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Kitchen Cabinets

The role of cabinetry in the finished look and function of your kitchen is crucial to the success of its design and enjoyment. When it comes to your kitchen renovation the cabinets are the main ingredient in this recipe. But choosing the right cabinets can be somewhat difficult. Most home owners concentrate on style and color but quality is the underlying factor that you must be mindful of. In most instances the material from which the cabinet is made is a direct indication of the cabinet’s quality. Cabinets are made from materials like particle board, MDF, laminates, Plywood, solid wood and others.

PARTICLE BOARD is an engineered wood product manufactured from wood chips, sawmill shavings, or even saw dust, and is essentially glued together. A major characteristic of particleboard is that it is very prone to expansion and discoloration due to moisture, particularly when it is not covered with paint or a sealer. Cabinets made from this material tend to be low quality and inexpensive.

MDF stands for medium density fiberboard. It is essentially the same product as particle board, only stronger. It is an engineered wood product formed by breaking down hardwood or softwood residuals into wood fibers and combining it with wax and a resin binder. MDF is denser than plywood and can be used as a building material similar in application to plywood. Cabinets made from MDF will be better made than those of particle board. MDF is a cheaper alternate to wood but better than particle board. MDF is reasonably water-resistant, although you do not want to expose it to water if you can avoid it.

PLYWOOD is a manufactured wood panel made from thin sheets of wood veneer that are glued together. It is relatively inexpensive and is used instead of plain wood because of its high strength and its resistance to cracking, shrinkage, and splitting. Most cabinet boxes are made with plywood and have become the standard. Plywood boxes are a good start but it is not the only characteristic of cabinet quality.

SOLID WOOD as a material really needs no explanation. Solid wood is wood taken directly from the tree. Solid wood will come in different species such as maple, cherry, birch etcetera. Natural wood is the material of choice when it comes to cabinets but due to the cost of solid wood many cabinets only feature solid wood doors or face frames. The box of the cabinet is usually made from a less expensive material. Cabinets with doors and fronts made from solid wood are not the only indication of good quality. Construction methods must also be considered. Cabinets are grouped into four grades based on quality of construction: ready-to-assemble (RTA), stock, semi-custom and custom.

Ready-To-Assemble (RTA) Cabinets

RTA cabinets offer very attractive prices but they reinforce the saying “you get what you pay for” RTA cabinets are mostly made in China. RTA cabinets come in flat boxes and have to be assembled. The quality standards are not as high as other manufactures. Some of the issues you will encounter with RTA and Chinese cabinets are warped doors, defective wood, and cheap construction methods.

Many of these low quality cabinets hide behind the phrase “all wood cabinets” but there are many spins on the phrase “all wood.” It used to be that the phrase “all wood” meant all wood such as cherry, maple, birch etcetera. This is no longer the case. “All wood cabinets,” now means plywood. The common practice is to make the box of the cabinet out of plywood and the door out of a wood species such as cherry, maple, oak and others. This is now the accepted standard for “all wood cabinets.” But some manufactures have taken the “all wood” phrase further. Not only are the boxes made from plywood but the doors as well. Why don’t they look like plywood? That’s because they are expertly veneered. And there are varying stages of veneer quality. Some veneers are actually made from a paper thin slice of real wood. Others are made from pictures of wood transformed to look like wood. Edge banding is used to cover the exposed sides of materials such as plywood, particle board or MDF, giving the appearance of a solid (or more valuable) material.

Stock Cabinets

Stock cabinets are constructed prior to purchase. The manufacturer does not build them to the customer’s specifications. Stock cabinetry widths begin at 9 inches and increase in 3 inch increments. More than likely your kitchen’s measurement will not end exactly in 3 inch increment. To accommodate for sizes outside of the 3-inch increments, you'll need to use filler to close any gaps between the cabinet and walls or appliances. Some stock cabinet are available right off the shelf where others will have to be ordered. But delivery times are usually short. Stock cabinets offer limited colors, door styles and accessories. However, to counteract the lack of available modifications, the woods, door styles and finishes that manufacturers choose tend to be the most popular.

Semi-custom Cabinets

Semi-custom cabinets are similar to stock cabinets in that the cabinets are pre-made. They are available in 3 inch increments and also offer fillers to close any gaps between walls and appliances. The main advantage of semi-custom cabinets is that they offer a much wider variety of styles and finishes. They are customizable to some extent. Depending on the brand you will be able to alter the depth or height of your base cabinets. With semi-custom there are also much more accessories to choose from such as roll-out trays, lazy susans, crown molding, trims, spice racks and so forth. Delivery times differ depending on the manufacturer but generally the time period is anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks.

Custom Cabinets

Custom cabinets are not pre-made. As the name implies, they are made-to-order. The cabinet sizes are not restricted to 3 inch increment and fillers are not necessary. The big issue with custom cabinets is the cost. They are extremely expensive and will quickly eat into the budget. The end result will be one of a kind cabinets that are made to your specifications. And although the possibilities are endless you will need a renovation budget to match.


Mullings Restoration & Development is a home improvement contractor that performs all interior renovations while specializing in kitchen and bathroom remodeling. Our services include project consultation, architectural design, plumbing, electrical and general construction.


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