The Basics of Cabinetry and Beyond

Your cabinets are the nucleus of ANY kitchen project. While you’re flooring, countertops, lighting, décor etc… play a big role. Color scheme, style and of course budget all begin with your cabinetry.

There are three main types of cabinetry for the kitchen. Base Cabinets, which sit on the ground and support a countertop, Wall Cabinets, which hang on the wall and Tall Cabinets which run from floor to ceiling or to the top of your wall cabinet run. Tall Cabinets can be used as broom closets, pantry storage, oven cabinets etc...

In this section you will find standard industry knowledge along with valuable input and opinions from us!!

FIRST, Let’s Dissect a Cabinet:

  1. DRAWER FRONT – In most cases, a quality cabinet will have a "false front" which is secured to the drawer box behind it. This allows some adjustability ensuring it’s aligned with the doors below.
  2. DRAWER BOX – Constructed many different ways with many different types of materials, the drawer box has become a focal point of cabinet construction. 3/4" thick hardwood with a dovetailed joint has become a high quality standard within most cabinet lines.
  3. CORNER BRACE – Mainly used to secure some countertop types to the cabinet, the corner brace also adds integrity to the base cabinet.
  4. BACK PANEL – Finished to match the interior of the cabinet only. Hanging rails on or within the back panel are also used in most cabinets to aide in installation.
  5. FACE FRAME – Used in "framed" cabinet applications only. European or frameless cabinets do not have this. Doors, hinges and drawer boxes utilize the face frame in a framed cabinet.
  6. DRAWER GUIDE – Allows the drawer box to slide in and out. Look for upgrades such as Full Extension and Slow Close.
  7. HINGES – Most applications use a fully concealed hinge attached to the door and the face frame. Other hinge types such as barrel and knife are exposed and also used. Slow Close upgrade now available on doors/hinges too.
  8. BOTTOM PANEL – Acts as floor of the cabinet. Often used for storage, the bottom panel adds integrity to all cabinets.
  9. TOE KICK – Usually about 4-4 ½" tall, the toe kick is pretty much an industry standard. Allows you stand by your base cabinet comfortably and is a great space to run ducts for heat/cold air return registers you may cover with cabinetry.
  10. CABINET DOOR – Determines the style/color scheme of the cabinet. Most of what’s actually visible in any installed cabinet is the door. Thousands of style and color options are available.
  11. CABINET SHELF – Most non-drawer base cabinets contain one or multiple adjustable or fixed shelves.
  12. END PANEL – An important structural element of the cabinet. Exposed sides of your kitchen should be finished to match and are available in a variety of material options (i.e. plywood, wood veneer and laminate)

NOW, Let’s Focus:

Cabinet Doors

Money well spent on a kitchen project starts with the style, wood specie and finish of the cabinet door. You’ll pay the most for solid wood doors with your exotic woods being the most expensive (i.e. mahogany, knotty alder and quarter sawn oak) Cherry, maple, oak, hickory and birch are some of the more popular standard wood doors.

The "overlay" type of the door is another step in the selection process that will affect price. The most popular types are listed and explained below:

Probably the most common door used today, this overlay type covers ½ to ¾ of the cabinet front. While usually utilizing a concealed hinge, an exposed would work as well. In addition to being the most affordable of the 3 listed here, a standard reveal door DOES NOT require hardware knobs/pulls
As you may have guessed, a full overlay door style covers the entire cabinet front. Gaining much popularity over the last several years, this overlay type gives the kitchen a more custom look. While commonly used in frameless cabinetry it is also used in framed cabinets with a concealed hinge type.
An Inset door sits inside the face frame, flush with the front edge of the cabinet frame so the entire face frame is exposed to view. This overlay type almost always uses an exposed hinge type of some sort. Inset door styles are commonly used in “mission” or “arts and crafts” kitchen styles.

