Cooking With Cash: Choosing Tough, Low-Cost Cabinet Materials For Budget Kitchen Renovations

Renovating even the smallest, most basic of kitchens can be an expensive endeavour, and those of us with limited budgets may be tempted to cut a little off the price tag by choosing cheap cabinets made from inexpensive materials. However, going cheap doesn't necessarily mean choosing low quality materials, and kitchen cabinet makers offer a range of inexpensive yet highly durable materials for cabinet making, ensuring that budget kitchen cabinets can still enjoy attractive looks and excellent durability. Here are a few of the best:


Wooden kitchen cabinets provide a classic look that never really goes out of style. However, many high-end kitchen cabinets are made from expensive and relatively rare woods, such as mahogany or ipe. If you want the look and feel of solid wood on a tight budget, consider going for a cheaper wood such as pine, birch or spruce. While these woods are softer than tropical hardwoods and may dent or scratch more easily, they are still highly durable materials, and can be treated with a variety of stains and surface treatments to provide excellent resistance against fungal mould and wood-boring insects.

Alternatively, you might opt for engineered wood, which generally cost a fraction of the price of solid wood. However, there are several types of engineered wood to choose from:

  • Chipboard is also known as particle board, and is made from wood chips bound together with adhesive resins. Chipboard is very cheap, light, and comes in a variety of finishes and veneers. It is, however, quite fragile, and damaged cabinets must generally be repaired rather than replaced.
  • MDF is made in the same basic way as chipboard, but uses wood fibres rather than chips. It is much stronger than chipboard and provides a more convincing weight and feel, but is also more expensive.
  • Plywood is made from sheets of wood glued together and covered with real or artificial wood veneers, giving the outward appearance of solid wood. It is remarkably durable, and looks and feels indistinguishable from solid wood without close inspection. However, it is also the most expensive form of engineered wood, especially if you choose plywood with real wood veneers.

Plastic laminate

Like engineered wood, plastic laminate is a composite material, in this case made from recycled paper, which is combined with plastic resins under intense heat and pressure. The result is a cheap, tough and practically maintenance-free material that is highly suited to a number of kitchen installations and surfaces, including cabinets. A variety of colours and finishes further increase its versatility, allowing you to find laminate cupboards that fit any kitchen design choices you come up with. Cleaning plastic laminate is also very easily, requiring little more than a damp cloth.

However, while plastic laminate can be made with convincing wood and stone veneers, it is still unmistakably plastic and may look out of place in more traditionally-styled kitchens. Like chipboard it also does not take well to repairs, and although plastic laminate cabinets can take a severe beating they will need to be replaced if they become badly damaged.


Thermofoil kitchen cabinets generally consist of an inexpensive core material (such as chipboard or MDF) which is coated in a durable vinyl 'skin'. The vinyl is applied to the core under intense pressure and heat to create an extremely durable outer shell.

Thermofoil cabinets essentially have the same advantages as plastic laminate cabinets, providing strength, durability and good looks at a fraction of the cost of real wood or other high-end materials. However, the vinyl skin can be used to create even more convincing wood-look veneers than laminate, making it ideal for achieving rustic looks at low prices. Thermofoil can also be cleaned very easily.

Unfortunately a thermofoil cabinet is only ever as strong as its core material, and choosing cheap thermofoil cabinets with chipboard cores can leave you with unsightly damage that is difficult or impossible to replace. In addition, minor chips and dents that may not be noticeable on plastic laminates become highly visible on thermofoil, as the inner core material is often revealed.