Cabinet Grade Plywood
The term Cabinet Grade Plywood is a general term, applied to any hardwood plywood which can be used in the manufacture of cabinets or furniture cabinetry. While this can refer to specific hardwoods, such as oak, maple and cherry, when plywood is listed only as “cabinet grade” and the specific hardwood veneer is not mentioned, it typically refers to lesser expensive hardwoods, such as birch or some types of mahogany.
What qualifies plywood as being considered “cabinet grade” is the quality of the veneer surfaces. These are graded different than softwood plywood, with a grading being provided for both faces. The “good” or visible face is letter graded while the back face is number graded.
Visible Face Grades:
- AA – Good or good sequence
- A – Good
- B – Good, sliced B, RC sound
- C – Rotary cut solid
Back Face Grades:
1 – Sound, same species, specifically cut
2 – Solid, same species, specifically cut
3 – Rotary Grain
4 – Reject Back
When choosing cabinet grade plywood for a particular project, it is important to take into consideration the quality of the two faces. While in some applications, such as a carcase (the casing of a dresser) the back side of the plywood won’t be visible. In others, such as kitchen cabinet doors, the back side will be seen frequently. Therefore, although kitchen cabinets aren’t considered in the same class as fine furniture, the grade of plywood used may have to be higher.
In addition to the face grades that are used, cabinet grade plywood is also graded by the type of core used in its manufacture. Depending upon the manufacturer, a number of different core types are available; each with its own characteristics and qualities:
Veneer core (V/C) – This is the standard plywood core, with an odd number of layers of veneer, laid at 90 degree angles to each other. The actual number of layers can range anywhere from 3 to 11, depending upon the thickness of the plywood sheet and the quality of the plywood. Generally speaking, the more layers, the higher quality the plywood is considered to be. One risk with veneer core plywood is that imperfections can easily “telegraph” to the face layer, showing as indentations or stains in the finish.
Fibercore (MDF) – The entire core is a single medium density fiberboard (MDF). This tends to produce the most stable panel. The panel is extremely machineable with no voids. The fibercore’s smooth surface provides a superior core for the finish of the face and back veneer. The only drawback to MDF is its high weight.
Particleboard Core (PBC) – This is similar to MDF, with the exception of having a particleboard core, instead of MDF. Like the MDF, PBC provides an extremely smooth surface for the veneer’s finishing. However, it is nowhere near as strong as MDF.
Lumbercore (LBC) – This is a five ply construction, with two thin veneers (the face veneer and one backup layer) on either side of the lumber core. The core is made of a series of edge-glued strips of lumber, ranging from 1-1/2” to 2” in width. This type of core is only found in hardwood plywood that is 3/4” thick or thicker. It provides a plywood that is extremely resistant to buckling, twisting and warping.
While veneer core is the most commonly found core used in cabinet grade plywood; generally speaking, the more stable a core is, the higher a grade it is considered to be. This, of course, affects the price of the plywood, but it provides for a better finished product.