Selecting a wood species for your kitchen cabinets

Choosing a wood species for your new kitchen cabinets can be a daunting task. With so many varieties, it can be hard to narrow it down to just two or three to choose between!

However, each species has its own unique set of characteristics. By doing a little research you can find which species will be best for your taste and lifestyle.

Important features to consider

The species you choose can make or break your design, so it's important to know what you're getting into. The most defining qualities of a wood species can be narrowed down to its grain, natural color, and durability.

Wood Grain. This is often the most definitive feature when choosing a species for your cabinetry. Some homeowners want to create interest by using a species with a distinctive wood grain. Others opt for a more polished look by choosing a species with a smooth, even grain. Both styles are beautiful when placed in the right setting - it just depends on which look you prefer. 

Natural Color. The natural color of a material is another important thing to take into consideration. Many wood species are favored for their unique coloring, and can be coated with a clear finish to let their natural coloring shine through. However, you aren't limited to the natural appearance of the species you choose. Endless options of stains and paints are available to help you achieve the exact color you're looking for. Just keep in mind that the natural color of the wood product underneath can tinge stains into different tones, making the same finish look different on two different wood species. However, this effect isn't something to be afraid of. It can be used to create a unique look in your home.

Durability. The cabinets that you choose will be a permanent feature in your home for a long time. As the years go by, cabinets can take a lot of abuse. Even between different hard wood species, there is quite a bit of variation in strength. Homes with young children will want to take into consideration the durability of a wood species so that they can avoid as many dents and marks as possible.


Varieties of wood species


Maple is one of the most popular wood species used in making kitchen cabinets. It naturally contains a smooth, fine grain.

Thanks to its fairly uniform surface, maple cabinets produce a smooth, even finish when stained or painted.  It lends itself to a wide variety of styles, making it a highly versatile species. By pairing it with a certain stain, paint, or doorstyle, it can be used in any kitchen design whether Modern or Traditional.



Birch features a smooth grain, similar to that of maple. This hardwood often comes in creamy white shades, with streaks or swirls of light brown. Its light coloring makes it a great candidate for paints and light stains such as Chestnut or Wheat.

Birch is often the most affordable wood species for cabinetry, since it can be found growing all throughout Canada and the Northeastern United States. It can even be stained to take on the appearance of more expensive wood species such as cherry or maple. Therefore it is perfect for homeowners who want the strength of hardwood cabinetry, but are limited by a tight budget.



Alder wood is best known by its reddish undertones, and simple, even wood grain. If you're looking for something with a lot of character, rustic alder varieties are available with dramatic knots, cracks, and grain variations. Whether finished with a simple stain or left natural, alder is the perfect choice for Traditional and Transitional style kitchens.

This species is somewhat softer and lighter than other hardwood species. Therefore alder may not be the best choice for households that put extra wear and tear on their cabinets.



Oak has been widely used for centuries in making cabinetry and fine furniture. It is a very hard, heavy wood. Due to this, oak is great for kitchens that may see more than average wear.

This species stands out from other varieties such as birch and alder due to its wide, distinct grain. This defining feature is the reason why it is often used in Arts and Crafts or Rustic style homes. 

Oak wood stains beautifully, and makes a bold statement in any home. However, it is not the best option for painted finishes.



Beech has also been used in furniture-making and carpentry for a long time. Early woodworkers favored this species for its availability and light, straight grain. When stained, it beautifully highlights the delicate flecks on the surface of the wood.

The extra durability offered by beech wood makes it a great choice for cabinetry. 




Cherry over time has come to be known as a luxury wood. Its unique surface makes it the perfect species for classic or formal kitchen designs. Its rich red tones will darken with age and exposure to light, a highly sought after feature for designers.

Though elegant in form, cherry wood is hard enough to withstand plenty of battering.



Hickory grove photo courtesy of University of Georgia

Hickory grove photo courtesy of University of Georgia

Rustic Hickory wood is very dense and shock resistant, making it one of the strongest woods available. 

It is also noted for its rugged presence. It contains a beautiful blend of blond and light brown tones, complemented by characteristics such as knots, burls, or pinholes.

To highlight its grain, rustic hickory is frequently finished with a clear coating. If you're looking to create a rustic or cabin-style kitchen, then this is the species for you.


Making it your own

Once you've chosen the right wood species for your kitchen cabinets, you can start to make them your own. By adding different stains, paints, or glazes you can alter the look of a cabinet to create something entirely unique.

To help you achieve the perfect look for your kitchen, contact a Founder's Choice Designer. We can help you pick the perfect finishes, doorstyle, and hardware to create a space that perfectly suits your home.