Tips on How to Select Your Cabinetry

custom kitchen cabinets

If you are contemplating a kitchen renovation, a major consideration will be the selection of the cabinets. There are many cabinet suppliers, each offering different types and quality of cabinets, and it can be difficult to compare products unless you know what you are looking for.

Different manufacturers have different construction methods, and most have a certain type of construction and materials they consider “standard” while other features are offered as “upgrades.” When comparing quotes, it is essential to know what is included in the price. Most of all, it is important to identify what attributes are important to you.

Here is a primer on cabinet materials and construction, and some of the elements that affect the quality and price.

Materials. The first thing to consider is what the cabinets are made of.

Most cabinetry sold today has a melamine interior, which is usually white. Some manufacturers may offer a melamine interior that looks like natural maple, for which they may charge extra. A more expensive option is for the cabinets to be built of plywood with a wood veneer such as birch.

If you have any cabinets with glass doors, you will probably want the interior of the cabinet to match the exterior. Having the interior finished to match the outside will usually cost you extra.

Visible parts of the cabinets such as exposed sides and the interiors of open shelves will match the colour and texture of the doors, but it is important to find out whether these parts of made of woodor a melamine that mimics the look of wood. People are often disappointed to discover, when their cabinets arrive, that they are actually plastic on the outside, rather than real wood.

In general, though, you should be aware that the more wood used, the more expensive the cabinets.

Next look at what the drawers are made of.

The most common materials for drawers are melamine, plywood, solid wood, and metal. Again, you will pay a premium for wood. The cost of metal drawers varies depending on the system used. Melamine is offered as standard by many cabinet manufacturers, and is a durable, affordable option.

Finally, consider the wood species used on the cabinetry, which affects the doors, mouldings, and usually any open shelves or exposed ends.

Maple is currently the most popular, but oak is making a bit of a comeback, albeit in darker tones and more contemporary door styles than those of the 80’s. Oak is also less expensive than maple, and tends to be on par with woods such as alder and birch.

On the pricier end of the scale are woods such as cherry and walnut. For the environmentally conscious, bamboo is also available for significantly more money, and at a very limited range of suppliers.

Your designer or salesperson can help you decide which wood species is best for you. The most important characteristics to consider are the texture of the wood (grain, knots, colour, etc.) which will affect the overall look and style of the room, and the hardness or softness of the wood.

Of course the other option is to not use wood at all, but rather a melamine imitation, as discussed earlier. Many economy-grade cabinets are available with boxes, doors, and mouldings that are made of MDF (medium density fibreboard) covered in a melamine or vinyl that mimics the look of wood.


selecting cabinetry

Maple cabinets with solid wood doors and a dark finish.

The next element to consider is the way in which the different parts of the cabinet are constructed. Certain methods of cabinet construction are more time-consuming and therefore more costly than others.

Check to see how the cabinets themselves are constructed. Many cabinets are built today using special European assembly screws, which is considered a strong and reliable construction method. More traditional methods involve joining the parts using dowels or biscuits and glue. On the other hand, cabinets that are nailed or stapled together will be less durable.

Like the cabinet boxes, drawer boxes are made using different types and quality of construction. One well-known joint for drawers is the “dovetail,” which is considered one of the strongest joints in woodworking. However, you will pay more for this type of drawer, and other types of construction can meet your durability requirements.

Check, also, to see how the bottom of the drawer is attached, whether it is inserted into a groove on the sides of the drawer, or simply stapled to the bottom of the box.

Finally, the way the door is constructed will affect the cost of the cabinet. The primary door styles are flat panel, raised panel, and slab.

Most flat-panel and raised-panel doors are made of a solid wood frame with a centre panel. The difference between the two is that flat-panel doors have a 0″ thick veneer centre panel, whereas as the raised-panel doors have a 0″ panel made of solid wood, and therefore cost more.

You can also purchase cabinets with MDF doors that have been routered to look like a flat-panel or raised-panel door.

Slab doors are simply flat. They may be made of solid wood, veneer, melamine or MDF. Unless they are solid wood, they will usually have an applied edge around the perimeter of the door. The important thing to look at here is the thickness of the edge – the thicker the edge, the more durable the door will be.


The hinges and drawer slides are another important element to make note of.

Ideally, hinges should be six-way adjustable, meaning the door can be adjusted up and down, in and out, and from side to side. This will ensure that the doors can always be adjusted to look straight and square.

It is also convenient if the hinges have a quick-release mechanism, allowing you to remove the door if necessary, without unscrewing the hinges.

An upgrade offered by some suppliers is a slow-closing hinge, which causes the door to close slowly, and means that it cannot be slammed by excited children or angry spouses!

One of the most common drawer slides used are metal rails with nylon wheels. A higher quality slide is one which uses a ball-bearing carriage system. You may also come across side-mounted ball-bearing slides. Some consider the side-mounted slides less attractive because, unlike undermount slides, you can see them when you open the drawer. However, they are extremely durable and hard-wearing.

Many slides can be upgraded to full-extension, which allow the drawer to open past the front of the cabinet, allowing better access to the back of the drawer. Like hinges, drawer slides can also be equipped with a slow-close mechanism.

Stock Vs. Custom

selecting cabinetry

Most cabinets sold at home centres and other box stores are what are known as stock cabinets. They come in a somewhat limited range of sizes and styles, which means that they may not offer all of the cabinet sizes, styles, or storage accessories you need.

Also available are semi-custom cabinets, which usually offer a wider array of sizes and accessories, and may allow you to customize the height, width, and/or depth of the cabinets, at a price.

A custom cabinet shop is most likely to be able to give you exactly what you are looking for. You may also find that the attention is more personal, and the price more affordable than you think!

How do I choose?

While people will argue which types of cabinets are “better,” the important thing is to identify the features that are important to you.

If superior quality is your main objective, you will want to focus on the construction and the hardware and materials used.

If cost is your primary consideration, you may opt for melamine cabinets with standard construction and hardware, and choose to forego decorative and storage accessories.

If you are after a specific “look,” you will want to focus on finding a supplier that can provide you with the door style, finish, and decorative accessories you want.

If function and organization matter most to you, look for a cabinet line or manufacturer that offers a wide array of storage options.


The last thing to note is the finish on the cabinets. As previously discussed, some cabinets are finished with a thermofoil or melamine, but the comments here relate to stained or painted finishes.

The cost of the finish will depend largely on the amount of work required to achieve it. So a clear finish will be the least expensive, whereas the dark finishes that are currently popular are often more costly because they usually require various layers of finish in order to achieve them.

An aged look can be obtained by physically distressing the cabinets (e.g rubbing the edges, or intentionally creating marks or dents). A glaze can also be applied over the primary stain or paint colour, which gives the impression they have been darkened or faded by age. These “antiqued” finishes are considered premium, as they are usually done by hand and require a considerable amount of time to achieve them.

Check the top coat used on the cabinets. Ideally it should be a catalyzed finish, in which a chemical reaction causes the finish to “cure” (or harden) rather than just dry.

Look for a supplier with knowledgeable designers or salespeople who can help you to identify which cabinets will be most suitable to your lifestyle and budget. Finally, be sure your supplier stands behind their product, and will give you the level of service you deserve.

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