In the market for kitchen cabinets? Aesthetics are important, but here’s a quick guide to help you recognize key elements of cabinet construction and quality.
The stability and durability of a kitchen cabinet depends on the quality of its box construction. So how do you determine whether or not a box is built to last? Look for how it is reinforced. The box is most commonly made from particleboard, MDF, or plywood. Look for triangular braces in the corners of the box or a beam brace that runs in a dado slot along the inside of the side panels or along the back. These methods will ensure the box remains rigid and stable.
There are two common cabinet styles: framed and frameless. The difference is not so much in the construction but in how they look and the amount of accessibility you have to the inside of the cabinet.
Framed Cabinets (a.k.a. face-framed)
Framed cabinets are considered more traditional looking and have a wood frame around the front outer edge of the cabinet box that provides the majority of the structural support. Door and drawer fronts fit one of three ways on a framed cabinet: Full overlay (which completely covers the face frame), partial overlay, or full inset (the cabinet doors and drawers fit within the face frame opening).
Frameless Cabinets (a.k.a. European style)
As the name implies, frameless cabinets do not have a frame around the edge of the cabinet box, which allows greater access. The thickness of the cabinet components provides the needed stability. Because there is no frame, the door and drawer fronts will cover the entire face of the cabinet.
The material used in the drawers is most typically the same as the material used in the box. The more solid wood parts that are incorporated into the box and drawer signify higher quality and result in a higher price point. How the drawer is built, or more specifically, how the parts are joined together will determine its durability. Dovetail joints create the strongest connection and are recognized as a trait of high quality. Doweled joints marry dowels from one piece that fit into holes in the mating piece and provide another form of reliable joinery. Value price point cabinets will often have drawer bottoms that fit into dado slots, which is stronger than bottoms that are simply nailed or glued to the drawer box.
There really isn’t a lot you need to know when it comes to shelving. The shelf will have little impact on the overall performance or durability of your cabinet. The material will range from plywood, MDF, or particleboard and is usually covered with a wood veneer or laminate ply. The thickness of the shelf material will range from 1/2″ to 3/4″. Thicker shelves are better for longer shelf spans.
Cabinets have either framed or slab doors. Framed doors consist of outer frame components that are milled with slots to hold the center panel. Common framed door styles include recessed panel doors, raised panel, and shaker. Slab doors are made of one solid piece or several solid wood pieces glued together to form a solid slab. Plywood or MDF slab doors are covered with veneer laminate or Thermofoil.
Learning cabinet construction basics is the easy part of your cabinet journey. Choosing door styles, finishes, and the coordinated surface materials is when the real challenge (and fun) begins. Visit any Parr Design Center location and talk with one of our design specialists about your project. We’re here to help!