Cabinetry 101: the least you should know

For most homeowners, kitchen remodeling is the largest investment they will make aside from the home itself. How do you make sure you get what you want, at a price that will let you cook in that new kitchen?

Are you going cabinet shopping soon?
Download the Cabinetry Comparison worksheet to organize all the information that will come at you.

Here is help so you can identify areas of concern and make choices when you’re ready for a new kitchen.

The cabinet box

the cabinet box

The "box" is more complicated than its simple name suggests.

What material is used?
  • The more real wood used in the construction of a cabinet box, the better.
  • Quality plywood holds up the best over time.
  • Plywood is good for larger surface areas such as sides, tops, bottoms, backs and toe boards.
  • The face frame should be constructed of premium-quality, solid wood for extra rigidity.
  • Particle board (also called "engineered wood") is not a good choice for the side panels, tops or bottoms of a cabinet.
How is the wood joined together?
  • Cabinets need to endure hard knocks. Make sure the box includes strong joinery using rabbets and dados. If a joint is only glue and staples, pass up that cabinet.
What is an "exposed" end panel (side panels) and what should it look like?
  • Sometimes when a cabinet is installed next to a dishwasher or stove, a little bit of the cabinet's end panel will show.
  • Exposed end panels should be covered with stained wood veneer or melamine that closely matches the exterior finish.
What does the interior of the cabinet look like?
  • A light colored interior reflects the most light so it's easier to view your cereal choices. A light-colored melamine applied over plywood does the trick, and is easy to clean.
  • If your kitchen cabinet designs call for open or glass-door cabinets, make sure the line you choose offers a stained wood veneer interior to match the outer finish.
How are the shelves made?
  • Better quality cabinetry offers adjustable shelving as a standard feature. It’s worthwhile to ask about this, since some lines offer only fixed shelves. Adjustability gives you more flexible storage options, especially where shelves and roll-out trays are concerned.
Is the cabinet complete?
  • Extra features, such as a fully enclosed space under the bottom drawer in base cabinets, help to protect cabinet interiors and their contents from dust, bugs and rodents.
  • Some cabinet boxes are made without a back or enclosed bottom or even a melamine interior.
Is there a warranty?
  • The manufacturer should stand behind its products with a warranty.

Another reliable mark of quality is KCMA certification. This means cabinets meet minimum standards for quality set by the Kitchen Cabinetry Manufacturers Association.

The drawer system

the drawer system

What is a good quality drawer box?

  • The drawer is visible when opened, so it should be made of real wood for the best appearance.
  • The best drawers have dovetail joints on all four corners of the box.
    • Dovetail joints are attractive.
    • Dovetail joints are interlocked, so they are stronger than pinned or doweled joints.
  • Silverware is heavy! Since drawers hold heavy loads, the box should include a captive plywood bottom.
  • A drawer box that is surfaced with melamine will be easier to clean.
  • The drawer box should have four sides. This seems obvious, but some manufacturers cut corners by building a three sided drawer. The drawer header acts as the fourth side, which compromises the strength of the drawer box.
What should you look for in drawer glides?
  • Drawers should roll easily on the glides and stop automatically so they don’t fall out.
  • Full-extension glides let you roll out the drawer completely to get at all the stuff at the back of the drawer.
  • Better drawer glides include a self-closing feature. Give the drawer a nudge, and it quietly closes itself.
  • Look for undermount glides.
    • When glides are mounted underneath, drawer box can be wider.
    • Undermount glides don't catch dirt the way side mount glides do.

A reliable mark of quality is KCMA certification. This means cabinets meet minimum standards for quality set by the Kitchen Cabinetry Manufacturers Association.

The cabinet line

the cabinet kune

When you choose a cabinet line, you are dictating the options your designer may use when piecing your kitchen together, so look at

  • the number of door styles offered
  • the number of colors offered
  • the total number of cabinets available
  • the modifications that are available

Better custom and semi-custom lines offer more upgrades and modifications for a more uniform, appealing design and appearance in the finished product. For example, StarMark Cabinetry scales their doors to fit cabinets that have been modified. For cabinet lines without this feature, pre-sized doors are matched as closely as possible to modified cabinets. Less flexibility in this case can result in as much as three inches surrounding the undersized door, causing the modified cabinet to stick out like a sore thumb.​