either, so I use 1/2" MDF. I prefer maple for the stiles and rails. Most shops near me use 1/4" with no apparent problems, though.

What would the customer want? If it's only a paint grade door, than 1/4" should be fine. If the customer wants to pay more for a 1/2" panel, then go that route. I would use 1/2" birch veneer over MDF and your slot cutter to remove 1/4" of material so it could slide into your rails. Just leave the heavy side to the back of the door so you don't lose the reveal on the front side.

The 1/4" veneered plywood I have been getting is barely 3/16", so it will cause hassles with your 1/4" slot. If you are suggesting getting a birch veneer on an MDF substrate, why bother with the extra cost of the veneer if it will just get painted?

MDF will run through your shaper well, but it is hard on your cutters. I don't think it will be too heavy for your doors. It will cause you extra sanding to get rid of the hairs on the part you shaped, though. As long as the customer isn't planning on trying to put his fist through the doors, I don't see anything wrong with using the 1/4" panels. MDF is stronger than particleboard and weighs about the same, and MDF is designed to be painted.

I make my doors from ash veneered MDF. Stiles and rails are 3/4", centre panel 1/4". I use the ash veneered stuff because I paint with water based acrylic paint, and it tends to raise the grain of plain MDF. I know MDF doesn't have grain, but surface is definitely affected by water based paint. I don't care for the smell of other types. The other advantage to the veneer is that the grain shows through the paint and the customers find that attractive.

The 1/4 inch centre panel looks fine and makes the door a little lighter, which affects the feel as the door is opened and closed.

My thoughts, exactly. You beat me to the punch. If you're going to use solid MDF for your field, you might as well use it for your rails and stiles. Then you will have a heavy door, if that's what you're after.

Use 1/2 MDF and back cutter to get the 1/4 for rails and stiles.

I think you all forgot something! What about 3/8" MDF? Seems to be a perfect solution...

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

Comment from contributor J:
I agree with the 3/8" MDF suggestion, although I just finished two paint grade jobs using 1/4" hardboard. It takes primer great and is durable and inexpensive. I would leave MDF alone as far as the rails and stiles are concerned. I use poplar or, depending on intended use, soft maple. Real world usage (especially if your clients have children!) would leave MDF in pieces over time, where solid wood will hold up better.

Comment from contributor G:
I use the (undersized) 1/4" panels for my doors, but I also fit an additional panel on the back (inside) of the door. It makes the door feel more substantial, while not increasing the weight significantly.

Comment from contributor B:
Regarding using MDF for the stile and rail of paint grade doors, I wouldn’t recommend it. The stile and rail joints will be too weak to handle the abuse a kitchen door gets and will crack and eventually come apart. We tried this years ago and had nothing but problems. All our PG doors use either maple, birch, or poplar frames with a 3/16" groove and 1/4" MDF machined to fit. Only upon request by the customer will we use 3/8" MDF or a wood veneer panel machined to fit our groove. We will also use 3/4" MDF for a raised panel look.