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How to Determine The Quality of A Cabinet

What to look for and what to look out for?

There are many different kitchen cabinets that you can choose from when you decide to remodel your kitchen. The ebb and flow of the market tend to force the companies with the cheaper quality cabinets to charge less for them while allowing the companies with the highest quality cabinets to charge a lot more. Unfortunately, when it comes to kitchen cabinets, like with so many other industries, the price does not always reflect what you are getting.

Shouldn't the Most Expensive Cabinet Also have the Highest Quality?

There are dozens of reasons why you might spend a lot of money on a product that lacks quality. Sometimes it is bad timing; the market is working fine and you happen to buy some seriously overpriced product because the shady company hasn’t gone out of business or been forced to alter their prices yet. Sometimes it can be an issue with perception. In your eyes you overpaid for a decent item from a popular reputable company when you could have paid half as much for a product that performs equally well. But at the same time other consumers would have gladly paid the price that you paid to get the brand recognition that you get from the most popular and recognizable brand. Sometimes you might feel like you completely overpaid for something because you bought a product that cost more because it has a particular feature that you later find out that you will never use. Other times, companies with low quality products have great marketing. Whatever the reason for the issue, people often find themselves trying to avoid buying items that are not worth what they paid. People also find themselves looking for the highest quality item in an industry where quality is either subjective or even deceptive. In ALL of these cases, the best way to navigate your own path to a positive outcome is to be informed.

What about Kitchen Cabinets?

There are a lot of things that you should look for when shopping for quality kitchen cabinets. Custom made cabinets are the most expensive followed by semi-custom and then ready to assemble, or RTA. Logic would dictate that the quality you can expect to find in custom cabinets will always be superior to semi-custom and RTA. While most custom cabinets do represent good quality products, it is important to note that a lot of semi-custom and RTA companies offer high quality products that rival or surpass their custom cabinet counterparts. You might pay 3-5 times more for custom cabinets that are a lower quality than some RTA cabinets. So regardless of what kinds of cabinets you are looking for, quality is quality. Here are many of the features and factors you should be aware of when you are looking for quality kitchen cabinets.

Construction and Attention to Detail

When you first see a cabinet that catches your eye, you are probably looking at the doors and face of the cabinet; so let’s start there. The single most relevant and noticeable difference between traditional American cabinets and European cabinets is that the American style cabinets have some kind of face frame that attaches to the front of the cabinet body where the doors will be attached. Euro cabinets tend to have large flat panel doors that simply attach directly to the cabinet body. Regardless of which style you are looking at, open and close the doors and drawers to see how they sit in their resting position. Are they straight? Are there gaps between doors that should be touching? One of the most popular American style cabinets is the full overlay cabinet. These cabinets should have doors that cover the entire frame of the cabinet with only the smallest amount of space between doors and drawers. Many companies will call their cabinets “full overlay” when the excessive gaps left by their mediocre craftsmanship leaves you with a cabinet that is more of a standard overlay.

Doors and Frame

As long as the doors are in your hands, see what kind of wood was used for the frame and doors. Quality American cabinets will be made from a hard wood. Walnut, Cherry, Birch, Oak, Maple, Rubber tree, and Mahogany are all fairly popular hardwoods for kitchen cabinets. Look at how the door is made. Most companies use a five piece frame and panel design for their doors. If the door is painted, look at the corners and see if there is any cracking or chipping around the corners where the pieces of the frame come together. This is a common problem for companies with doors of less than stellar quality. Regardless of whether the door is painted or stained wood grain, check the edges of the center panel on the door. Many companies have trouble keeping the unfinished or unpainted edges from peeking out from under the frame once the wood starts to expand.

Drawers and Hardware

Next, you’ll want to look at the drawer and all the hardware for the doors and drawers. Most people what hinges and drawer tracks with soft close mechanisms. These do not cost prohibitive. In fact, it could be considered a red flag for modern cabinets which do not have them. Some of the quality cabinet makers will use under mount drawer tracks or some kind of integrated tandem drawer tracks. Both of these products keep the tracks off the sides of the drawers which makes for a more attractive look when the drawer is open. Make sure the drawer box is made from a hard wood and has dovetailed corners. Run your fingers along the actual dovetails to see if they have been hastily stuck together or if they are flush. While you are looking at this stuff inside the cabinet, look at the shelf in the cabinet. Many companies will cut corners by putting a thin 1/2 inch shelf instead of a sturdier 3/4 inch shelf.

Cabinet Body

You need to inspect the cabinet body as well. It is very important. Most companies use some kind of engineered wood panels for the body of the cabinet. Premium Plywood is one of the best materials to use to make a strong sturdy cabinet body. For high quality cabinets I would look for plywood side panels that are at least 1/2 inch thick. (But preferably thicker!) Many of the European style cabinets use 3/4 inch thick panels for extra support and to match the thick end panels that are used with those styles. The important thing about quality cabinet bodies is to be aware of the various ways that companies will cut corners on their lesser products. Beware of any cabinets that use particle board on ANYTHING! Particleboard does not belong on cabinets. MDF is much better than particle board and it makes very good door panels for flat panel cabinets like most Euro style cabinets. However I would not consider any cabinet that uses MDF for the cabinet body to be a quality cabinet or a sturdy cabinet. Many companies will also save on their material costs by using thin 1/4 inch or 1/8 inch panels for the cabinet bodies back panel. This is a poor substitute for the full back panel that should be as thick as the sides and rest of the body.


Once you have looked at all the tangible tell-tale features of the cabinets, you can start to look for a couple of the other potential issues. See what kind of warranty the company is providing for their cabinets. This is a good reflection of how long they believe their own product will last. Although this is not a direct reflection of the cabinet itself, I would also suggest that you ask the cabinet salesman as many questions as you can. See how knowledgeable they are about their own products and then try to get a feel for how they think their product stacks up to the competition. These probing questions can also help you get a feel for how much faith they have in the cabinets they are selling you.

Hopefully, some of this information can be helpful for you to get the quality cabinets that you are looking for. Quality cabinets significantly improve your kitchen. Your kitchen will not only look better and last longer, but it will be more functional every day that you are using it.