Birch cabinets © D Friedman at Guide to Assessing the Quality of Kitchen or Bathroom Cabinets

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Kitchen & bath cabinet quality, hinges, hardware evaluatin: this article provides a guide for evaluating the quality of kitchen or bathroom cabinets.

We examine the types of cabinet boxes (framed and frameless), types of cabinet shelf material, types of cabinet drawers and drawer slides, the most visible cabinet components: cabinet doors and drawer fronts (frame and panel cabinet doors, high-pressure plastic laminate cabinet doors and drawer fronts, painted wood cabinet doors or drawer fronts, thermofoil (RTF) doors), and the basic types of cabinet hinges.

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Guide to Assessing the Quality of Kitchen or Bathroom Cabinets

Oak cabinets © D Friedman at Our page top photo illustrates a good quality solid birch cabinet. At left we illustrate oak cabinets built on a particlboard case and finished by the owner. Purchased un-finished these cabinets were low cost to buy and install.

As explained in Chapter 6 of Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction:

Assessing a cabinet’s quality is not always easy due to the large number of components involved and the fact that much of the material and joinery is concealed.

One good indication of overall durability is certification by the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association, which has a rigorous testing and certification program that measures such things as structural integrity, shelf strength, hardware durability, and quality of finishes.

Also, many manufacturers offer two or three grades of quality. Comparing the specifications of each line can provide a good idea of what the upgrades are and whether the added expense is worthwhile. The main components to evaluate are covered below.

Types of Kitchen or Bathroom Cabinet Boxes

Figure 6-44: Face Frame Cabinet (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

The cabinet box, or carcase, makes up the body of the cabinet and gives it structural integrity. Typically, the only visible parts are end panels, portions of the interior, and the front edges in frameless cabinets or faceframes in framed cabinets (Figure 6-43).

[Click any image or table to see an enlarged version with additional detail, commentary & source citation.]

With either type of cabinet, the price is driven by the materials, hardware, and assembly techniques. The cheapest cabinets typically use 1/2 - to 5/8-inch particleboard with a vinyl or melamine face. Better quality cabinets use medium-density fiberboard (MDF), and the best generally use 1/2- to 5/8-inch plywood. The facings on better cabinets are usually high-pressure laminate or real wood veneer.

With some cabinet lines, it is possible to order plywood sides only where needed, for example, on the sink base and wherever there is an exposed end panel, which might be subject to wetting or the occasional dent or nick.

Backs and floors if cabinets range from flimsy 1/8- or 1/4 -inch hardboard to thicker particleboard, MDF, or plywood (in order of stiffness). The finish inside the cabinet is typically vinyl or melamine. Cabinet bottoms should be rigid enough not to flex under the weight of pots and pans.

Finally, look for securely installed corner blocks or stretchers across the top of the cabinet to hold it square during shipping and installation Some high-end cabinets have a full-size top panel to reinforce the top of the box.

Guide to Types of Kitchen or Bathroom Cabinet Shelves

Shelves in cabinets range from 1/2 -inch particleboard, which will bow under the weight of dishes, to 3/4 -inch plywood. Plywood is the strongest shelving material, followed by MDF, then particleboard.

In base cabinets, look for full depth shelves or roll-out shelving. Wall cabinet shelves should be adjustable and have solid clips, preferably metal. In general, shelves are designed to support a uniform load of 15 pounds per square foot (psf) for kitchens, 25 psf for closets, and 40 psf for bookshelves. If loads are likely to exceed these, upgrade to a stronger shelf (see Table 5-11, page 186).

Types of Kitchen or Bathroom Cabinet or Counter Drawers

It is important to have solidly built drawers, since they get a lot of use and abuse. High-quality drawers typically have solid hardwood or poplar sides and backs, with minimum 1/4 -inch plywood bottoms glued into dados. In the best cabinets, drawer sides are dovetailed or dowelled to the front and back and the drawer front is a separate piece screwed to the box.

Respectable drawers are also built with sides of 1/2 -inch or thicker plywood or melamine stock dowelled together. In lower-end cabinets, drawer sides are often particleboard or MDF wrapped in vinyl and nailed or stapled and glued together, with a particleboard or hardboard bottom. Also many lower-quality cabinets use the drawer front as the front of the drawer box, a weaker detail.

Types & Choices of Drawer Slides

All drawer slides, even with the same rating, are not alike. Look for heavy-duty epoxy-coated components with ball-bearing rollers that operate smoothly and quietly. At a minimum, use three-quarter extension drawer slides rated to carry 75 pounds.

Consider upgrading to full-extension slides rated for 100 pounds, particularly for any large, deep drawers. Under mount slides have the advantage of helping to support the drawer while remaining out of sight. Side-mounted slides that wrap around the drawer bottom also provide good support.

Guide to Types of Cabinet Doors and Drawer Fronts

Vinyl-clad cabinet face and doors © D Friedman at Doors and drawer fronts are the most visible part of a kitchen and take a lot of abuse. Many cabinet manufacturers buy doors and drawer fronts from large specialty door manufacturers, so they may not reflect the overall quality of the cabinets.

When selecting a material and finish, consider durability and ease-of-cleaning as well as appearance. Frame-and-panel wood doors are typically more expensive than laminate or thermofoil doors.

At left our photo illustrates an inexpensive stock cabinet system comprised of vinyl-clad cabinet facing and doors and particleboard carcases. These cabinets are quite heavy.

Figure 6-41: Shower drain connection installation details (C) J Wiley, S Bliss


Figure 6-44


Frameless cabinets typically have full overlay doors, while framed cabinets may have doors that are inset, rabbeted, or overlaid partially or fully (Figure 6-44). Rabbeted or partial-overlay doors are the easiest to fit and adjust since they have considerable play.

Inset doors provide an attractive furniture like appearance, but they are also a common cause of callbacks, since the slightest movement in cabinets or hinges can cause the doors or drawers to rub. Full-overlay doors also need careful adjustment, since they have only about an 1/8-inch gap to the next door. Fortunately, most are hung with easy-to-adjust cup hinges.

Guide to Types of Cabinet Hinges

Good quality hinges are sturdy, smooth to operate, and easy to adjust. Undersized or poor quality hinges, on the other hand, can lead to sagging or rubbing doors and are a common problem with low-end cabinets.

Figure 6-45: Cabinet Hinge (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Barrel and knife hinges © D Friedman at


Cabinet Hardware Manufacturers List

Accuride International Ball-bearing drawer slides

Amerock Corp. Comprehensive catalog of cabinet hinges, pulls, slides, and accessories

Grass America Cup hinges, slides, shelf supports, and storage accessories

Hafele America Cup hinges, ball-bearing slides, pulls, and KD connectors

Mepla Inc. Cup hinges, ball-bearing slides, drawer systems, shelf supports, and KD connectors

Hettich America Cup hinges, ball-bearing drawer slides, shelf supports, and KD connectors

-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.

Also see CABINETS & COUNTERTOPS This article describes common defects found at installed cabinets and countertops.

This article series discusses current best design practices for kitchens and bathrooms, including layout, clearances, work space, and accessible kitchen and bathroom layout, clearances, turning space, grab bars, controls, etc. We include advice on choosing and installing kitchen countertops, cabinets, and kitchen or bathroom flooring, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures and fixture controls such as faucets. A list of kitchen and bath product manufactures and sources is included.


Continue reading at CASEWORK, CABINETS, SHELVING INSTALLATION or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

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