Plywood and Osmo Woodwax Kitchen: An Alternative to MDF, Melamine, Vinyl, Laminate or 2 Pack Kitchen Cabinetry

NOTE:  This is an odd post on The Junk Map because it uses new materials rather than recycled. I’m showing it because readers wanted to see our kitchen renovation, and it may help others looking for alternatives to plastic-surfaced cabinetry.

Before and During Renovation

Old kitchen before renovation
Old kitchen before renovation
Old kitchen before renovation
Plywood kitchen cabinetry under construction
Plywood kitchen cabinetry under construction
Plywood and Osmo Woodwax Kitchen

After Renovation

Birch plywood and Osmo Woodwax kitchen
Birch plywood and Osmo Woodwax kitchen drawer
Birch plywood and Osmo Woodwax kitchen cabinetry
Plywood and Osmo Woodwax kitchen pantry.
Birch plywood and Osmo Woodwax kitchen drawer
Birch plywood and Osmo Woodwax kitchen cabinetry
Integrated dishwasher in birch plywood and Osmo Woodwax kitchen
Birch plywood and Osmo Woodwax kitchen cabinetry
Birch plywood and Osmo Woodwax kitchen cabinetry
Birch plywood and Osmo Woodwax kitchen cabinetry
Recycled timber tables

Building a Plywood and Osmo Woodwax Kitchen

Lara Knight – 26 February 2019

For the last few years we’ve been updating bits of our 1940s Fremantle home. Sanding back peeling floors to silky jarrah. Restrapping and repairing sagging ceilings.

But the part I most wanted to replace was the kitchen. Dated timber doors hid badly crumbling particleboard with low, dark cupboards that were horrible to access. It also had no pantry, no dishwasher and lots of gaps for summer cockroaches. Not a room you want to spend half your life in.

Eventually we had money to update the kitchen, but where to start? All our furniture is secondhand, and I prefer recycling, but we had an awkward space to retrofit with cabinetry. Removing the old chimney and redesigning the house was more than we wanted to tackle. And we didn’t want cheap secondhand materials like MDF and laminate breaking down to landfill in a few years time.

We wanted a simple, non-toxic space that didn’t cost a fortune. Recycled timber would be great, but expensive. Paperock, Neolith… many of the eco friendly surfaces I liked were beyond our budget. After a LOT of research the compromise we got to was plywood cabinetry, Osmo finishes, and big jarrah slabs from my father-in-law’s shed.

Plywood Kitchen Carcass and Doors

Most cabinet makers in Australia use MDF (medium density fibreboard) for kitchen carcasses because it’s cheap, stable and easy to work. Even high end kitchens are often MDF under a fancy veneer. 

Plywood costs more but is generally stronger, more forgiving of water, holds screws better and looks more attractive as a raw material. You can also select low emission options (we specified EO – less than or equal to 0.5 mg/l formaldehyde which is the lowest Australian rating). If we couldn’t afford solid timber, plywood felt like a durable, reusable alternative. We used 18mm birch ply which is beautifully pale with crisp, perfect edges.

Another plywood option is Australian hoop pine. I didn’t like the yellowish tinge of pine but discovered later that Osmo does a ‘raw’ oil which is lightly tinted with white. In hindsight raw may have been the better choice for cabinet interiors because the birch also tinted yellowish when we applied oil.

Our entire kitchen, carcass and doors, was custom made in plywood by local team Infinity Cabinetmaking. Hardware is by Blum, and drawers hold a massive 60kg if I want to load them up! To keep costs low, we left out overhead cabinets and wrapped the existing chimney cavity into a pantry and fridge nook.

Infinity was very patient with requests for odd materials. We had a minor hitch with cabinet fronts because the woodwax was applied too thickly, but we sanded back and reapplied. (If you try woodwax don’t ignore their specifications of THIN layers. A standard roller applies far too much product.)

Osmo Polyx Oil

With flooring, bench tops, outdoor furniture and kitchen cabinets coated in Osmo we’re slowly becoming experts on this stuff! Osmo is a range of German natural wood finishes that have been used in Europe since the 1960s. There are a number of Australian distributors.

