Five Essential Cabinet Features

Hi, this is Nathan Harrison, cabinet maker and kitchen installer.njh-headshot-small.JPG

I love a bargain just as much as the next guy, but I think we all recognize that at some point, bargains can become “false economy”.

Now I recognize that buying new kitchen cabinetry is an expensive proposition where any legitimate cost savings should be embraced. You might feel that you have found a fabulous bargain on your cabinets, but the problem is, How do you know if you're being talked into a lemon?

Let me tell you a secret.

Most of the time, kitchen and bath showrooms make more money selling the cheap cabinetry than the expensive stuff. The profit margin is higher. And if the buyer comes in looking only at price, they'll be enthusiastically directed to the you-know-what. So, save yourself the long term regrets and insist upon the following five essential features in your cabinets:

First, insist that the walls (sides) of your cabinets be made of Plywood. The walls are extremely important to the strength of your wall-mounted cabinets and the support of your countertop. Plywood is a lightweight yet robust material that in many ways out-performs solid wood itself.

Other options are particleboard and MDF (medium density fiberboard), both of which are known to cabinet installers as very brittle and tempermental materials. They also perform very poorly under high moisture conditions. Avoid them.

(Fine print: some nicer kitchens will have a few cabinet walls — the visible ones — to be made of solid wood like a cabinet door. Those are not a problem at all, but they are expensive and you'll want to go with plywood for the majority of your walls — the hidden ones.)

Second, insist that your Hinges be “Three Way Adjustable”. All cabinet doors (including high-quality solid wood doors) will experience some degree of warping over the years. It's just the nature of wood and it's usually very slight.

The problem is that in some places the door deformation will make the doors move out of line with each other and the effect of this is to make the cabinets look “kinda ratty”. Now if you bought cabinets with fully-adjustable hinges, you can get a Phillips screwdriver and take 10 minutes every five years to “tune up” the hinges so as to re-align all the doors. Happy, happy.

Third, if you're getting “budget” cabinets, you must insist on “Factory Assembled”. The alternative here is “Ready to Assemble” or RTA cabinets that are shipped over from China in flat pieces and then assembled by the showroom using the little quick clasps that are embedded in the corners. So now you have all the weight of the cabinet concentrated on one or two cheap little clasps. If they give way, you can guess what will become of grandma's fine teacups.

In contrast, factory assembled cabinets will be glued and stapled along all joints, providing a stronger and slower-breaking type of joint: it probably won't ever fail, but if it does, you'll get plenty of visual and audible warning over months and years before an actual collapse occurs.

Fourth, insist on a Solvent-Resistant Finish. Cheap cabinets will often have a final coating (or, finish) which is not resistant to solvents on par with lacquer thinner. This cheap finish is just good enough to get most folks through a few years, but sooner or later you'll spill something strong on the woodwork. Remember, kitchen styles and finishes get obsoleted quickly and cabinetmakers like myself HATE trying to do match-up work (Translation: we charge a lot for it). So please just get the cabinets properly protected from the outset.

Fifth, insist that the “shipping shelf clips” be replaced with “human shelf clips”. During the shipping of cabinetry, it's possible for the adjustable shelves to come loose and do damage to the cabinet interior. So, they solve this problem by putting the shelf into special “shipping clips” that bite down on the adjustable shelf and give it no chance for escape.

That's all fine and good, but if those clips are still on the shelves when your cabinet installer drives away, the woman of the house will NOT be happy. Adjusting shelves held by shipping clips requires a strong hand and an appropriate tool, and it is very difficult for most women and elderly. So, insist that these clips be replaced with normal shelf clips which can be quickly adjusted by hand. The quality cabinet companies do this without having to be asked.

Interested in more ways to save heartache and money on your kitchen or bath project? Then check out the Insider's Guide to a Kitchen Remodel by clicking here.

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