You hear a lot about painted cabinetry being the rage in kitchen and bath design for the last 20+ years, yet painted cabinetry goes back a long way in interior design. Like wallpaper, painting cabinets was once reserved for upper class homeowners who could afford the wood material (maple or birch) as well as the paint itself. Having painted cabinets and trim work in the home was a sign of money and status, while stained or natural wood material was used for the commoners, so to speak. 

A stunning remodeled kitchen design with an English style and modern finishes showing a dark navy blue painted cabinets with medium stained cherry cabinets.

Dura Supreme’s Middleton door style with Cyberspace Curated Color paint mixed with Cherry with a Coriander stain.

Painting cabinets grew with the population, however, with that growth came scrutiny about the finish over time. Paint applied to Maple, Birch, or any other wood species, would begin to crack at the joints with the natural expansion and contraction of the wood with changes to temperature and relative humidity. Those hairline cracks would be less discernible in colder seasons (contraction) and more noticeable in warmer seasons (expansion). Over time, using hardwoods for painted cabinets grew out of favor because of this natural phenomenon, and many manufacturers turned to paint or Thermofoil applied over engineered MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard). MDF was solid 3/4″ slabs with profiles routed into the face to create a flat panel or raised panel look.

Fast forward to the early 2000’s. MDF paint and Thermofoil was starting to lose its allure due to the finish and “fakeness” of the material. More and more cabinet manufacturers and designers were swinging the pendulum back to true painted wood cabinets due to better manufacturing and painting processes; a purist movement if you will. Hardwoods were being employed once again for cabinet doors and face frames, with many manufacturers creating a “buyer beware” form to help set expectations of buying a painted product for the consumer. You can’t stop real wood products from doing their thing: Expanding and Contracting.

Why Do Painted Wood Doors Crack?

Let’s understand the science behind wood doors and what you need to be aware of when painting them.  Cabinet doors are constructed of 5 pieces; The stiles and rails and a center panel. Stiles have a vertical grain and Rails have a horizontal grain.  As these pieces expand and contract, they are constantly moving against each other which stresses the joints where they meet. The paint at those joints eventually crack over time as exhibited in the photos below.

A diagram of a cabinet door showing where the stiles and rails are located.
Two examples of hairline cracks in aged painted cabinet doors that have been exposed to years natural expanding and contracting of the wood.

So, how do you minimize those hairline cracks that can appear at the joints of a wood painted cabinet door or frame? Here at Dura Supreme we use a material called HDF – High Density Fiberboard. HDF is the big brother to MDF, and like a big brother, anything MDF can do HDF can do better!

An unpainted cabinet door made of Premium HDF (High-Density Fiberboard). The best wood material for quality painted kitchen cabinets.

Unfinished HDF – Kendall Panel door

HDF – High Density Fiberboard – is an engineered wood product that is made out of exploded wood products that is highly compressed, making it denser and much stronger and harder than MDF. HDF is very homogenous with no grain and offers a smooth, unblemished surface that can accept paint just like a smooth hardwood. It’s also a more affordable option over Maple. Because of its strength and density it can be cut and molded like a wood product which means Dura Supreme HDF doors are true 5 piece doors with stiles, rails and a center panel.

A cross section view of a painted cabinet door showing the ultra-dense and hard Premium HDF wood material underneath that creates a quality factory finish with and super smooth, durable, and crisp painted surface.

Cross section of Kendall Panel 5 piece door with paint applied.

A cross section view of a Premium HDF paintable cabinet door showing the ultra-dense and material used for a high-quality, state-of-the-art painted finish.

Cross section of Kendall Classic 5 piece door with paint applied.

But wait…what about the expansion and contraction you get with a 5 piece door?  Much less to worry about! HDF is much more structurally stable and has minimal expansion and contraction compared to a true wood door. Unlike MDF that can carry a moisture content on average of 5.5%, and Maple with average 6.5%, HDF has virtually none – less than .5% moisture content. (more science!) It is very moisture resistant and means expansion, contraction or warping is remarkably minimized.  Although it is still a 5 piece door with joinery, those seams are minimized because the movement at those joints is reduced, thus making Dura Supreme’s painted cabinetry products an outstanding option to choose. Your painted cabinets will look beautiful for years to come!

Below are a few projects from our network of dealers that show off beautifully painted HDF door styles and cabinets.

Contrasting Beauty

The project below was designed by Jamie Heinz of Straight Line Design of Spring Lake, MI. It features the Lauren door style in painted Linen on the perimeter cabinets and Cyberspace Curated Color on the island for a beautiful contrast.

A smooth, dark navy blue painted kitchen island with column legs is the focal point in this open concept kitchen design with a perimeter full of white painted cabinetry.

Design by Jamie Heinz of Straight Line Design of Spring Lake, MI. Photography by Nichol Skaggs.

