Today's mini lesson will help not only those wanting to build a new house, but those who want to remodel an older home. As promised last week, we’ll be talking about choosing kitchen cabinets. If you think choosing kitchen cabinets is simply a matter of choosing stained, wood cabinets versus white, painted cabinets… keep listening.
Naturally, you’ll choose a style that you find attractive, but beyond looks, there are lots of factors that you’ll need to consider that will impact the quality and cost of your cabinets. For example, a standard 30 inch cabinet can range from just over $100 to well over $1000, depending on its construction, finishes and customization. Today’s lesson will help us understand the different materials used to construct cabinets and how those materials impact cabinet quality.
Before that, though, I want to give a shout out to Jeannine. Jeannine wrote the nicest comment on my website. Here’s what she said.
“This is the best introductory series for this topic that I've found. It's starts with the basics and then gets very detailed and informative. The speaker on the podcasts has a great broadcasting voice, and very useful summations & questions sprinkled throughout to reinforce the teaching points. (This is what great teachers do!) IF WE USED STARS TO RATE THIS SERIES, IT WOULD GET FIVE STARS! Thanks for making these.”
Well, Jeannine, I want to thank YOU. Thank you for taking the time to let me know this podcast is helpful. Your comment was really encouraging to me—more than you know, so thanks again.
Alright, let’s move on to today’s pro term.
Pro Term: Dovetail joints. Dovetail joints are commonly used in carpentry. Most often they’re used to join the sides of a drawer to the drawer front. I think you’ve probably seen a dovetail joint before. It looks like the edges of wood are joined together with interlocking teeth. The pieces that lock together look like sideways teeth. That interlocking connection is strong and very difficult to dislodge. Glue is used to strengthen the joint but no screws or fasteners are necessary. Dovetail joints are one element to look for in good quality drawer construction.
Now, let’s move on to this week’s lesson. This mini lesson is packed with information, but don’t get overwhelmed. Remember, it’s perfectly ok to listen to it or read it more than once. Repetition helps us understand and retain information.
First, let’s talk about getting estimates. When you get estimates for your kitchen cabinets, the price is often stated as “cost per linear foot”. That’s a common price comparison widely used in the industry. However, there’s some lack of consistency industry wide about what’s actually included in the linear foot. Is it just the base cabinets, or the base AND the upper cabinets? And does the linear foot include the appliance spaces? Different companies define the linear foot differently, so be careful when reviewing prices per linear foot. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples.
Another way companies estimate cabinet prices is by using a sample 10 foot by 10 foot kitchen. Now, obviously, most of us won’t have kitchens that are exactly 10 x10 feet. But that’s a common kitchen sample size to use for comparison shopping.
Before you start getting estimates for kitchen and bathroom cabinetry, you’ll need to decide whether you want stock, semi-custom, and custom cabinets. Stock cabinets have been build and finished prior to your order and they are sitting in a warehouse waiting to be shipped. There are 2 variations of stock cabinets: 1) assembled in the factory and ready to install and 2) boxed flat and ready to assemble. With stock cabinets, you can’t ask the factory to change anything about them. What you see is what you get. They come in standard dimensions and limited styles and finishes.
Your second option is semi-custom cabinets and they’re exactly what they sound like. They’re semi-customizable. You can change them to a degree. And the changes are typically pretty small changes. For example, you can increase or decrease the widths and depths of the cabinets by one inch increments. But you usually have to choose from a selected number of finishes and styles.
When cabinet makers design and build cabinets from scratch, to your specifications, you get the third option, custom cabinets. With custom cabinets, you get to choose the exact sizes, finish and style that you want.
As you probably realize, prices increase as you go from stock cabinets to semi-custom to custom cabinets. But make sure you compare prices, especially if you are trying to decide between semi-custom and custom cabinets. Here’s why…
What makes custom cabinets a good value is that you’re buying straight from the cabinet maker. There’s no middle man (unless you’re dealing with a general contractor who might mark up your cabinets).
What happens with custom cabinets is the cabinet maker purchases the wood and hardware and turns them into cabinets. So there is no middle man. And if you use a local cabinet maker, there are no shipping fees and often, no sales tax.
Because there are fewer add-on fees associated with custom cabinets, they may cost about the same, or they may be a little less than semi-custom cabinet lines. So check with custom cabinet makers before deciding on semi-custom cabinets and ask for estimates that include all fees associated with the cabinetry, including taxes and delivery or shipping fees.
