Which Wood Cabinets Are Right for You?

Which Wood Cabinets Are Right for You?

Wooden cabinets bring instant style and sophistication to your dream kitchen and, done right, can deliver a fresh feel while still maintaining timeless traditional vibes.

These cabinets are far more versatile than most people realize — and we're not just talking about door styles, paints, or stains. Hardwood options abound and based on their natural hues and distinct grains, these can bring a lot of personality to your kitchen. These materials determine everything from cabinet aesthetics to maintenance concerns and even longevity.

With so many factors to consider, you might be starting to feel overwhelmed. This is natural, but remember, there is plenty of guidance available. This is the ultimate example of "knowledge is power," and you will definitely want to do your research before you settle on a particular style. We're here to help: we've highlighted the key factors that will drive this decision, plus top materials that will amplify your kitchen.

Versatile Maple Wood Cabinets

Top Types of Wood

First things first: it's important to understand which types of wood are available and what sets them apart. Remember: there is no best wood for kitchen cabinets, at least not for everyone. Different people have different priorities and preferences, so you'll want to discover which types of wood meet your specific expectations.


Featuring a tight grain and producing a smooth finish, maple is a favorite for traditional kitchens that call for moderate price points and excellent durability. Due to its uniquely smooth surface, maple can accommodate a variety of paints but is often preferred for setting an elegant or sophisticated mood. Staining can be a challenge but, done right, produces amazing results and can further extend maple's versatility. Look to natural maple to evoke the best of mid-century modern styling.


Timeless, versatile, and relatively affordable, oak is an all-around great choice for the modern kitchen. It's often featured in rustic or farmhouse spaces, although it can be painted to deliver a decidedly contemporary aesthetic. Either way, oak makes an impression with its memorable grain. It is incredibly sturdy and will hold up to a great deal of wear and tear.

Keep in mind that oak falls into several noteworthy subcategories, including flat-cut and rift-cut. These terms reference the angle of the cut, which can determine the look of the grain. Flat-cut was a big deal during the 1980s and was known for generating cathedrals in the wood pattern. The outcome? A wild grain look.

In recent years, rift-cut has taken over, and for good reason. This produces a straight, tight grain and clean lines, which appeal greatly to modern stylistic sensibilities. Rift-cut oak is notoriously sturdy, so it is as practical as it is visually appealing. Due to this impressive blend of function and style, rift-cut oak is a go-to for many discerning homeowners.

Brookside Flush Inset Maple Wood Cabinet In Cocoa


Walnut cabinets are among the most expensive, but enthusiasts believe they are well worth the price. These cabinets have a rich appearance and are at home in upscale areas, where they convey instant sophistication. Featuring a darker, richer color than most of the hardwoods highlighted above, walnut can make any kitchen feel luxurious. These cabinets often feel more personal, as the grain is so distinct. Other bonuses? Walnut is durable and finishes nicely.


Offering a distinctly knotty appearance, alder is a lesser-known option that can help your kitchen stand out. It resembles cherry in many respects but tends to be more affordable, making it a compelling option for budget-oriented homeowners who still want to achieve a rich and impactful kitchen aesthetic. Keep in mind, however, that it's softer than most and, as such, won't be the right fit in every situation.

Factors to Take Into Account

Now that you know which hardwoods are available and what distinguishes them, it's time to determine the best wood for cabinet doors — or, at least, the best hardwood for your specific circumstances. There is a lot to think about and, while you may initially be focused on the appearance of the hardwood, you will also want to keep long-term considerations top of mind.

To help, we've outlined a few of the top factors to focus on as you determine the best wood for kitchen cabinets:


If you have a distinct mental image of how you want your dream kitchen to appear, you likely already have an idea of your preferred wood style. Perhaps you dream of a farmhouse or rustic kitchen — oak or alder could be the perfect fit. Maybe you're envisioning an old-world kitchen with dark finishes; if so, alder might work but painted oak could surprise you with its natural, yet enhanced beauty. Meanwhile, mixed materials could deliver a warm take on industrial chic.

