Cabinetry Wood Species: What to Know

It’s easy to get lost in the forest of wood species for kitchen cabinetry. As with most furniture design, cabinetry is typically built from hardwoods, or compact woods that do not easily yield (an important quality factor for the durability of your new kitchen). Maple, cherry, alder, oak, and hickory are our most common woods used in cabinetry design.

There is always more to learn, but hopefully you will find our guide to be a helpful introduction to different cabinetry wood species. We strongly believe in educating our clients – so please ask us questions! There are many additional sub-categories to consider – quarter-sawn oak, knotty alder, rustic cherry, birdseye maple – and different finish options – painted cabinetry, glazed, washed, oil-based finishes, water-based finishes – but knowing a few of the basics is a great start. It is also important to realize that wood is known for its natural beauty, and thus, natural variation. Any sample you see at our showroom will be different than the wood of your future cabinetry – because no two wood pieces are exactly alike! But we do encourage you to stop in and see an in-person comparison of the different wood species options. The computer just doesn’t do their beauty justice!

Maple is one of the most popular wood species for new kitchen cabinetry. This is largely because of its subtle grain, which leads to a more consistent color. Though wood is a natural product, so there always will be variation, maple typically has less variation in color once it has been stained than some of the other species (such as cherry, which is known and loved for its depth of color). Maple may be stained medium-brown or even medium-red, but it takes especially well to lighter stains. If you have a dark and dreary kitchen now, new maple cabinetry may be just what you need to lighten up your home! Maple is a great standard, and as such is a medium price-point on the relative scale of the woods described here.

Cherry is the hardest wood typically used for cabinetry. It is known for the deep, rich red hue to which it may be stained. Its beautiful, pronounced grain patterning and depth of color are largely what set cherry apart from the rest. Unlike most other woods, cherry will darken over time. That said, cherry is also wonderful (and available!) in lighter shades, so if you love the grain of cherry but don’t want a dark kitchen, we have plenty of stain options to show off to you! Largely because of its highly sought-after natural grain design, cherry is a higher price-point.

Alder we like to describe as a “hybrid” of cherry and maple: it’s the best of both worlds. Alder has the grain of cherry with the more consistent color of maple. It also shares the staining spectrum of both woods: alder may be stained light, similarly to maple, or dark, quite similarly to cherry, though it naturally has a slightly more brown tone than cherry’s redder base. Alder is typically priced similarly to cherry – however, we have a very special offer available if you are interested in alder (likely for a limited time – it’s a fantastic value)!

Oak is quite unlike maple, cherry, or alder, in that it is considered an “open grain” wood (as opposed to “closed grain,” like the others). Open grain actually refers to the texture of the wood and the wood’s cell structure: if you were to run your hand across a sanded, finished open grain wood such as oak, you can actually feel the grain. Aesthetically, the grain of oak is naturally dark and can be large, so work with your designer closely to choose your stain! Lighter stains will showcase the contrast of the dark grain more, whereas darker stains will hide the grain better. It all comes down to how much character you want your wood to have – and also, sometimes, your budget (oak is typically at a lower price-point.)

Hickory is another closed grain wood, like maple or cherry, and this hardwood yells “CHARACTER!” about as loudly as a wood could! Hickory is a dramatic wood because of its very high variation. Though, as previously mentioned, all natural woods will have variation, hickory is known for its variation in color: it goes dark to light to dark to light in its natural hues. A beautiful wood, but not for the faint of heart! Similar to oak, hickory is typically at a lower price-point.

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