Polyx oil is an increasingly popular alternative to polyurethane on timber flooring and furniture. Many Junk Map makers and timber suppliers use and/or sell Osmo. It’s a plant based oil wax combination that’s more water and stain resistant than traditional oils. Once dry it ’will not emit physiologically harmful compounds to environment’ and is safe for kids toys, chopping boards etc. (Note: Osmo has several packaging labels so check with the seller to see which one you need.)

We’ve found polyx oil is a softish finish that takes a little while to get used to. It brings out the colour and texture of timber beautifully, but scratches more easily than poly surfaces. The advantage is you can reapply polyx oil over scratches or high traffic spots as needed, maintaining the finish without peeling, cracking or resanding. Our bench tops and jarrah floors need an occasional touch up when someone has used a sink scourer to wipe up spills (grrrr!) or dragged heavy furniture. After a few nervous attempts at mending scratches you get used to a quick dab on marks that bother you. You don’t have to sand the entire surface like you do with damaged polyurethane. Over time, Osmo wears to a gentle, lived-in patina like a ballroom floor. 

We used polyx oil on the jarrah kitchen bench tops and all the interior ply cabinetry.

Osmo Woodwax Cabinet Door Colours

This was the biggest experiment in the kitchen. It was easy to see internet photos of woodwax finishes, including kitchens, but I’d never seen it in real life on cabinetry or furniture. We got a few sample sachets to test applying the finish and mixing colours.

Osmo woodwax is a pigmented oil wax that can be applied as a transparent layer or a solid colour. We used Woodwax Intensive which is more solid and comes in red, yellow, blue, green, black and a few neutral colours. We used Pebble for the bone colour and hand-mixed a smoky blue. All the colours can be mixed together (or into polyx oil for a colour wash) but remember to note down quantities so you can recreate it. We kept extra of the mixed blue but it may dry up before we need it. A ding several years down the track could be hard to match but the beauty of Osmo finishes is that everything can be reapplied.

So far I’m really pleased with the woodwax. It wipes down as easily as a laminate and seems a little tougher than the polyx oil. Our cupboards and drawer fronts have taken plenty of knocks without damage. I also dropped one of the cupboard doors before the kitchen was finished and scraped a nasty hole. With some filler, a light sand and a new coat of woodwax it looked as good as new. Not something you can do easily with veneers and laminates.

To keep things simple we only used woodwax on door and drawer fronts. If we get tired of blue and beige, it will be easy to update.

Jarrah Bench Tops

These were a huge budget saver, donated from my in-laws timber stack at no cost except days of sanding. The slabs were 5cm thick and incredibly heavy to manoeuvre around the workshop! We filled flaws with black-tinted biobased Entropy resin. To finish, and make sure they matched our dark jarrah floors, I added a small amount of black woodwax to the Osmo polyx top coat.

Recycling

There wasn’t a lot worth saving in the old kitchen. Ancient particleboard and laminex went to the tip but we kept the timber doors for other projects. The stove and fridge were fairly new so we sold the stove on Gumtree and kept the fridge. The white fridge isn’t a great look or fit for the new design but we’ll wait until it needs replacing.

So there you have it. The first new room in a Junk Map house. An experiment in many ways, but hopefully a low-waste investment that can be repainted or repurposed through several more decades.

Recycled timber sales
Standout heritage salvage online
6 Responses
  1. Linda Wood

    Thank you so much for this post! My hubby and I are in the process of building and I am trying to find good options for our kitchen. For the first time ever I’m aware of what happens to materials after we’ve used them and we want to update or get rid of them. I never considered these things in the past but am now very conscious of it!

  2. Thanks Linda. Kitchens are a fashion minefield that generate a lot of waste. And it’s hard to know where to start if you don’t want kitchen-showroom materials! I spent a lot of time researching and I’m happy if this project helps a few others create a durable space 🙂

  3. Thank you. It’s a simple space but so much easier to use. I’m thrilled it pulled together OK in the end. Doing something weird in a high budget room like a kitchen is pretty stressful!

  4. Thanks Andrew. The whole kitchen including cabinetry, bench tops, finishes, appliances, plumbing, electricity and tiling was almost smack on $25,000. We saved by applying most of the finishes ourselves and buying clearance appliances. We tried to choose well built appliances (eg the dishwasher is made in Germany rather than China) but didn’t worry if they weren’t matching brands.

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