While hardwood can contribute to many kitchen aesthetics, stains and paints also need to be taken into account. Painted cabinets are often a hallmark of modern minimalism, but not all wood grains are well-suited to paint. Meanwhile, individualized styles tend to work better when the grain is more distinct, as is the case with maple or quarter-sawn oak.

Be mindful of other elements within your kitchen. Some hardwoods, paints, and stains go better with certain types of appliances or hardware than others. All white plus stainless steel, for example, delivers a crisp look for a minimalist space. Do you prefer a traditional look? Timeless hardwood (like maple) might pair better with a classic white fridge or even subtle bronze stainless appliances.


Hardwood is, generally speaking, highly durable and ideal if you want to enjoy your cabinets for several years or decades. There is some variation, however, and certain types of hardwood are more resistant to scratches or dents than others. Maple is a great option from a cost versus durability perspective; it's not the most expensive hardwood available, but it's certainly one of the most resilient.

Woods classified as 'soft,' (pine or cedar, for example), while often gorgeous, are prone to damage. If you want your investment to stand the test of time, soft varieties are best avoided, as dents are likely. This may be a matter of personal preference, however, and some people may be more willing to take on a slight reduction in durability to achieve a specific aesthetic. Thankfully, many stunning cabinet material types are also incredibly durable.

White oak cabinet kitchen sink

Comparing Cabinet Wood Types

Once you've done some soul-searching and know where your priorities lie, you can narrow your options and, eventually, arrive at your preferred wood type. This is rarely an easy decision, however, as there is a lot to love about today's most desirable kitchen cabinet materials. Understanding and ranking personal priorities is most important, especially after viewing various cabinets and getting a sense of aesthetic preferences.

A simple list of pros and cons can help, especially when two types of wood are favored but it still feels difficult to make that final decision. We've also provided some more in-depth insight into a few of the most favored cabinet styles — including direct comparisons — to streamline the decision-making process.

MapleTight grain, modern, mid-centuryDurable, smooth, versatile
OakTight grain, rustic, contemporarySturdy, stylish, affordable
WalnutRich, dark color, sophisticatedDurable, versatile, distinct
AlderRich, compelling, knottySoft, situational, affordable

Maple Vs Oak Cabinets

Oak and maple are among the most popular cabinet wood types right now, and many homeowners struggle to determine which they prefer. Oak is appealing, in part, because it's usually more cost-effective, and therefore, provides a path to gaining the rich look of hardwood on a smaller budget.

Durability is obviously one of the highest determining factors of which wood is appropriate for cabinetry. The industry-wide standard of measurement for “wood hardness” is known as the Janka test. Oak is quite strong, but certain types of maple rank higher on the Janka scale and may be slightly preferable from a durability perspective. Aesthetic considerations also must be emphasized. The grain, in particular, deserves a second look, as oak's grain diverges significantly from maple's distinct patterns. A lot depends on personal preferences, which are best determined by examining several oak and maple options.

Stained Vs Painted Oak Cabinets

If you're like many homeowners, your cabinet decision-making doesn't actually begin with wood types; rather, you focus on stained vs painted styles and other aesthetic details. As you get down to the final decision, however, you will want to think more about wood types and may re-evaluate your initial preferences based on what you learn about the wood behind that lovely stain or paint color.

The good news? There are many excellent options across the spectrum of cabinet wood types and that versatility takes another step up as you examine various stains and paints. These can play heavily into your decision, as some materials are more conducive to certain finishes.

A lot depends on the type of atmosphere you hope to evoke. Contemporary kitchens tend to feature painted cabinets, often in neutral shades that promise to visually expand the space. Stained oak is more likely to evoke farmhouse vibes. Painted oak is unique, however, in that the distinct characteristics of this hardwood remain visible. As such, painted oak has the rare ability to capture modern styling while still bringing the best of natural hardwood to the forefront.

Craft Your Dream Kitchen With Plain & Fancy

Still struggling to find the right material or stain for your kitchen cabinets? Our experts at Plain & Fancy are happy to help. You'll find plenty of inspiration from our dealers and in our design center, but you are also welcome to get in touch to discuss your vision of the ideal kitchen.


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