stain grade cabinets,cabinets,paint grade cabinet, paint, stain, design

Stain Grade vs. Paint Grade Cabinetry

If you are selecting new cabinetry, what is paint-grade vs. stain-grade wood? Is it a special type of wood? Actually, it is not a type of wood.

What Does Paint Grade Mean?

If you select to paint your cabinets, they will be made with “paint-grade” wood, which really means a wood that offers a flat surface and is free of knots and heavy grain patterns. Some examples are poplar, veneered plywood or even, a non-wood called MDF.

MDF is an acronym for Medium-Density Fiberboard. MDF is an engineered wood product made by breaking down hardwood or softwood residuals into wood fibers, combining it with wax and a resin binder, and forming panels by applying high and pressure. It is generally denser than plywood BUT if exposed to water, it can swell! In moist areas, I would recommend using real hardwood or a moisture-resistant MDF such as MEDEXⓇ. Trust me, your will be so much happier when you don't have to replace (re-patch, re-paint!) the faux wood!

👉ROI TIP: Pay the extra money for the better material!

Stain Grade

If you select stain grade cabinets, you have a lot more selections based on grain and density.  Some wood is hard and some soft. If you have a hardwood and drop something on it, you usually don’t get a dent or mark. However, when you drop something on softwood, you will see dents and marks, which can quickly show signs of being distressed. Distressed wood is a great look, so hopefully, that is the look you are going for when selecting softwood!


Hardwood comes from trees with broad-leaves such as birch, oak, maple, cherry and hickory. Softwood comes from trees such as pine, spruce and cedar which are needle-bearing evergreen trees.

All trees vary in color and sometimes the tree itself will vary. After all- each tree is unique! Just be sure to ask questions about the wood so that you manage your expectations. Some people love the distressed look that comes with age and others want something hard, clean and modern.

The wood will also have grain patterns. Some people want busy patterns, some want clean, straight patterns. Use the following words to describe what pattern you like.

Fine: Discreet or invisible patterns

Straight: Straight, vertical patterns

Cross: Lines that run parallel to the sides of the wood

Spiral: Tornado or funnel-like patterns

Wavy: Wave-like patterns

Curly: Circular or coiled patterns

Arch: Reversed U or V patterns

Which One is Better?

So which to you select? Painted or stained cabinets?

I wish there was a rule on this, but there isn’t. It is a decision that is based on aesthetics, not price, as painted or stained wood can often cost the same. Painted cabinets use wood that is less expensive, but you usually need more coats of paint on painted cabinets, which means higher material cost, more labor costs and more time costs.

Peruse Pinterest to find looks you like. Painted cabinets might be trending right now, but the cabinets must reflect your tastes. Many kitchens have a mixture of painted and stained elements. For example, kitchens may have a stained island and painted perimeter cabinets.

When painting cabinets, a go-to color is white. It is classic and clean. However, there are so many great colors to paint islands. Don’t be afraid to test some color on an island. If everything is very neutral, a bit of color can brighten up the room.

If you want a great, FREE download with tips on Stain Grade vs. Paint Grade cabinets, that you can share with your clients, download it right HERE.




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