Choosing a wood species for your cabinets is an important step in the design process that many don’t often think about. There are many different types of wood to choose from, so how do you know which species will work best for you?
While paints are very popular finishes in the kitchen right now, they are mainly offered on Maple or MDF because of the smooth surface they provide, letting the color take precedence. Stains are often selected when you want to see the dimension or characteristics of the natural wood.
Since stains are making their beautiful comeback, it’s important to understand that deciding on the right wood species is just as critical as choosing a finish. As you can see from the example image below, the same stain on different wood species can enhance the look of your favorite finish drastically.
When choosing a species, you also need to take into consideration the varied characteristics of each style of wood as they can dictate style choices.
To be confident in your species and stain combination, always remember to order a large door sample of the wood of your choice with your favorite stain applied. Ensure you are reviewing the sample in your home. Your home’s natural light, interior light, and other interior surroundings can adjust the look of the cabinetry throughout the day.
Characteristics of Wood
Below are informative descriptions of the most popular options of wood species so you can better understand what works best for your space. Each species has its own nuances so it’s best to be educated on them before making your final decision.
Cherry is characterized by its red undertones but may vary in color from white to a deep, rich brown. This color variation can occur in a single-door panel. Cherry is a close-grained wood with a fairly uniform texture, revealing pin knots and curly graining. All wood will age with time and the finish will darken. This is especially true for Cherry. This is a sought-after quality in Cherry cabinetry, and those who select it expect this evolution.
Maple has a close-grained hardwood that is predominately white to creamy-white in color, with occasional reddish-brown tones. While Maple typically features uniform graining as compared to other wood species, characteristic markings may include fine brown lines, wavy or curly graining, bird’s eye dots, and mineral streaks. These traits are natural and serve to enhance Maple’s natural beauty.
Oak is a strong, open-grained hardwood that ranges in color from white to pink and reddish tones. Streaks of green, yellow, and even black may appear due to mineral deposits. Oak may also contain wormholes and wild, varying grain patterns. This distinct graining is considered a desirable quality and has made Oak one of the most popular woods used for cabinetry.
Quartersawn Oak features a tight grain or “comb grain.” This grain will reveal a fairly straight pattern that can range from very close together to quite far apart. It displays a slight curve in the grain on the verge of creating a cathedral pattern similar to that of flat-cut Oak. Medullary rays, sometimes called “tiger striping” or “flecking,” may occur. These rays are a common characteristic of Oak and are evident as shiny patches or scars which cut across the grain of the wood. They reflect light differently than the general grain, especially when finished. They are not usually seen in standard Oak. These medullary rays will occur at random and are not considered a defect.
Rustic Alder is characterized by its light brown and reddish undertones and may contain a variety of pinholes, open and closed knots of various sizes and colors, small cracks, bird pecks, mineral streaks, and grain variation. Some knots may have small holes through the panel. In addition, the wood will contain color differences caused by variations in minerals found in the soil, creating visible mineral tracks.
Alder has a straight fine textured grain similar to Cherry and Maple. Although classified as a hardwood, it is moderately light in weight and considerably softer than other species. Therefore, care must be taken as it will dent and mar easily. Alder may exhibit grain and color variations. Sapwood can be distinguishable from heartwood. Tight pin knots are sometimes present
Walnut features smooth grain, with a color variation that can range from deep chocolate to lighter tones of red/gray/brown. Sapwood areas will be present within Walnut and are lighter in hue, from yellow to light brown Walnut ages opposite of expectation, becoming lighter and more mellow in color over time and with exposure to light.