What Do I Need To Know buying kitchen cabinets?

What Do I Need To Know?

You don’t need to be a kitchen designer or a cabinet maker for that matter to be an informed cabinet buyer. But there are a few things you should know to be a more informed cabinet shopper.

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

Cabinet Terminology

When shopping for kitchen 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 our cabinet 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 Cabinets

Another part of kitchen cabinetry 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 kitchen 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 cabinets are like stock in that they’re also pre-manufactured but come with a wider array of options and 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 cabinet. 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 cabinets are 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 cabinets are manufactured and not about quality or decorative style. Custom cabinets don’t necessarily imply quality cabinets. 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 your cabinets for a long time. Kitchen cabinets, particularly the drawers, take a lot of punishment
so paying for some 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 – kitchen 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 cabinets do not have this feature. Also, the joinery and techniques used to assemble and support kitchen cabinets vary. 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.

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