Using Melamine To Build Cabinets


From original questioner:

Been building boxes out of 3/4" import birch ply and 3/4" uv birch. I have noticed lately that the quality of the materials have become terrible. We just did a paint grade kitchen with pigmented conversion varnish and I could not believe how bad the veneer released from the plywood. I also use 1/2" birch for drawer bottoms and the last order I got you could see a lot of bleed through from the glue. The customer actually asked me if one of the spots was a blood spot. We cut around most of this but still need to have some usable product. I am really considering melamine for boxes now and only import for drawer bottoms from my local box store so I can inspect. Wondering if anyone else has noticed poor quality from their distributor? Plywood has gone up drastically in the past couple of years and I was told by my distributor that it was because of the anticipated embargoes and the price never went down after they did not happen. Should I switch to melamine and if so how do I sell it to my customers?

From contributor Ph

I have given up on import birch for anything other than structural components. You can not depend on the veneer to substrate glue bond,it has large ripples and voids it can, and will bubble when you apply a finish to it. also it is never flat, so you have to fight to get it to vacuum down on the cnc. not worth the trouble. Buy B2 or combination core.

From contributor Ca

We use to buy China birch then realized our time is worth more than we can save in materials if that makes any sense to you. Now we only buy domestic ply and haven't had any issues from our supplier since we switched.

From contributor Jo

We have always used domestic veneer core material, mostly from Columbia. We build boxes out of 3/4 b-2 natural maple.

The quality has really gone to the pits over the past few years. I've building cabinets for almost 30 years, and I can tell you, the quality of plywood is nothing like it was 25 years ago.

I think the purebond glue gives more delam problems. The last unit I used, we had several issues with both inner ply and face delams.

We run a flat table router, and thickness variations have been an issue, as well as the non flatness of the panels.

To sum it all up, it's all crap. It would be a miracle if someone could actually produce a flat panel with a good core with limited voids, that stayed glued together, without damaged faces.

From contributor Ro

The import varies from batch to batch- but quality has actually gotten better for us over the last 10 years on it. Used a couple hundred units of it in the last decade only three were inferior quality. It's stamped carb compliant, lays as flat as the domestic, etc. You probably just got a bad batch.

From contributor La

Switch to melamine?
There are some variations in Melamine board quality but not nearly as much as in ply. Disadvantages, weight, less water resistant and perceived value. It is possible to get melamine laid up on water resistant cores. Advantages: excellent durability of the surface coating, flat, uniform, consistent thickness, no de-lamination or voids, a better edge to band with PVC or ABS, more price stable, huge variety of decorative finishes, Can get nearly exact matches to HPL. If you do any commercial work it is the standard material.
I run a commercial only shop, no kitchens, so I have no issues with "perceived value." Virtually all commercial work is frame-less, so using a flat board becomes a necessity. We use between one and two units of melamine board a day. I'd hate to have to deal with plywood variables now. Not worth the struggle.

From contributor Ro

I'm going to disagree with the last poster. Melamine actually has better water resistance than plywood- run the tests yourself. Melamine is the hands down winner if it's say Roseberg or similar quality core. Biggest downside other than weight of melamine is perceived quality and value by clients- which is huge- which is why even though I believe it to be an inferior product ONCE INSTALLED we actually use plywood.

From contributor La

Neither Melamine nor ply are really happy with water but by care in design and material selection both can be made better able to deal with it. Given that we are down to perceived value, it's time to do some customer training.

On this forum there are many melamine haters. I've said it before but here it is again... Much of it stems from unwillingness to make the necessary investments to efficiently use the material. A 10" table saw just isn't going to work. And yes, I know you can buy a "melamine" blade.

From contributor Ro

Customer You might be able to do it with some. But let's face it- our purchase is largely an emotional one purchased by people that know very little about the products they are buying. The majority of folks, even though they are wrong to think so, you cannot convince them that a particle board core product is quality one. Just not going to happen. Whether we like it or not- the vast majority of our reputuation, selling power and credibility comes from first impressions. Trying to convice a client PB core product is like a used car salesman convincing you a car is in great shape- it may well be- but you aren't taking his word for it.

From contributor Al

The "finest" European import cabinets use melamine, just look at how they sell it.

Most customers don't know the difference between the particle board used in melamine and underlayment which some shops have used years ago and would have a high failure rate. Also lots of cheap cabinets in the 70's and 80's were raw PB which is a different animal.

Find out why they want what they want and what they perceive as the value, then if they value a veneer interior at a higher cost, sell it to them.

From contributor Ro

You are making my point for me. The "finest" European cabinetry has a reputation- much of it is crap- but because of the reputation they can sell whatever they want because they are "exotic." When the OP reaches that point he won't have that concern. Most of us have not however. We still sell what our clients want. If using ply vs. PB makes selling easier, I'd rather wrestle the plywood a little in the shop than have to always prove my credibility to a client. Your choice though! You forget I was the one you said plywood was inferior- for everything except credibility.

From contributor Br

Most clients don't know the difference between plywood and melamine if they don't see the core. If I am using veneer products (oak, cherry, walnut, ect) I buy them on a particle board core, or MDF if I can get it. They don't know the difference and only look at the outside. As for the water issue, what happens if you soak your piano in the pool?...

There are still some that want plywood. So, fine, oh, melamine is twenty bucks a sheet and plywood is fifty and you need to pay for finish. Gets them every time.

From contributor La

I still see the flaky, cheap P Bd used in some KD furniture. Remember when water beds were all the rage? 2X lumber and stained crappy ply or P Bd. No wonder there is a resistance.
I lived in Europe for awhile, kitchens are much different there. A lot of them are made in very automated plants. I never saw plywood used.

From contributor JM

I have educated every single customer that came in wanting plywood. All but 1 received their diploma and switched to melamine :)

The education process is simple. They say they worry about water. I tell them cabinets are made from interior grade plywood offer no better water resistance than melamine. I tell them that the finish can scratch easily allowing water to penetrate. I tell them about ply delamination, and I then tell them the price difference. It literally takes 2 minutes to talk people out of plywood.

That one job i did with plywood was awful. Edgebander hated it, wasnt flat, ply seperating, etc. It was apparently a high quality domestic ply. Columbia if I recall correctly. I hope the stuff never makes its way in my shop again.

From contributor Sa

We use 1/2" Russian birch for our drawer boxes we never had a problem, maybe it was a bad batch. When ever we use Particle Board or MDF Cores and they are in contact with the ground or in high traffic areas we apply 1/4" or sometimes 1/8" solid wood edge matching the veneered panel to protect the interior core, or if there are gables around for example Dishwasher unit or Fridge Unit we use a solid edge on the length and bottom of the gables,the edges are very durable and never had an issue.