Why Oak is the Best Plywood for Cabinets

It’s not surprising that hardwood wood plywood trounces wood as the material of choice in making cabinets. Plywood is more stable than wood and comes in various grades, and is relatively economical. But which is the best hardwood plywood for cabinetry?

Oak is the best plywood for cabinets because of its hardness, density, high tensile strength, beautiful patterns, and grain contrast. An oak veneer gives plywood panels the same beauty and quality as oak lumber. Cabinet-grade oak plywood has seven layers of plies and a solid core.

The rest of the article will explore why hardwood plywood is best for cabinetry, plywood sheets grading, and some hardwood plywood buying pointers.

Why Hardwood Plywood for Cabinet Making?

Due to superior construction, hardwood plywood is the choice product for building cabinets. Each plywood panel comprises three or more thin layers of wood or plies, laminated with industrial-strength glue. The grains on each wood layer is oriented to run at right angles with the next layer.

Why Oak is the Best Plywood for Cabinets

As a result, plywood sheets have superior shearing and tensile strength and hold fasteners and screws much more efficiently. Because of excellent compressive strength, hardwood plywood sheets have a remarkable load-bearing capacity.

The lightweight nature makes hardwood plywood boards well suited for making large hanging cabinets. Although plywood isn’t very durable in wet conditions, it has some water-resistant qualities. It won’t sag in the presence of moisture.

Picking Cabinet-grade Plywood

Plywood is available in various thicknesses and grades, some of which are less than suitable for making cabinets. Since plywood’s quality depends on the wood’s thickness and the number of plies, cabinet making plywood has between five and nine plies.

Why Oak is the Best Plywood for Cabinets

Hardwood plywood consists of a face and back veneer made of hardwood trees such as oak, birch, beech, maple, ash, mahogany, and more. Interior grade plywood is made with formaldehyde-free glue. It is best used for crafting cabinets, furniture, built-in closets, paneling, and more.

Interior grade plywood is used to make two types of cabinets – face-frame and frameless cabinets.

  • Frameless cabinets. The cabinet boxes use thicker, stiffer plywood to compensate for the lack of a supporting frame. Seven and nine piles plywood panels with a thickness of ¾ inch (1.9 cm) are the best picks for frameless cabinetry.

They can be used without nailing or bracing the sides and the back of a cabinet and hung direct-to-stud without needing cleats.

  • Face-frame cabinets. Since the box framework adds to the overall structure strength, face-frame cabinets use half-inch (1.3 cm) panels for the top, sides, and bottom. However, shelves should use ¾ inch (1.9 cm) panels because they need additional support.

Exterior grade hardwood plywood is popular in the marine industry and is often used in boat making.

The Best Plywood Thickness for Cabinets

While plywood comes in 4 x 8 foot (1.22 x 2.44 m) sheets, the thickness varies significantly to support different projects. For kitchen cabinets and vanities, the acceptable plywood grade and thickness comes down to where the sheet will be used.

  • ¾ (1.9 cm), 5/8, (1.6 cm) or 1/2-inch (1.3 cm) plywood sheets are best suited for cabinet sides
  • ½-inch (1.3 cm) plywood sheets are best for cabinets with face frames.
  • Pick ¾ or 5/8-inch (1.9 or 1.6 cm) thick sheets if you wish to install European style hinges.
  • ¼-inch (0.6 cm) plywood is best suited for the cabinet back that doesn’t require additional support.
  • Go with ½ inch (1.3 cm) sheets if the cabinet back will have some load-bearing functions.
  • Choose ½-inch (1.3 cm) plywood sheets for drawer fronts, sides, and back but use ¼-inch (0.6 cm) boards on the bottom drawers.

Understanding Plywood Thickness

Plywood sheet thickness is measured in fractions of an inch. But manufacturers are increasingly tending towards a metric system. Therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised to find a sheet measured in millimeters instead of inches.

Cabinet plywood manufacturers create products with an error tolerance range of 0 to -1.2 mm, so the sheets might be a tad undersized. For instance, a half-inch board might be only 31/64 inches (1.2 cm) thick, which is 1/32 inches (0.08 cm) thinner than you’d expect.

The rule of thumb here is that it’s far easier to deal with an undersized sheet than an oversized one.

Grading Hardwood Plywood Sheets

Manufacturers use a grading system published by the Decorative Hardwood Association to rank the front and back veneer. The front face grading systems use letters A, B, C, and D to rank boards from best to worst. The back veneer uses a number-based system, 1, 2, 3, and 4 to rank the panels from best to worst.

Why Oak is the Best Plywood for Cabinets

Two-sided plywood products combine the grades on the front and back veneers. Hardwood plywood ranked as A1, A2, B1, and B2 are an excellent choice for making two-sided products where both sides are visible. In most cases, the backside has more blemishes than the front face.

A3, B3, and C3 denote plywood suitable for building one-sided products, but they come with a clean back veneer. However, the boards might have some discoloration, stains, or spliced surface on the back. Such panels are suitable for making drawer sides, sides of dressers, and shelving.

A4, B4, and C4 are only good for making a one-side-good product that’s often hidden from sight. The back veneer will have filled knots, open knots, bad seams, and veneer joints. They are often used for drawer bottoms.

Buying Hardwood Plywood Sheets

The quality of the hardwood plywood you’re likely to find at your local store depends on the source market. As the source market changes, so do the quality and pricing.

Why Oak is the Best Plywood for Cabinets

When plywood manufacturers face the pressure to keep the prices low, the hardwood plywood’s quality is the first to take a beating. To avoid getting short-changed when buying hardwood plywood, you need to scrutinize each sheet.

Here are three points to consider when purchasing hardwood plywood:

  1. Inspect the face veneersBookmatchedplain-sliced veneer is the best plywood board for building the visible parts of a cabinet. The grains on these plywood sheets resemble solid wood planks that are 6 to 8-inches (15.24 to 20.32 cm) wide.

Plain-sliced, bookmatched veneer plywood panels are often mirroring images and carry a premium price. Rotary-cut veneers have a wild grain pattern characterized by broad light and dark areas. They are best for a cabinet’s interior.

  1. Check a sheet’s flatness. Although plywood is hailed for its flatness, not every piece rolling off the assembly line is perfect. Some sheets come with some degree of bow. The ideal plywood should have a long straight edge without twisting or warping. If a sheet is warped or twisted, there’s a problem with its core layers, and the appearance won’t improve when you cut it up.
  2. Examine the edge. Checking the edge of a plywood sheet lets you determine the number of plies, each sheet’s thickness, and the joints between the layers. Typically, the higher plies and hardwood cores are preferable because they’re more robust and durable. The joints between the sheets should form smooth straight lines, and the grain should be close and even. Be wary of sheets with knots, voids, or checks on the edge as that’s an indication it uses inferior sheets.

If you can’t determine the thickness of the face veneer by looking at the edge, it’s probably too thin. Plywood boards with thin face veneers are problematic because they’re easy to sand through. A thin face veneer is likely to telegraph the core layer’s unevenness on the finished surface.

This video further explains how to buy hardwood plywood from a lumberyard or your local store.


Hardwood plywood boards are the best pick for building cabinets because of their strength, durability, and beautiful grains. In addition to oak, other hardwood plywood choices on the market include ash, maple, mahogany, beech, and birch.

Hardwood plywood panels with five to nine layers are a staple in frameless cabinetry. Such boards are lightweight and have excellent structural strength, which increases their load-bearing capacity without buckling.

For the best results, you should buy hardwood plywood panels in person. That allows you a chance to inspect each board to ascertain its superior quality and build.


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