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Choosing Kitchen Cabinets: What Do I Need To Know?

Written by admin on . Posted in Articles

You don’t need to be a kitchen designer or a cabinet maker to be an informed buyer. But there are a few things you should be aware of.

Listed below are some important elements that you should become more familiar with:

– Terminology
– Stock / Semi-Custom / Custom
– Construction and Quality
– Different Ways to Buy
– Terminology

When shopping for cabinets it helps to acquaint yourself with the terminology. There’s no need to make this a boring homework assignment but if you know a little bit about the language, it helps when doing your research or when talking with kitchen designers or cabinet makers.

Skim over the glossary page to get familiar with the typical terms (or when you’re having trouble sleeping) and then amaze your friends with your command of cabinet-speak.

Stock, Semi-Custom and Custom
One area that tends to get misunderstood involves the terms stock, semi-custom and custom. Contrary to what many people think, these terms are not related to the quality of cabinets but rather, how they’re manufactured. Here are the basic definitions:

– Stock – Stock cabinets are pre-manufactured in specific sizes, typically 3″ increments, with few if any options for customization other than some limited choices the manufacturer might offer. They are off-the-shelf products in a limited range of styles.

– Semi-Custom – Semi-custom units are like stock in that they’re also pre-manufactured but come with a wider array of options and in more sizes than pure stock cabinets. With semi-custom you have some ability to pick and choose various details to tailor an otherwise pre-built stock product. In other words, you have some customization choices.

– Custom – Custom cabinets are built to the customer’s specifications, with no limitation on size, style choices, wood grade or finish. They are truly made-to-order.

They may be fancy or they may be plain but the difference is that they’re made to suit your specific design requirements, in whatever size, form, color and material you can get someone to produce for you.

If these definitions still don’t clear things up for you, consider the following analogy:
Stock cabinets are like the car you buy right off the dealer’s lot. You have to take it for what it is, with no ability to choose any options or upgrades.

Semi-custom is similar to the car that you factory-order through the dealer, with the ability to specify color, upholstery and other options. It’s still a Ford or Chrysler and it’s mass-produced, but you have a list of options to choose from and have some say in the makeup of the final product.

Custom cabinets are analogous to walking into the dealership and having them build a completely new car for you, per your design, from the ground up, with no boundaries whatsoever. And it doesn’t have to look anything like a Ford or Chrysler.

If there’s anything to take away from this discussion on stock/semi-custom/custom, remember that we’re talking about how the products are manufactured and not about quality or decorative style.

Custom doesn’t necessarily imply quality. Hand-built, made-to-order cabinets can still be poorly constructed. Conversely stock cabinets that are produced in mass quantities and limited sizes can also be manufactured with solid construction and quality materials.

Construction And Quality
The overall quality of kitchen cabinets is closely linked to their construction, meaning how they’re put together and the materials they’re made from. You’ll be wise to pay close attention to these key features, particularly if you expect to live with them for a long time. Parts of your cabinets, particularly the drawers, take a lot of punishment so paying a bit extra for some added durability is a wise investment.

Key points to be aware of include the following:
– Materials – they include particle board, MDF (medium density fiberboard), plywood, solid wood, metal and laminate/melamine (the laminate or melamine is laid over the particle board or similar substrate).

– Construction and Design – cabinets are constructed in one of two different design styles — framed or frameless. Framed cabinets employ a wood frame that outlines the front of the cabinet box. Frameless units don’t have this feature. Also, the joinery and techniques used to assemble and support them. Structural braces are made from plastic, wood or metal. Methods of joinery include hot-glue, staples and nails, or, more intricate woodworking techniques like dovetails and dadoes.

– Hardware – drawer slides vary in level of quality (some use ball bearings whereas others use nylon wheels/rollers) and physical location on the drawer (sidemount or on the bottom) which affects available drawer space. Shelf mounting brackets can be either plastic or metal.

Different Ways To Buy
There’s really no limitation on where you can buy cabinets. You can purchase them from big-box home centers, lumberyards, local cabinet makers, kitchen design firms and you can even buy them online.

Buying through the internet has grown over the years and there are now plenty of online retailers to choose from. In most cases they offer lower costs for similar or even better quality than those you buy in home centers (many online cabinet retailers sell all-wood products).

Buying online also offers convenience because you make your choices on your own schedule, from the convenience of your computer. Bear in mind however that there are some differences between buying cabinets online and buying them at a home center, so it helps to learn about the process beforehand to determine if it’s right for you.

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