A trendy dark navy blue painted kitchen island in an open concept kitchen remodel with the best wood material for painted wood cabinets., Premium HDF.

Design by Jamie Heinz of Straight Line Design of Spring Lake, MI. Photography by Nichol Skaggs.

Classic White Kitchen

This classic design blends the popularity of painted cabinets with the warmth of wood tones. Our Hudson shaker door in Pearl paint is mixed with Quarter-Sawn White Oak accents in a natural finish for a bright and airy look that will last for years.

A beautiful kitchen remodel with all-white painted cabinets and light stained oak wood accents.

Design by Erica Caserta of Showcase Kitchens of Canton, CT. Photo by Robert Harpin Photography.

The ultra smooth surface of HDF accepts paint readily as seen on our Carson door in paint White and Gale Force

A close up of elegant white painted cabinets with a shaker door style made of Premium HDF material designed to create high-quality painted cabinetry with smooth durable surfaces, crisp details, and stable wood material.

Design by Brookwood Cabinet Company, Fort Wayne, IN.

A close up of dark navy blue painted kitchen cabinets with an Ultra-dense and hard Premium HDF (High-Density Fiberboard) construction and a 15-step factory finish.

Design by Brookwood Cabinet Company, Fort Wayne, IN.

Fresh Spa Feels

Another project featuring one of our Curated Paint finishes: Cast Iron applied to the Chapel Hill door. This moody green color works beautifully in this master bath and pairs well with the gold finishes.

Created by Anahi Hollis Design of Detroit, MI.

Personal Paint Match for the Perfect Blue!

This two tone kitchen features a finish through our Personal Paint Match (PPM) program – Sherwin Williams Smokey Blue (SW7604) mixed with Quarter-Sawn White Oak in the Coriander stain. The PPM allows one to choose from any paint color that Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore offers.

A colorful kitchen with blue painted cabinetry with a state-of-the-art factory finish on Premium HDF (High-Density Fiberboard) for a precision combination of quality painted cabinets.

Project by Boyer Building Corp, Minnetonka, MN. Designed by Katie Humphrey of KH Inspired Interiors. Photo by Mark Ehlen

Timeless Remodel

This stunning remodel project feature the beauty of our Hudson Inset door in Putty, a soft taupe paint. Both the door and finish are a timeless combination.

A timeless kitchen design with an off-white, muted painted finish using HDF (High-Density Fiberboard) painted cabinet doors.

Design by Bath + Kitchen of Alexandria, VA.

A hutch-like area of the dining room with built-in cabinetry with a beautiful painted finish in Dura Supreme's Putty paint color.

Design by Bath + Kitchen of Alexandria, VA.

Soft Grey Tones

The below project features our Silver Mist paint applied to HDF in the form of our Carson door style. It’s another example of a soft paint color as opposed to traditional white cabinets.

A beautiful kitchen with quality painted cabinetry from Dura Supreme Cabinetry in a light gray painted finish.

Design by Lisa Wilde of Straight Line Design of Spring Lake, MI. Photo by Nichol Skaggs.

Two luxurious painted cabinet doors with contrasting painted colors of beige and sage green with a premium, high-tech painted finish.

The ultra smooth surface of HDF when painted.

Dura Supreme’s Covington door in Dove paint and the Chroma Beaded Inset door in PPM Evergreen Fog SW9130.

Mitered door frames can tend to move and separate more easily with wood products. Using HDF material is perfect for these kind of door styles! The below flat lay was created by our friends at Huey Brown’s Kitchens of Elmwood, LA, and features the Madison miter door with PPM in Sherwin Williams Attitude Grey (SW7060).

Design concept by Huey Brown’s Kitchens of Elmwood, LA.

Dura Supreme Cabinetry uses HDF material for all of our Paintable projects standardly, so you can be assured the finish will last for years to come. While you do have the option to paint Maple and even our Red Oak, know that HDF will go the distance in durability and beauty!

Stacey Lindstrom the National Training Manager for Dura Supreme Cabinetry and blog author for the Dura Supreme Cabinetry Blog.

Stacey Lindstrom is the National Training Manager for Dura Supreme Cabinetry. Stacey has a degree in interior design and over 25 years in the kitchen and Bath industry. She has worked in all kinds of business platforms, from small dealers to online design and sales, and has worked with 20.20 Design software since 1997. Her first venture working with Dura Supreme Cabinets was way back in 1995, creating hand drawings for a dealer showroom. In the last 10 years, she has had her work showcased on episodes of Kitchen Crashers and Bath Crashers, as well as season 15 of Big Brother. As much as she loves designing spaces for clients, Stacey enjoys training and educating on product and design as well, and draws from her own expertise as well us blunders over the years to help Dura Supreme and its dealers.

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