How to Buy Kitchen Cabinets

wooden kitchen cabinetswooden kitchen cabinetsBy Scott Gibson

Cabinet Shop

Before you go out looking for new kitchen cabinets you'll need to consider the numerous options available. This guide will help you get started. Photo by Thinkstock

Cabinet features

Kitchen cabinets can be roughly divided into three categories: stock, semicustom and custom.

STOCK CABINETS are the least expensive; they are manufactured in volume and available in a limited range of styles, colors and sizes. Typically, they are made in standard widths in 3" increments.

SEMICUSTOM CABINETS give consumers more diverse, although not unlimited, options in finish, trim and molding details, hardware, door and drawer styles, and size. Semicustom cabinets are more expensive than stock but often come with more durable materials and better finishes. Lead times for delivery are longer than for stock cabinets.

CUSTOM CABINETS are available through specialty manufacturers and local cabinet shops. They offer complete flexibility in design: Custom color matching, precise sizing, and virtually unlimited options for materials and hardware are among the advantages. But lead times can be long, and as complexity goes up, so does the price.

Component: Construction

· Plywood is best for sturdy cabinet boxes and sag-free shelves. Minimum thickness for boxes should be ½" and ¾" for shelving. Photo by Getty Images
· Melamine interiors are easy to clean. The best cabinet backs are a minimum of ¼" plywood. Look for neat, gap-free construction.

· Thin particleboard or hardboard covered with wood-grain vinyl.
· Shelving made from particleboard or medium-density fiberboard less than ¾" thick, which may sag over time and is more susceptible to moisture damage.
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Component: Drawers

· Hardwood drawer sides with close-fitting dovetail joints and a plywood drawer bottom are best.
· Clear-finished wood drawer fronts should be matched in color and grain to other cabinet parts.

· Hardboard sides with stapled or sloppily glued corners.
· Thin drawer bottoms, which will sag.
· Components made of poorly constructed fiberboard.

Component: Drawer Slides

· Full-extension, ball-bearing slides give access to the entire drawer.
· Undermount slides keep hardware hidden. Soft-close feature is an attractive upgrade.

· Slides that wobble or flex when drawer is opened and closed.
· Three-quarter-extension slides are adequate but a second-best choice for convenience.
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Component: Hardware

· Fully adjustable cup hinges allow doors to be brought back into correct alignment.
· Soft-close feature eliminates slamming doors.
· Specialty flip-up mounts for heavy kitchen appliances add versatility.

· Flimsy hinges that flex under a load and don't open and close smoothly.
· Hinges with no provision for adjustment, because such components have to be reset if door sags or twists.

Component: Finish

· Should be smooth and silky to the touch with no cross-grain scratches.
· Clear-finished hardwoods should be matched in color with no glaring differences.

· Gouges, dents, drips or sagging surface, and sanding scratches all indicate poor attention to quality.
· Mismatched wood colors will only grow more glaring with age.
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Choose Your Material: Wood

Many different wood species available in a wide range of color hues. Can be repaired and refinished. Photo by Wellborn

CONS: Seasonal movement may cause doors to twist and some types of joints to open and close. Can be expensive.

Choose Your Material: Metal

Usually fabricated from durable stainless steel. Easy to keep clean. Won't corrode. Also available with powder-coated finishes in a variety of colors. Photo by Lasertron

CONS: Surface may dent, and stainless steel may show fingerprints and smudges.
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Choose Your Material: Laminate

PROS: Relatively inexpensive, the surface is easy to clean and nonstaining. Offers a neat, contemporary look. Photo by Armstrong

CONS: Surface chips are not easily repaired. Can't be refinished. Plastic surface may not appeal to everyone.

Choose Your Material: Thermafoil

PROS: Inexpensive. Made of heat-fused vinyl over a core of engineered wood. Easy to clean and low maintenance. Photo by Kraftmaid

CONS: Limited color selection. Wood look-alikes don't appear entirely natural. Surface can be damaged by high heat.
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