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There are a lot of things to look out for when you are comparing cabinets. If you are just trying to find passable cabinets for a kitchen that you will be renting out or something you don’t care about then it’s easy because you just go with whatever works and whatever is cheap. But what about when you need to find high quality kitchen cabinets that will last. How are you to compare all the minute details when you can’t even see the cabinets or feel them with your fingers?
There are four necessary steps to analyze the quality of an online cabinet and its retailer. If you can try to go through these steps with each cabinet that you are seriously considering, then you should be able to determine which cabinet you will prefer. This may not be a perfect system but it is certainly enough to distinguish the different levels of quality between several different cabinets.
Most online cabinet retailers provide as much information as they can on their cabinets. Most retailers will have a page or multiple pages detailing what they consider to be selling points for their product. This part of the process is just like comparing cabinet quality in person but you have to trust what you see and read.
Quality kitchen cabinet should have bodies made from premium plywood panels that are 1/2 inch thick or thicker. If the side panels are less than 1/2 inch, the cabinets will be less sturdy. MDF panels can be useful for some cabinet parts, but the body of your cabinet should be all plywood.
Particleboard is a cheap heavy engineered wood that is made with sawdust and resin. Many lower quality cabinet manufacturers will use particleboard for the body or doors of their cabinets. Particleboard is a major red flag. There should be no particleboard used in any part of any kitchen cabinet.
Even if you have decent cabinets with decent bodies and doors, it is possible for the shoddy drawers of a cabinet to fall apart. Wooden drawers on quality cabinets should be made with solid wood rather than particleboard or MDF. The corners should be joined with dovetails, no exception. It will be hard to see from any pictures but zoom in and try to see if the dovetailed corner joints are flush or just squeezed together haphazardly.
Some of the more modern or European styled cabinets will feature metal drawers or drawers that are mostly metal. It will not be as easy to determine the quality of these drawers visually. Just like their wooden counterparts, you should check for soft close mechanisms in the drawer tracks.
Overlay cabinets are one of the most popular types of cabinets. Full overlay cabinets are cabinet that are designed with very little space between the edges of doors and drawer fronts. This kind of cabinet is particularly popular. When full overlay cabinets are made well there will be almost no visible frame showing from between the doors and drawers. If you are reading specs on a cabinet that says “Full Overlay” check the pictures to be sure that it is not a lazy overlay cabinet trying to be seen as a Full Overlay. This only applies to overlay cabinet and not to inset or flat panel cabinets.
Naturally you have to look closely at the doors. Quality doors should be made of hardwood. See what species the door wood (and frame) is made from. Walnut, Cherry, Mahogany, Maple, are all beautiful woods used to make cabinets. Birch and Rubber tree wood also make excellent cabinet doors and frames. Make sure the doors have quality hinges with soft close mechanisms, unless for some reason you specifically don’t want those features.
Many flat panel doors are made with MDF and covered in a surface material. This is a good exception to the hard wood doors because many of the surfacing processes would warp hard wood but do not on engineered wood. In this case, MDF is vastly more favorable over particleboard.
The back panel of the cabinet body is one of the first places that some companies will cut corners. Rather than giving their cabinet a full back panel of equal thickness to the side panels, some companies will use a ¼ or 1/8 inch thick skin panel as a back panel. These thin panels offer virtually zero support for the cabinet. As I touched on before, quality cabinets will use soft close mechanisms on their door hinges and drawer tracks. Another area where companies will try to save themselves money at your expense is in the door construction. Five piece doors have a center panel that some companies will make out of MDF or hardboard so they don’t have to spend as much on hard wood. There are a lot of companies out there that don’t care what they sell as long as they make money. These companies will polish a turd until it shines like gold. Be aware of ways that they will save money at the expense of your cabinets.
There are some things that you just can’t know without seeing the product in person. Cabinets and furniture are made of wood and at one point that wood used to be alive. So every piece of wood is a little bit different. Having a sample door to hold in your hand can drastically change the way feel about a color that you had chosen. A sample door will allow you to hold the door up to various other surfaces like countertops, backsplashes, and flooring to get a direct comparison. When you hold a sample door you can feel the wood and see the grain patterns in the wood.
Perhaps most importantly, the sample door is a sample of the quality of that company’s product. If it is a five piece frame and panel door, closely examine the areas near the corners of the door where the two frame pieces meet. Examine the seam and see if there is cracked paint or if the center panel has shifted to reveal any unfinished edges. If the door is an antique style then look over all the details in the raised woodwork. Look for any cracking or poorly joined wood. Generally speaking, your doors will look just like that sample door.
Believe it or not, talking to an online retailer’s staff can reveal a lot about the quality of the product they sell. First you can ask about their cabinets and see if they manufacture and sell the cabinets or do they only sell the cabinets. Quality customer service does not always equate to quality cabinets, but when a company has a good product and it wants to get it out there to the people, there is usually a noticeable level of professionalism that can be expected when you deal with them over the phone or emails. When you call, do they pick up the phone and if so, how long does it take for them to answer? If you have an issue do they seem to want to help you and fix the issue and are they knowledgeable about the industry and their own products. Are they designers who can help you plan out your kitchen before you make a purchase? Ask about their shipping and packaging and listen for how confident they sound about the delivery windows they give you. When you speak someone you should be able to get a hint about their confidence in their own product.
This is one of the easiest ones. You are already shopping online so use the resources that the internet makes available to you. If you would like to know about the quality of the cabinets at a particular company, look and see what other previous customers have said about them. Yelp, Google+, and Houzz all have information in the form of customer reviews. These sites foster a community of consumers and businesses that offer insight, suggestions, warnings, and recommendations. Many companies are also fairly active on social media. You can always see if there is any product info on the company's Facebook page, Instagram, or Pintrest. Sometimes you can find very helpful informative videos on Youtube. Online companies using Youtube videos are certainly not common practice but the site is used for “how to” videos like assembling their cabinets, “virtual tour” videos that welcome you to their store, and if you are lucky; some companies might have short videos pointing out the features of their cabinets and what they see as the major selling points.
If you are not able to find any useful information from those sites, you can try the Better Business Bureau, or “pay to use” sites like Angie's List. You will find reviews on Angie's List very similar to what you find on Yelp but you have to pay to have access to Angie's List. The “pay to play” aspect of Angie's List has an interesting effect on the quality and reliability of the reviews that you will find. Unfortunately this also means that the people leaving the reviews come from a more homogeneous group and there are usually far fewer reviews for each business.
By following these 4 steps you should be able to get a fairly good idea of which of the cabinets you find will be of the quality that you desire. Compare the features that are most important to you from one cabinet to another. If you can’t see or feel the actual cabinets then these steps should help you find quality cabinets so you don’t get stuck with decent looking cheap quality cabinets.