Wood Cabinets- “tree” facts you should know


Kelly Morisseau

Wood cabinets – “tree” facts you should know

By Kelly Morisseau

One of the interesting things about the next generation of home buyers is they appear to have very little knowledge of wood and its properties. I thought of writing this post when our young office manager, who has a degree in interior design, asked me some questions that I thought everyone knew. Heh. Silly me.

If you want a wood that’s perfectly clear and free of blemishes, marks, or different graduations of grain? Here’s my advice:

  1. Be prepared to pay for it, (this is what I think of when someone says “cherry” picking)
  2. or

  3. Forget wood and buy laminate or painted instead.

Seriously. The beauty of wood is in its characteristics.

My father was fond of saying, “You can’t tell a tree how to grow.” Even if the wood was all logged from the same batch of forest, here’s why they’ll never be the same:

  • one tree grew in the shade
  • one grew in the sun
  • one grew at the bottom of the hill
  • one grew at the top
  • one received more water than the others
  • some suffered a drought

Any and all of these affect the tree, and the wood you’re buying.

The little dark patches you see here and there in the wood? Mineral streaks – part of the wood and definitely not a flaw (unless your door is covered worse than a kid with measles – there should be only a few unless you’re going for the rustic, sky-country look.) Knots? Depends on the tree and the selection of woods.


  1. wood-cabinets-tree-facts-001Unless you’re paying for a cabinet that has “premium” or “select”, expect some variations. Some woods have a more even grain, but this is the reason why certain colors are also always used on some woods – they even out this variation, like the stain on the rift-cut oak drawer at the right. (For those of you who’ll ask – this is a current Arts and Crafts-flavored project we’re finishing up: island is the russet.)
  2. Photo credit: Kraftmaid - kraftmaid.com
    Photo credit: Kraftmaid - kraftmaid.com

    No matter how much money you pay, the end grain will always take the stain darker. End grain is just that – plus it’s softer and more porous and will “wick” or suck in stain like the photo below. When you look at the edge of the door, you’ll see this no matter what the stain is.

  3. The grain reflects light which will appear to change the color depending how the light hits the grain. Here’s a trick – when you look at a door sample in the light like the one above, the two vertical pieces on either side (called “stiles”) look darker while the two top and bottom pieces (called “rails”) look lighter. Take the door and turn it sideways – in most cases, the darker areas will “switch”.

Happy cabinet hunting!


  1. A very informative post.
    But for me, a life long woodworker, the most interesting point is the fact that people are not as aware of wood as they have been in the past.
    Historically our lives have depended on wood and our knowledge of how and were to use it. Now I guess we could say the same of plastic possibly?

  2. Very informative article. I work for a cabinet manufacturer and we have the same goal, which is to educate homeowners on the variety of wood and veneers. With so many wood species and veneers, there is a lot to learn! It was helpful for me to gain your perspective.


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