Now that we’ve talked about the main categories of cabinetry, let’s get a little bit into the parts and construction of cabinets. Don’t worry, this is not going to be a carpentry 101 session. I’m simply gonna give a general overview of cabinet parts and the materials used to make them so we can make educated decisions about the cabinets we’ll put in our homes.
The 4 basic parts of a cabinet are the box, the shelves, the drawers and doors.
Boxes are the rectangular shells of the cabinet, which I bet you figured out. The boxes will contain shelves or drawers. Since the box is the foundation of the cabinet, choose a cabinet box made of the best quality material that’s in your budget. We’ll talk about the materials in a moment.
At the base of the box, resting on the floor, is the toe kick. The toe kick area allows you to stand close to the cabinets without squashing your toes.
Doors, obviously, cover the face of the cabinet box. The doors that you choose will greatly determine the style and overall look of your cabinets.
CABINET BOX (with a face frame and toe kick)
So, in summary, cabinets are typically made of plywood, MDF and/or particle board. Plywood has the highest quality. I remember that because plywood has the word “wood” in it. MDF or medium density fiber board is in the middle of the quality scale. It’s “medium” in quality. And finally, particle board is made of small, weaker wood particles, so it’s last in terms strength, quality and stability, but it is the most economical choice.
Ok, moving on to shelves, drawers and doors.
Shelves can be fixed or adjustable. Shelves are typically made from the same material as the cabinet box.
Drawers can be assembled in a number of ways. The most common and least expensive method of drawer construction is gluing and stapling the parts together.
Higher quality drawers use dovetail construction. They’re more expensive, but stronger and more durable than stapled and glued drawers.
Drawer slides attach the sides or bottom of drawers and allow the drawer to slide in and out of the cabinet box. Higher end cabinetry usually has drawer slides that allow for full extension, soft close drawers. Higher quality drawers will also have a higher weight capacity. Some drawers can hold well over 100 pounds.
The metal part on the side of the drawer is the DRAWER SLIDE.
Here’s an little known fact about cabinet drawers and boxes. Larger cabinet-making companies tend to build their drawers, boxes, shelves and doors at one facility. Some smaller cabinet makers, though, including many local, custom cabinetmakers, pay to have their boxes and drawers built by outside facilities that specialize in boxes and drawers. The box and drawer companies can build them relatively inexpensively and the custom cabinet makers can focus on making the doors, drawer faces, and the millwork that give the cabinetry a custom look.
Drawer and door faces can be made solid hard wood or with any of the engineered wood and finish options that we just talked about.
A quick note about the term “all wood’ cabinets. If the cabinet box, frame, doors and drawers are made of plywood and wood veneers, the cabinets are referred to as “all-wood” cabinetry. So don’t expect solid, hardwood cabinets when you see the term “all wood.” Solid, hardwood cabinets can be found, but they are not very common these days since they’re quite expensive and not as stable as plywood cabinets in moist kitchens and bathrooms.
There are many cabinet options on the market. Basic, budget friendly cabinets are stock particleboard, melamine cabinets with stapled drawers. These are the most economical, but the least durable. A high end, durable option is all-wood cabinets made with plywood and wood veneer, and maybe solid wood doors, plus full extension, soft close drawers with dovetail joints. An example of a mid range option is an MDF cabinet with a thermofoil finish.
Well, we’ve covered quite a bit of information. Alright, ready for your quiz?
1. The 4 basic parts of a cabinet include all of the following except:
The answer is B. The fascia is not a basic part of a cabinet, it’s a part of the home’s roof. Fascia is the vertical, front facing part of the roof’s eave, or edge. The box, shelves, drawers and doors are the 4 basic parts of a cabinet.
2. True or false. Frameless cabinets are more common in Europe and they allow for greater storage area than framed cabinets.
That’s true. Frameless cabinets are seen in the US, but they’re more common in Europe. Because they have no face frame on the front of the cabinet box, they allow for more storage space. They’re also generally less expensive than framed cabinets, but they are not as strong as their framed counterparts.
3. List the cabinet finishes that we talked about in order of highest to lowest quality (start with the highest quality finish).
The answer is wood veneer, thermofoil, laminate then melamine.
That’s it for now. Thanks for listening today. If you know someone who wants or needs new kitchen cabinets, you can share this episode with them by email, Facebook or Twitter.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete and it’s subject to change, so it may not apply to your project. In addition, Building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.