Maple and MDF for Raised Panel Doors

After considering the advantages of stability and uniformity, a cabinetmaker opts for MDF raised panels ó and he's glad he did.December 2, 2011

Need a little help, have a painted kitchen that I will be starting soon and the homeowner wants maple hardwood raised panel doors. Since the job calls for large end panels I wanted to experiment with maple stiles, rails, and an MDF panel. Any concerns, suggestions, or pitfalls to avoid?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor D:
We always tell our clients the benefits of using MDF for raised panels. Make sure you use a higher density MDF like Ranger. Once you prime the milled edge with a lacquer based primer itís almost impossible to tell if it is MDF. There is no upside to a solid wood painted panel. Do not use Trupan for the panel. Temple brand is ok but for any milled profile in MDF Ranger brand is the best, but a little heavy.

From contributor U:
I agree. MDF is a superior product for paint grade panels. Itís smoother, flatter, and there is no shrinking or swelling. Machined edges like raised panels will usually need an extra coat of primer and/or paint.

From the original questioner:
Thanks guys, appreciate the input. Since there is little to no shrinkage would it be wise to pin the panel instead of using space balls?

From contributor W:
On MDF panels, I glue the panel to stiles and rails. I use a fine bead of glue on the back side of the grove only.

From contributor H:
A MDF panel will be superior to a maple wood panel. Flatter, no shrinkage lines, glue lines, cracks, ect. I like use soft maple for the frames, but have used FAS poplar without any issues.

From contributor U:
I glue my MDF panels in with a drop of glue in the middle of each stile. With tall doors or end panels I'll glue it in two spots.

From contributor Y:
I used to do all my painted doors out of hard maple in R/S with solid raised panel construction. After some issues of expansion and being able to see movement in the finish I swapped over to buying a solid one piece CNC'd MDF doors and they are amazing. I am sure there are places in your area that are making them. I am in Ontario, Canada and am getting them from just outside of Niagra Falls. The nice part about them is there is tons of design options and the pricing on all of them are very comparable.

From contributor D:
We only use space balls on solid wood panels, but we do put a little glue on the stiles.

From contributor S:
Would not MDF be also more stable for the stiles and rails as it is for the panel? What advantage would maple or poplar have over MDF as far as stability is concerned? I would think joint movement would still be an issue or am I mistaken?

From contributor A:
Just did a super high-end kitchen with white painted finish. I used all MDF 1" for the stiles and rails - 3/8' for the panels. Cope and stick custom cutters with lots of glue in the panels. No movement and no hairline cracks.

From the original questioner:
Thanks everyone, I just completed a high-end kitchen and used maple stiles/rails and 3/4 MDF panels. It worked out great and the homeowner was very pleased.