More melamine madness

A.J.’s post about using melamine has prompted me to chime in on this subject. Unlike A.J., I ended up deciding that I really do hate melamine!

When I first started out, I vowed never to build a kitchen or anything else for that matter that would qualify as a cabinet. At least not in the construction world. I was a furniture maker, not a cabinetmaker. Eventually reality horned in as it often does and, in spite of my reluctance, I began taking cabinet jobs. But I stuck to my guns on one point. I flatly refused to use particleboard in my cabinets. Plywood was as low as my sights would go.

In those days, decent maple plywood was pretty cheap and it made really nice looking interiors. It was not at all difficult to convince people that plywood was better than particleboard. But in the early 80’s, coated sheet goods began to appear. At first it was Kortron, which was little more than particleboard coated on one side with an acrylic paint. As the technology evolved, these products began to get more sophisticated. The core materials improved greatly as did the surface coatings. But to me, it was all still particleboard and I still resisted using it. The problem was that people wanted them. The white interiors were attractive, cleanable and did not require the use of liners on shelves and drawers. So, eventually, I was obliged to acquiesce once again and my shop began to build cabinets with melamine interiors.

But I always hated the stuff. It stank of formaldehyde. Breathing even a small amount of the dust would leave you coughing for days. The sheets are heavy and guys would become exhausted after a half a day of handling the stuff. The edges were sharp as a razor so you either had to deal with getting cuts all the time or work in gloves all day. It didn’t hold screws well, it would split open if you even looked at it with a nail or a staple, and there was no glue that would stick to it.

Eventually, many of these problems were overcome in one way or another. But I still hated the stuff and still do and I’m not ashamed to say it. In 2000, my son and I swore off melamine and became devoted members of Melamine Users Anonymous. We went back to using nice maple plywood for our cabinet interiors and sent those who insisted on having melamine cabinets down the road to the next shop. I never regretted the decision and I have not touched a sheet of melamine since.



  • mark says:

    i can partly agree with the comments above, however I learned something a few months ago that really makes you think .. we pulled out about 8 bath cabinets in a multimillion dollar home recently, low and behold the sides and backs were 3/8″ thick P.board, they were installed 15 years ago and were only being replaced due to the out of date style ,they were still functioning properly just very ugly by todays standards.. here in the mudwest there are millions of partical board cabinets in homes, with of course real wood face frames. What I have learned is how well a cabinet is made is a seperate issue from what materials are used … partical board interiors are not necessarily a sign of a cheaply made cabinet, that being said i just built my kitchen cabinets from 3/4 u/v finished maple ply wood … but it does make you think …

  • johnny poux says:

    Melamine makes good finish concrete forms, and that’s all. period.

  • I salute you! People ought to be made aware of a thing that is not usually mentioned called quality.

  • Jeff Scott says:

    Wow….You refuse to work with melamine. If you have a client..standing in your doorway, cash in hand…sying” Build me a kitchen using melamine for the carcasses…I dion’t want to pay extra for the plywood boxes..” …you’d turn them down???!!!! What difference does it make to you what the cabinet boxes are made from? You don’t have to live with it. The Client ends up joyously happy over your work…and the fact that they saved money by going with melamine boxes…..they tell all their friends and neighbours about how co-operative you are…buisiness abounds…and you are able to build lovely plywood boxes for all the neighbours who DO want to spend the extra…Think about this folks…it’s not your Kitchen. Put your craftsmanship into the areas that are highly visible and really matter. Pore over the smallest unseen detail with clients who will pay you to do so. But give the clients what they want. My shop has been in operation for over 20 years. We service an exclusive Hi end market. Most of those folks don’t want melamine. But a dollar is a dollar. If the client is happy, and I get paid…and i can pay my suppliers and staff…who cares if it was melamine that paid those bills or plywood.?

  • John Planer says:

    All this noise over nothing. I’ve built cabinets from plywood and also cabinets from melamine. We are building boxes. Some doors, maybe a face frame or some edgeband. Those boxes then get put into place and for the most part never move. In most kitchens it is only a few exterior sides that even show. People care more about the inside. Melamine or plywood is not a customer thing but more a builder thing. Its not furniture its boxes.

  • A Customer says:

    Say John, your outlook on kitchen cabinet building sounds fantastic – how can I get in touch with you to build my custom kitchen cabinets, that I will look at and use for years – er – I mean “just boxes with doors and some edgeband”.
    On second thought, maybe I will hire a craftsman who cares a bit more about their product, it’s function, contents, appearance, workmanship and impact on the planet. Business off a bit ? Maybe you should take a look at your “just boxes” philosophy !

  • Doug says:

    I wonder why no one has come out with a decent quality, 3/4″, plywood, coated with a white Melamine surface?

    Sounds like there could be a good market…..

  • Nancy Kroes says:

    That’s a great idea Doug – I would go for it!

  • Jeff Scott says:

    To “A Customer” I’d like to comment: A kitchens’ Function, contnets,appearance etc. is not impacted one bit by whether or not the cabinet boxes are made from melamine or plywood. Nor is an individual’s craftsmanship compromised by using one over the other. The decision to use one over the other is determined by the Client who is paying you. Just because we produce a melamine boxed kitchen does not mean I apply any less skill to any other parts of the kitchen. My doors and all other Cabinet dimensions must still fit to within the 1/64th inch tolerance I demand. The finish must be flawless. The crown moulding joints, fillers,valances and other decorative touches must be perfect in placement and execution.
    Let’s not over romanticize the building of a kitchen. To certain degree….it really is “boxes with doors on them”. Hear me out. When you have personally built hundreds of kitchens, thousands of Vanities, and CNC’s out the carcasses for hundreds more for other cabinet shops…you lose the “Romance” of the cabinetmaking mystique as far as it concerns the building of the boxes. In my 20 years building kitchens…I have watched many, very talented Woodworkers and Craftsmen…some far more skilled than I, start up their own shops only to ultimately fail. They failed for 2 main reasons….They put too much emphasis on the “Craft”…and applied ot to places that it wasn’t needed (like boxes)…and they lacked essential business skills that would have enabled them to apply their skills AND make a profit.I often tell my apprentices..” Your here to build kitchens. If you want to create a beautiful it in your basement Shops, in your own time, at your own expense. In the mean time…you’ve got to have those boxes ready for shipping by Friday….”

  • John Planer says:

    To a “Customer”. Romanticize it all you want, I least I have a name and willing to use it.

  • bob marston says:

    areas subject to termite attack are better off using a substrate that termites do not like. IN Mexico I use the local cedar for a base, melamine frame and whatever the customer wants as cladding, for doors and drawers- usually perota, mahogany, pine , fir, etc. Termites do enjoy plywood.

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