I am building a built-in painted cabinet for one of our bathrooms (which
includes a shower).
I am planning on using poplar for the face frames but was wondering whether
it would be OK to use Baltic Birch for the sides.
Specifically, my concern is whether Baltic Birch plywood would be more
likely to absorb water and swell/delaminate in a bathroom/shower
situation. (Note: there shouldn't be any direct water contact except
from steam/humidity and the occassional 'puddling' on the floor that
could wick up into the end-grain)
Note All surfaces will be primed & painted.
I would not use poplar for face frames if I could help it. "Poplar"
ain't what it used to be and is, IME, problematic from a dimensional
stability stand point.
Birch, white or red, might be a better choice, IMO.
Nothing wrong with Baltic birch in that environment ...or a good import
B2 paint grade birch plywood will do just as well for unseen panel sides
for a bit less.
Look around you Lew, almost every thing in this country that is tainted
by corporate MBAthink is shit, including MOST current products of the
Indigenous new growth and/or plantation grown wood, as poplar is wont to
be these days, with an unusually high moisture content for a tree to
start with, coupled with the corporate MBAthink, equals wood that is
inferior and improperly dried for most uses as cabinet/furniture
"lumber" ... although great for pulp.
Poplar has a high ratio of tangential to radial shrinkage, number
one cause drying defects, so how is this handled by the corporate mindset?
Ship it over the recommended moisture content and let the consumer worry
about it, which means in the end that a high percentage of what is sold
and used for cabinets/furniture will eventually exhibit dimensional
Basically, and in a sense, poplar has become the hardwood version of new
growth fir and pine ... an unacceptable percentage will turn into a
pretzel when it reaches equilibrium and not restrained in some manner.
I decided a few years ago to no longer waste my time on the wood in any
cabinet or furniture project. If you see a paint grade wooden door, or a
bowed face frame on a painted cabinet, and it is warped, you can bet it
Further notable is that not a single door supplier I know will use
poplar for paint grade door frames these days, not one! You can't even
order it as a door option any longer in this neck of the woods.
That'll work just fine ... smart man!
Most folks just look at the upfront costs ... those who do it for a
living look at the long term costs of callbacks that come from not using
a suitable material in the first place.
I didn't realize Poplar wasn't stable... Is this just an issue in humid
environments like a bathroom or do you not use poplar at all anymore?
Also, Birch seems to be quite pricy - about 3-4 times as expensive as
poplar (when bought milled) and almost twice as expensive as oak and
more than cherry
Seems almost a crime to pay that much for something that will be
painted... Is Poplar really that much of an issue?
I don't make cabinets out of mdf. MDF is much too heavy and does not
hold fasteners well enough to stand the test of time.
High grade, water resistant MDF in painted doors and drawer fronts in
some styles, like European slab doors and drawer fronts, yes.
Some things simply work well for a targeted purpose ... like using
pocket hole joinery for cabinet face frames.
I went to a local high quality lumber shop used mostly by cabinet
makers. I was all set to buy the Birch despite its 3x cost.
I started chatting with one of the managers mentioning that I was told
that Poplar "ain't what it used to be" -- and the manager told me that
while he would love to sell me the higher priced Birch, in his
experience Poplar is both more stable and more workable than Birch. A
couple of customers within earshot agreed... so maybe the issue with
Poplar is a regional one or maybe it depends on the quality of the
The Poplar was prety cheap ($1.67 per lineal foot for 1x6), high
quality and already S4 so I went with the Poplar rather than paying
$5.50 per bf for S3 birch (that was still rougher than the nicely milled
Word to the wise ... a salesman (someone "selling" you something) in any
business having to do with construction, and particularly cabinetmaking,
lumber yards or otherwise, is never to be trusted ... they're like
politicians when it comes to there lips moving. :)
A good rule to follow: Whenever a salesman advises, ask to see an
example of _his_ work in that regard.
Better to ask a cabinetmaker, or better yet, a cabinet door maker (where
quality and material choice will totally make or break the deal), one
who cares about their product, what they use.
(and at least two have already advised you in that regard) <g>
The price is generally a good indicator of material quality in this
business. There is a big difference between inexpensive and "cheap" ...
your words. Not that the cheaper material will all be bad, but you
generally have to buy much more of it, and the risk of having to redo
work because of inherent instability will make it more expensive in the
That notwithstanding, the odds are you should be just fine for your
one-off cabinet face frame, mainly because a face frame is constrained
in movement by attachment to the cabinet panels.
(However, it only takes one, constrained or not, to ruin an entire run
in a $60K kitchen, so those who care do not use price as the ultimate
factor in choosing material).
However, should you use that "cheap" (your words) poplar he sold you for
your cabinet door frames, I will guarantee that one of every three will
bow/warp to some extent in the not too distant future.
Did you pick out the wood yourself, and more importantly, do you know
what to look for?
If you know what to look for you can indeed reduce your odds of that
happening, but not as significantly with today's poplar as you can with
other wood species.
In any event, you should likely be OK, and good luck with your project.
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