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Community and Q&A

Choosing Plywood for Cabinets

James Howison | Posted in Green Products and Materials on

I’m about to build some cabinets.  I called the lumber yard and they said that everything is either CARB2 exempt or compliant.  So, is that good?

If I buy a product that is FSC certified and CARB2 compliant, then am I making a sufficiently informed decision? I’ve read rumors (on a thread here at GBA) of fake CARB2 stamps, should any countries of origin still be avoided?

Pre-finished plywood is tempting. Do the CARB2 Formaldehyde certifications cover any applied finishes? I’m thinking probably, as they apply to flat-pack furniture, but any thoughts on that?

My understanding is that things might be stamped as TSCA Title VI compliant, rather than CARB2, going forward:

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  1. Expert Member
    Malcolm Taylor | | #1


    Sorry, no useful advice about the standards.

    As to pre-finished plywood: A lot depends on how you're considering finishing them otherwise, and how you are going to edge-band them. The biggest problem with pre-finished sheets is if touch-ups or sanding is required. Matching is very difficult.

  2. James Howison | | #2

    I'd probably use general finishes water based finishes and edge band the front edges of frameless cabinets and doors. So, yeah, hoping to match sheen in touch ups or join of edge banding is problematic!

    1. Expert Member
      Malcolm Taylor | | #3


      That's what I've found. I'm not set up like a production shop is, so by the time I've cut down, edged and assembled them, there is invariably some touch-up required. If you are near a good-sized city, the ideal solution is to find a spray-shop to finish them for you. I hand finish them, which is very time consuming.

      One of the kitchen islands I made for a nearby resort based on a FHB article from a few years ago by Michael Maines. Thanks Mike!

      1. James Someone | | #4

        Any pictures of the front of island? Do I see a stainless steel chase for plumbing beneath the sink area? Looks nice. I like the ikea style stainless sleeves for feet.

        A photo of a remodel I did myself, pine countertops sealed with Danish oil and poly and 3/4 inch overlay doors in maple hand painted.

        1. Expert Member
          Malcolm Taylor | | #5

          James S.

          Beautiful counter - and nice contrast with the doors.

          Ikea was the inspiration. We had been buying their stand-alone units for the resort cabins, but they discontinued them, so I cobbled together similar ones. The stainless chase goes some way to protecting the plumbing from the housekeeping staff's attention. No pics of the island, but I found one of the small one that goes between the stove and refrigerator.

          The first is of the Ikea units, the second is of mine:

      2. Expert Member
        Michael Maines | | #6

        Malcolm, I'm glad you found my article helpful. I wrote it almost twelve years ago--hard to believe it's been that long! Our island is now in its third (and hopefully final) home. Yours looks like it's working hard for you.

  3. Sofiane Azzi | | #7


    Carb II is much better than no standard, but there definitely is better out there. Given a big enough surface, you could exceed recommandations for formaldehyde levels for the first one to three years (at least in Canada)even using carb II compliant material.

    For plywood, you can use Purebond which is a formaldehyde free plywood. I don’t know if other brands make plywood with no Urea-Formaldehyde.

    You can also specify No Added Urea-Formladehyde (NAUF) components for your cabinets which is a stricter standard than Carb II.

    We bought two living room tables that were Carb II compliant, but I would ask for something with a lower VOC content for a much bigger surface.

    I hope this helps.

  4. Hugh Weisman | | #8

    There are some plywoods with high quality cores where you can sand the edges and leave exposed. The cabinets in my Vineyard House are made with mahogany Bruynzeel marine plywood.

    A lot of Scandinavian modern furniture (especially Alvar Aalto) is made with Baltic Birch plywood with exposed edges.

    1. Expert Member
      Malcolm Taylor | | #9


      I agree, although it's a hard sell for some people. I like the look. This is a shed/library we have with no edge-bands:

    2. Tim Janson | | #10

      Edit: Whoops, I guess it's my turn to reply to a ancient thread....

      I'm a fan of BB with no band as well. Look up "Kerf Design" for some raw edge plywood inspiration. A few things I've built:

  5. Eric Whetzel | | #11

    As Sofiane suggested, Purebond plywood ( is a good option.

    We bought boxes and drawers from Cabinotch ( for our kitchen cabinets (they use Purebond). I finished the drawer fronts (I also like exposed plywood edges) and built our kitchen island using sheets of Purebond available at a nearby Home Depot.

    If someone's in a hurry, or you can't find anything local that's formaldehyde-free, I've had luck using AFM Safe Coat's HardSeal ( to block off-gassing.

    In addition to plywood, it's passed the 'smell test' after applying a couple of coats to some previously spray painted items. I had used Montana spray paint ( on some antique tools for their vivid colors, and the Hardseal was able to block the chemical smell that remains after the paint dries.

    The Hardseal also worked over a partially painted and tung oiled antique to prevent rust from returning.

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