There is a selection of cabinet box choices and a variation in quality from RTA (ready-to-assemble), stock, semi-custom and custom. Take caution when selecting the product you will put in your home.
A cabinet is just a box with a door on it. As with everything in life you get what you pay for. And, as with everything else boxes cab be well-made or not, with prices matching the quality. That's where cabinet construction can get complicated rather quickly.
First you should understand what lies behind the cabinet door - the cabinet box. You might respond with, "What's the big deal about that?" but there is more going on than you think. It breaks down by:
- FRAMED CONSTRUCTION
- FRAMELESS CONSTRUCTION
In framed construction, wood joinery holds the parts together. Horizontal rails and vertical stiles secure the door to the box. In frameless cabinets, special hardware fittings do both jobs. Because no rails or styles block the way, frameless cabinets offer slightly easier access to their interiors. Frameless cabinets are also referred to as full-access or European style cabinets. You might be surprised to learn that solid wood rarely forms the cabinet box. It's more often used in face frames and doors than in the larger side panels parts. So when you see the billboard say solid wood cabinetry it's not really so. The frame is solid wood not the sides. That's because the solid wood sides would tend to warp - a special concern in the kitchen where the moisture level changes frequently.
But in the doors, using multiple strips of lumber in a variety of sizes can reduce the warp factor. A "floating" panel might also be used. The center panel of the door floats because instead of being glued to the door frame, the edges sit between wooden grooves, allowing the wood to move more freely with changes in the kitchens humidity.
Box materials contain wood chips, other wood by-products, and synthetic additives to make them especially strong and warp resistant.
You options for box material include:
- Particleboard or furniture grade flake board
- Medium-density fiberboard
All have solid reputations for durability and screw holding power, particularly plywood. Medium-density fiberboard has gained a following for its ability to be formed also into doors and drawer heads and other decorative features. Furniture grade flake board offers a stronger alternative than particle board, which you'll pay the least for.
Some cabinet boxes are stapled together. Beware of staples! Staples pull apart. You want cabinets with thick side panels that have been corner blocked and glued and/or fastened with screws.
Depending on the choice you make in the cabinet construction options of RTA (ready-to-assemble), stock, semi-custom and custom...the thickness if the sides panels will vary also. I've seen 1/4" sides, 3/8" sides, 1/2" sides, "5/8" sides, 3/4" sides, and 1" sides. These are all options in the thickness of the cabinet box material.
Although the thickness may be a reflection of the quality...at a certain point you might be just paying for more wood. Often the door and box will be constructed of different materials. A cabinet door might be solid maple and the sides plywood covered with a maple veneer. The same finish would be applied to both, unifying the look. Or you may decide to construct the side with a matching door panel for a customized furniture look.
Your options for door type include:
- Partial overlay
- Full overlay
Inset doors sit within the rails and stiles and lay flush with the front edges of the cabinet box. Truly inset doors are only available with framed construction, but designers can achieve the same look using vertical pilasters on frameless cabinet. Some semi-custom manufacturers have achieve the inset look by the construction of the door style that mimics the beaded reveal of a beaded inset cabinet.
Lipped doors are routed with a slight wooden groove to fit over the face frame. Partial overlay doors somewhat conceal a portion of the frame, while full overlay doors have less than 1/8" of the frame showing.
Frameless cabinets have full overlay doors that almost completely cover the edge of the cabinet box but framed cabinets have them as well. You can check and tell whether a cabinet is framed or frameless by opening the door and check for rails and stiles. If the edge profile is 3/4" then they are frameless.