Welcome! Whether you’re preparing to remodel your bathroom or you need a vanity to completely revitalize the space, the material you choose for the cabinetry determines everything.
Problem is, once you enter the gigantic vanity marketplace it’s easy to start feeling overwhelmed. There are endless options (from across the planet) at every price point, and many product pages leave you guessing.
When it comes to getting your hands on a vanity you’ve got four potential paths:
That being said, this quick guide is simply going to walk you through the three main categories of vanity cabinet (base) materials: fiberboard, plywood, and solid wood.
Also commonly called Particleboard and Chipboard, on the lowest end of the value spectrum for vanity cabinet materials you have LDF Board.
Homeowners typically buy these vanities from big box retailers as afterthoughts, when they’re just looking to fill the vanity area with an inexpensive option. This kind of wood composite material might work well for a throwaway college kid’s desk, but not a serious vanity. Being cheaply mass-produced with lumber mill waste products, particleboard vanities aren’t built to stand the test of time in your bathroom.
When decorated with plastic laminates or wood veneers they can get a bit stronger and better looking. However, no one considers particle boards as the vanity cabinet material in their forever bathroom.
Moving up the value ladder you run into endless amounts of MDF board-based vanities.
From Low-Density to Medium-Density to High-Density HDF, the manufacturing involved is similar but more intense. The materials are put under higher amounts of pressure, for extended periods. This makes the roughly 30% wood boards of common MDF a bit stronger and last longer than LDF, but again, you’re only going to see these among the cheaper less-durable vanity options.
Luxury bathroom furniture brands make it a point to tell customers their products don’t contain “a spec of MDF or particleboard” to signify much higher quality.
One trick manufacturers have come up with to use MDF board in bathroom furniture and cut costs, is to top it with real wood veneers. So picture the skeleton of your vanity being one or two layers of quality hardwood (itself protected by a coating or finish), and underneath you’ve got the fiberboard.
Rather than wood fibers, shavings, and other wood waste materials being heated and compressed together into boards, plywood is composed of veneers that have been glued together to form sheets. These sheets can come in a wide range of qualities.
On the low-grade side, you could have plywood composed of layers of particleboard and MDF/HDF. On the high-grade side, you’ll find heavy plywood-based vanities are in the mid-price-range.
Note: When you see vanity product pages that list ’furniture-grade plywood’ as the base material, know that in truth there is no such thing. It’s a made-up term to try and reassure people frightened by the use of low-grade plywood in furniture making.
What’s the difference between regular plywood you see under roof systems or used for wall paneling/sheathing, and the kind in mid-range vanities? The quality of the wood and the grading of the smooth veneer finish or coating. On the higher end of the value spectrum, these sheets are “cabinet-grade” plywood.
AA: Good or Good Sequence
B: Good, sliced B, RC Sound
C: Rotary Cut Solid
1: Sound, Same Species, Specifically Cut
2: Solid, Same Species, Specifically Cut
3: Rotary Grain
4: Reject Back
What truly adds value in terms of bathroom vanity material, is quality plywood that’s either BWR or BWP-grade. This means either water-resistant or completely waterproof.
The world of plywood is extremely vast, so for the sake of time and saving you a headache, let’s move on to the highest-quality vanity materials.
Now we’re talking about the highest-quality vanity. Not a high-end manufactured vanity that will last 20-30 years if maintained properly, but a vanity that could last well over a century, or two, or three.
Expertly-crafted solid wood furniture will turn heads in every room, not just the bathroom.
These vanities are investments. The drawback is they can be so custom and personalized, they may not easily transfer to another owner — hence antiques and heirlooms. On the other hand, if the vanity is constructed with a more general functionality and common style they add sizable sums to overall home value.
If you head out into the global market, you can find solid wood vanities in a HUGE assortment of different species at every price range you can imagine. From a couple of thousand dollars to tens of thousands!
For woodworkers and bathroom remodelers, what matters is that the wood has a strong “modulus of elasticity”‘ that relates to several features. Here is a chart showing the different North American Hardwoods and their relative strengths. We’ve underlined some of the most common woods in vanities to give you an idea of the ‘Specific Gravity’ range: 0.60 (Ash) and 0.72 (Hickory).
The ONLY downside from a homeowner’s perspective is the cost. Solid wood vanities are the most expensive choices because of the value of the materials and craftsmanship. Plus oak and harder solid woods open the doors to endless design possibilities. For example, it won’t matter what kind of sink you choose as the oak will easily support it.
Hopefully, this helps you begin to put the pieces together. Remember, starting with base material is an EASY way to start narrowing the field of choices. Then, after you get a good grasp on materials within the price range you’re looking at, speak to a professional!
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