Most popular cabinet manufacturers offer a "veneer" panel on their wood door styles instead of solid wood. This option usually gives the consumer a substantial cost reduction. The use of veneer center panels has become very popular within the industry. The color and grain match is impressive out of the box, but over time the aging of the real solid wood versus the wood veneer can cause the center panel of the door to look different than the style and rails…especially with lighter stains/finishes.

Cabinet Drawers

Probably the most physically demanding area of your cabinet…drawers are often overstuffed and their weight limits are almost always put to the test to say the least. A good quality material, superior joints and an effective drawer guide systems are the keys to ensuring you have the type of drawer you should.

Lower to mid-level cabinets will have drawer box starting at around ½” thick and made from a laminate or furniture board material. These drawer boxes usually sit upon a decent drawer guide system with minimal weight allowances. Under normal circumstances, these “standard’ drawer options are usually sufficient.

If you’re looking for better weight tolerances, thicker material and feature that really add value to your kitchen, look for a dovetailed drawer box. These drawer boxes are usually made from real wood and are generally 5/8” to ¾” thick. Many mid-level to higher end cabinets use this box as a standard, while today most of the lower end lines just discussed offer the dovetailed drawer box as an upgrade option.

Dovetailed Drawer Box

Drawer guide systems range from your standard epoxy coated side-mount guides to an under-mounted type to a full extension system with really cool features such as a slow close mechanism which actually closes itself and prevents you from being able to slam the drawers. The full extension allows you to access your entire drawer when it’s pulled open. The standard type systems only allow to access to about ¾ of the depth of the drawer box. While it’s often an upgrade the full extension and slow close features really add value.

Side Mount Drawer Guide System

Full Extension Drawer Guide System (Side Mount)

Cabinet Finishes/Wood Species

Stained Wood: This would be a wood door of any specie (Oak, Maple, Hickory, Cherry etc.) with a stained finish. Any wood in a natural to light stained finish will have some color change (mellowing) when exposed to light. Any natural color variation within the wood will be more pronounced with a natural finish.

Painted Wood: Most common painted cabinet wood species are usually Maple, Birch, Poplar and a few others. Hairline cracks may appear at the joints due to natural wood movement with seasonal changes in humidity. Grain texture of wood does not show unless you’re painting an Oak or Hickory type wood specie. Dings and dents are more noticeable on painted finishes.

Glazed Finishes: Generally glaze is applied and wiped by hand creating a “build up” in corners and profiles. Glaze is an artistic application and is intended to be random and unique for each application.

Distressed and/or Rub-Thru Finishes: Multi-step finishes that use hand-detailing leaving your cabinet (doors/drawer fronts) with wormholes, rock dings, joint cracks and other markings and/or a “rubbed thru” through look on the cabinet finish. Technique is random and inconsistent.

Rustic Wood Species/Finishes: Will exhibit large open knots and dramatic color variations.

ThermoFoil: Usually a rigid vinyl ThermoFoil which is bonded under heat and pressure (vacuum formed) on MDF (medium density fiberboard) which is then routed out to give a variety of door style cuts. ThermoFoil is a great alternative to a more expensive Painted wood cabinet.

Laminate: Most of the time a low pressure melamine laminate is used on two faces of a particle board core with a matching vinyl edgeband. You can find laminate cabinets on both ends of the pricing spectrum. Very high priced custom laminate cabinets made any size, shape, or color. And very low priced “bargain” laminate cabinets as well.

What to Know about Cherry: Cherry is a multi colored hardwood, which may contain small knots and pin holes. A natural characteristic of cherry wood is to darken with age and exposure to light. These variations are considered part of the inherent beauty of the product.

What to Know about Hickory: Hickory is a very “hate it or love it” type of wood. With its random mineral streaking and inconsistent graining patterns, no pieces, of even the same cabinet, will look the same. Most cabinet distributors require a signed awareness form when Hickory cabinets are purchased.

What to Know about Maple: Maple is a strong close grain hardwood that is predominantly off-white in color, although it also contains light hues of yellow-brown and pink. It’s a very consistent looking wood specie. Lighter stained maple cabinets will have some color change (mellowing) with age and exposure to light.