black kitchen cabinets with skylights
A Brief Intro to Thermally Fused Laminate (TFL)

The use of wood in all areas of the home has been an American tradition since European settlers came here hundreds of years ago. Due to its availability and the grand variety available in America, wood began to replace different types of materials that had been used in the construction of homes and furniture in Europe. Not only has wood become an emblem of traditional Americana because of its broad utility, but it also can be viewed as a celebration of the diverse forestry across the nation. As American carpentry has been perfected over time and become less of a practiced craft for the average person, incorporating solid wood in the home today adds elegance as well as tradition.


Wooden cabinetry indisputably brings a sense of heritage and natural beauty to any space where it resides. However, in 2023, it is no longer the only elegant option for an American home. Thermally fused laminates, or TFLs, are durable and well-wearing and tend not to accumulate scratches and nicks as easily as natural materials can. For this reason, TFL has become a popular choice in recent years for anything from laminate flooring to furniture, from organizers and store display fixtures to cabinets. Just as wood was to early settlers– a greater variety than they could imagine– TFL offers combinations of color and wood grain patterns that are more expansive than previously possible. For example, Access by Cabinet Joint uses TFL as a surface material, offering longevity to the array of colors.

What is TFL?

As a man-made material, TFLs have not had a history in the home as extensive as wood has. However, as they have developed from high-pressure laminate, TFLs have been perfected over time in their own right. Where HPL consists of many layers of kraft paper that are later glued to a substrate of particle board, MDF, or plywood, TFLs take those most durable upper layers of HPLs– namely several sheets of kraft paper saturated in melamine resin– and are fused with heat directly to the composite wood substrate. The product is a laminate that is as durable, scratch-, heat-, moisture- and stain-resistant, and sleek as a HPL, but even less likely to peel and wear over time.


Unlike solid wood, patterns on TFL are cohesive and don’t have a discernible variance from one cabinet to the next. The decorative kraft paper beneath the sealed resin of TFL cabinets translates to a trim appearance that adds consistency to a room’s design. Even when TFL is not emulating wood, its signature sleek style is a contemporary classic, bringing bold colors and tactile smoothness to any space.

ettore sottsass modern art furniture
Pictured above is a piece from Ettore Sottsass’s Memphis furniture collection, pictured in March 2004 by I Lobo You, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Often seen as modern and unaccommodating for personality, laminates have a different kind of capacity for character than solid woods. Used in eccentric works such as that of Ettore Sottsass, laminates have sported the face of minimalism and maximalism both, as employed in Sottsass’s postmodern Memphis collection as a protest against the rigidity of modern, simplistic design. With David Bowie as one of the collection’s most avid fans, laminate can probably house a bit more personality than it’s given credit for. Even in a plainer state, the customizability of laminate material in color and size prevents the material from being classified as too anything.


Despite the layers of resin-saturated kraft paper, one of the greatest components of a thermally fused laminate is the composite wood substrate, which can use pieces of wood that would otherwise be discarded. Some production decisions can also increase the sustainability of alternative materials. Using PureBond® Hardwood Plywood, for instance, is a more environmentally-conscious choice that uses a formaldehyde-free bonding formula. Sourcing plywood from within the United States also can add credibility to companies claiming to be eco-friendly, as they have to follow more strict federal regulations and policies. Companies can also elect to earn certifications from third-party organizations that have fewer ulterior motives to awarding environmental merits.

black frameless cabinets
Bold, all-black kitchen with modern cabinets
Concluding Thoughts

One of the more beautiful sentiments of a solid wood enthusiast is that wood has always been here, will always be here, and to incorporate it into one’s home is to briefly be a part of its journey. TFLs and other alternative materials may be younger in age, but from high-quality creation comes a lifetime and longer service to your home. Especially when paired with domestically sourced plywood and crafted with care, it takes minimal upkeep and fuss to keep thermally fused laminates in as good a condition as they found you. Retaining no scratches, dings, moisture, or stains, this alternative material will not alter as you live your life. TFLs will hold durably while retaining all the stylish and sleek character they’ve always had, and always will. 

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