Congratulations, you’re remodeling your kitchen!
The excitement and anticipation are building as the process moves forward. It’s time to select your cabinets, and suddenly you’re feeling overwhelmed and confused. You want to choose high-quality cabinets that will last for years, but the more you learn, the harder the decision.
Experts look for a few characteristics that distinguish cabinets that remain as stunning as they are functional for 20-30 years versus cabinets that fail sooner than expected. With a trained eye, you can avoid common problems like crooked doors, sagging shelves, deteriorating drawers, scratched and dented faces, loose hinges, and warping boxes.
First, let’s consider three categories that elevate cabinet quality: the material, the construction, and the finish. By learning how to spot a few quality characteristics in each category, you’ll soon be able to tell the difference between pretty cabinets that won’t last and high-quality cabinets worth the investment.
How to Spot Quality Cabinet Materials
Most mid to high range cabinet boxes are made of plywood because it resists moisture (unlike hardwood) and is highly durable. Although plywood can be 15-20% more expensive than MDF (medium density fiberboard) or furniture particle board, it’s the number feature to reduce warping problems that arise from weather fluctuations. Plywood is constructed using sheets of wood, where particle or furniture board uses small bits of wood pressed together. By looking for the linear lines of plywood versus speckled composite boards, you’ll be able to spot the difference.
Next, you’ll want to look at the overall construction to confirm the cabinet maker didn’t take any shortcuts.
Superior Cabinets Include Sturdy Components
When comparison shopping, look for the following features to ensure you’re choosing a quality cabinet. Remember that drawers and shelves support the weight of everything in your cabinets. If they’re not stable, it’s only a matter of time until you’ll have problems.
Start by looking for solid wood face frames that are ¾” thick. If you want your cabinets to last, the frames must be strong. Having a solid face frame helps prevent racking (when the cabinet box tilts out of square.) If the horizontal and vertical sections aren’t level, drawers and doors won’t align correctly, which leads to crooked doors and sticking drawers.
It’s easy to be impressed by the beauty of a cabinet and forget the importance of sturdy shelves. Plywood is a great choice (look for a ¾” minimum thickness) because it’s less likely to shrink or expand and holds up better than MDF which tends to bow or sag over time.
Cabinet Drawer Features That Are Worth The Price
- Solid wood drawers – Higher quality cabinets are constructed using solid woods like alder, cherry, birch, maple, or oak because they are both beautiful and durable.
- Soft close hinges and drawer slides – Kitchen drawers are one of the most used and least appreciated workhorses in your kitchen. Quiet, soft close drawers provide a feel of sophistication, but did you know they also extend the life of your cabinets by reducing stress on the hinges? Look for quality under-mounted slides that are well-made to ensure they can carry the weight of everything in the drawer for years to come without sagging or sticking.
- Full extension drawers – Maximize your storage space by looking for drawers that open the entire length of the slide. It may seem like a small detail, but once you have them, you’ll never go back.
- Dovetail joints – Lower-quality cabinet makers use staples and notched butt joints to secure the faceplate to the drawer box. With a dovetail joint, the two sides of the drawer box fix together with interlocking teeth. Some cabinet manufactures install a façade on the side of the drawer. In this case, you’ll need to ask to confirm. However, if you see nails, it’s a good indicator that someone took shortcuts.
- Strong drawer boxes – Now it’s time to grab your tape measure to confirm the drawers have a minimum of 3/8″ to 1/2” thick drawer boxes, especially the drawer floor where the contents weight stresses the box. Avoid flimsy drawers made from thin particle board with a laminate or wood veneer. As we mentioned previously, stay away from drawers with stapled or nailed construction.
Once you’ve determined that the cabinet company uses quality materials and best practices, it’s time to take a closer look at the finish.
Cabinet Finishes Aren’t Only for Looks
To ensure your cabinets maintain their beautiful luster and hold up to the abuse of an average family, it’s essential to understand the finishing process.
By staining the wood before assembly, the cabinet maker eliminates glue sealing the wood surface that can produce uneven color. It also ensures complete stain coverage, especially in hard-to-reach areas.
According to Woodharbor Custom Cabinetry, a premier cabinet builder, “hand-wiped stains accentuate the natural beauty of the wood and bring warmth and personality to your home.” To achieve a beautiful finish, cabinet makers sand the wood, hand-wipe the stain, and oven-cure the sealed wood. This process creates a long-lasting surface that protects your cabinetry from scratches, dents, and chips while providing a gorgeous finish.
To achieve a lasting finish, quality cabinet makers apply a protective, catalytic sealer that has moisture resistance and sealing qualities. Ideally, the cabinets are finished in a controlled factory environment where dust and other particles aren’t an issue, something smaller shops cannot afford and is impossible to achieve onsite. You can feel the difference by softly rubbing the cabinet. A grainy or rough feel indicates the cabinets were not finished in a controlled environment and are subject to chipping problems in the long run.
Cabinet Knowledge is Powerful
You’ve done your homework!
Equipped with new knowledge and a trained eye, you’re ready to identify common cabinet shortcuts and essential quality features to confirm you’re investing wisely and can spot high-quality cabinets when you see them.
If you’re considering updating your kitchen or bath, a designer can make your dream kitchen a reality by assuring your space is well planned, introducing you to a variety of products and materials for cabinetry, countertops, lighting, and fixtures, and helping you stay on budget.
Kane Home Cabinetry is a premier kitchen and bath design boutique with a showroom located in the heart of St. Charles, Illinois. We design and install custom kitchens, baths, and work areas that are as functional as they are beautiful.