Plywood Versus Solid Wood for Recessed Panel Cabinet Doors

A discussion of door construction material and methods. November 29, 2014

I always feel that a solid wood panel in a recessed panel cabinet door is better than a plywood panel. But in fact, the plywood panel makes a better door reducing panel movement, warping, etc. I think that 99% of customers don't really know or care. What are your thoughts? Is a plywood panel considered ok in a middle of the road type of job (not super high end, but custom and not budget)? Does AWI specify anything?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
For me it depends on grade mostly (FAS and Select). I prefer MDF Core 1/4" panels. If itís rustic and requiring knots I use wood.

From Contributor B:
What does better mean? If the panel is not raised/profiled on the edges, plywood or MDF core is a much more stable and less expensive method. There isn't a client I've met who would be able to tell the difference (and I'd bet majority of woodworkers wouldn't know either after assembled.) AWI allows solid panels if the width does not exceed the standard.

From contributor F:
My two problems with plywood are:

1. Most of the time it stains or takes color differently than the solid frame around it.

2. The weight makes is seem like a weak, flimsy door.

From contributor T:
AWI Spec:
Edge glued solid lumber is permitted if .5'' in thickness and width across grain is 13.75'' or less. Custom Grade. (Stay under 13.75'' in cross grain width and over .5'' thickness and it passes custom grade,)
Solid lumber is not permitted in Premium Grade.

Contributor F is right, the color of laid up panels does not usually match solid stock. One trick I have used in the past is to stain some cutoffs of the solid and veneer stock. Usually the veneer is lighter than the solid wood. Pre-treat a piece of the veneer with a wash coat or light stain then apply normal stain over panel until the color of the panel is the same as the solid stock. This is similar to priming panels before assembly so you won't see expansion or contraction. Apply wash coat to all panel stock then carefully assemble doors and use stain over panels and solid stock as normal.

Or mix up toner to even out veneer after. This is pretty typical with face frame cabinetry. Solid frames look different then the carcass. We use .375'' MDF core for many of our flat panel stile and rail doors. We mill our solid stock thicker usually around .925. We use .375'' groovers with our standard freeborn door sets. This way there is no back cut on the panel. These doors end up around .875'' after going through the wide belt. This makes a rugged door. I would stay away from using veneer core for doors. It's light and is apt to cup both ways. We will use it our exterior doors but that's only for .75 flat panels and in a marine grade ply. Usually paint grade.

From contributor L:
Contributor T is correct on all points. For flat panels use MDF core, itís better than plywood or solid! You will get a better finish by wash coating. I've personally never seem AWI Premium used in residential. We've done it for boardrooms, corporate offices, churches, a Chancellor's office and a museum.