How to refinish particle board cabinets

Pressed-board furniture is sturdy and economical, but the veneer most manufacturers use to make it resemble wood presents a slight challenge to the painting process. Any furniture paint will do as long as you prep the piece first.

You can paint over pressed-board furniture if you lightly sand the veneer first.

What Is Pressed Board?

Technically, pressed board, or pressboard, is most often used as an electrical insulator, but consumers tend to use the word interchangeably with other manufactured wood products used in furniture construction, like particleboard, oriented strandboard (OSB) and medium-density fiberboard (MDF). It derives its name from the manufacturing process where layers of material – recycled paper scraps in the case of pressboard – are bonded with heat, adhesive and compression. When used in furniture making, the pressed board is covered with a thin veneer that usually resembles wood.

Particleboard, OSB and MDF are all made with similar processes from wood. Particleboard is created from bits and pieces, or particles, of wood that are blended with resin or glue and then pressed. Depending on its use, a veneer may be applied.

OSB is made from strands of wood combined with wax and resin. Longer strips are sorted from shorter strips for use on the outside of the finished board. According to Weyerhaeuser, the material is pressed at 600 PSI at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. MDF is created with a similar process using wood residue.

Using Furniture Paint for Pressed-Board Furniture

Since pressboard has a thin layer of veneer, the surface is very smooth, making it difficult for furniture paint to adhere. Because the veneer is so thin, you need to approach the standard prep method for painting on a smooth surface – sanding – carefully. Use sandpaper with a fine grit between 80 and 120 to lightly scuff the surface of the pressed-board furniture. Finer grits won’t remove enough of the surface, while coarser grits might remove pressboard under the veneer. Once you’ve sanded, remove the sanding dust with a tack cloth or cotton cloth light sprayed with furniture polish.

Apply two coats of oil- or latex-based primer to the sanded furniture, allowing it to dry thoroughly between coats. If you plan to use oil-based furniture paint for the final coat, you must use oil-based primer, but you can use an oil-based primer with a latex paint. Use light primer for light-finish colors and darker for dark colors. Once the primer is completely dry, apply two coats of paint. Use a sponge brush to avoid streaks in the final finish.

According to Popular Mechanics, you can avoid primer by using chalky paint. You’ll still need to scuff the surface with sandpaper, but you won’t need to prime before painting. The name “Chalk Paint” is trademarked by its developer, but if you can’t find that brand, other paint companies typically call it “chalky paint.” While it does have a matte surface when it dries, note that chalky paint is not the same as chalkboard paint.

Drawbacks of Pressed-Board Furniture

Pressboard furniture, usually sold in ready-to-assemble flat packs, is an economical choice. Once it’s assembled, it’s difficult to disassemble without damaging it, especially if glue or nails were used in the assembly process. For this reason, many movers refuse to guarantee that your pieces won’t be damaged when they come off the moving truck and won’t include them in a moving insurance policy.

Urea-formaldehyde, a resin, is used in the production of many manufactured wood products. When these products are new, they off-gas formaldehyde, leading to a burning throat, watery eyes and breathing difficulties in some people. Long-term exposure to high levels of formaldehyde may be carcinogenic, but the amount of formaldehyde in pressed-board furniture can’t be considered high, and it diminishes over time. If you’re concerned about the impacts of formaldehyde in your home or office, buy exterior-grade pressed-wood products containing phenol resins rather than urea resins.

Kitchen cabinets consist of many different materials; particleboard, MDF, plywood, and solid wood are the most common. All of these woods have very different characteristics, so it’s important to know what you are buying and to be educated on the different types of materials. Most manufacturers still use solid wood (maple, Cherry, oak) for the cabinet face frames and doors. Since it’s not economical to use solid wood for the entire cabinet due to availability and cost, manufacturers have to find an alternative wood for the cabinet sides and backs. Most manufacturers will turn to particle board or plywood to keep costs down and still affordable.

How to refinish particle board cabinets

Particle board

Particle board is commonly used for the sides and backs of cheaper cabinets with a lower quality of construction. Particle board is made up of tiny little wood chips that have been compressed and adhered together with some type of glue. Particle board does not have the strength that plywood does and over time will chip more easily during normal wear and tear. Particle board will also tend to swell up if it sits in water for a period of time. Cheaper particle board is made with a very low quality glue that you would use for home projects, however some particle board is made with an industrial style glue and will hold up much better. One of the pros with particle board is that its easier to mill and form more consistently. A lot of manufacturers will use a higher end particle board for the cabinet shelves since the precision is better than plywood.

How to refinish particle board cabinets


Plywood is usually preferred by manufacturers that want to offer a higher end cabinet and still offer them at an affordable price. Plywood is much more durable than particle board and also much more water resistant. Instead of being made from wood chips, it consists of wood sheets that are compressed together and then veneered. Plywood is also much easier to drill and screw into making the assemble much easier.