A kitchen cabinet is basically a box with a front attached. The cabinet front includes the face frame, doors, hinges and drawer fronts. The cabinet box includes the back, sides, top, bottom, drawer boxes and glides, shelves and the interior lining.
Cabinet components will vary in quality and thickness depending on the manufacturer. Assembly methods greatly affect the quality of the final kitchen cabinet.
When selecting cabinets, pay careful attention to the components and assembly. It is particularly important to examine the drawer box, since that is one of the first parts to fail in low cost kitchen cabinets.
Backed by ceiling-high glass mosaic tiles, the stainless range hood and floating shelves become light and airy style features.
Cabinet Face Frame
Only present in a framed cabinet style, the face frame is the front of a kitchen cabinet and is made usually from solid hardwood, about ¾” thick by 1½” wide. The vertical frame pieces are stiles and the horizontal pieces are rails. In high-quality cabinetry the stiles and rails are joined by dowel or pocket screw joints, both stable and durable construction methods. Inexpensive frames may be stapled together. (Frameless cabinets are also referred to as Euro cabinets.)
Doors and Drawer Fronts
Doors and drawer fronts in mid and high-quality cabinets are made from solid hardwood. Inset-panel doors are framed with hardwood at least ¾” thick. The width of the stiles and rails will depend on the style, and may range from 1½” -3″ wide. The frame holds a center panel in place. The center panel material will vary depending on the style and finish of the door.
Raised center panels with stained wood finishes will be constructed of multiple hardwood pieces (staves) glued together. The panel should be at least ⅝” thick and placed in the frame using soft grommets that allow for expansion and contraction of the hardwood.
Painted inset-panel doors will use medium density fiberboard (MDF) center panels for a smooth finish. The MDF will resist expansion and contraction during hot and cold climate changes therefore minimizing hairline cracks that may otherwise occur with the change in seasons.
Recessed (flat) door styles with stained finishes may use either a plywood veneer MDF center panel or reversed raised solid wood panel.
Hinges will vary greatly depending on the door style and cabinet type. High-quality hinges are a must with kitchen cabinetry. Over its lifetime, a door may be opened and closed tens of thousands of times. On a full-overlay door, a good hinge will be concealed (unless exposed for style), have a built-in soft-close door function, open at least 105˚, be constructed of steel with a nickel-plated finish, and have six-way adjustability (up/down, in/out, left/right) and, if the door is left 20 to 30 degrees open, gently close the door without assistance.
Drawer Box and Glides
The quality of construction in the drawer box and glides is extremely important. This is not a place to cut corners. As an example, a loaded silverware drawer typically carries 20 pounds and is opened four to six times a day. That means that in one year, the drawer will be opened and closed over 2,000 times and carry a total of 15 tons of dead weight!
The standard for quality in American cabinetry calls for a drawer box with solid hardwood sides and back at least ½” thick, built with dovetail joints. The bottom should be plywood and fully captured, that is set in grooves on all four sides.
Other drawer boxes may be constructed with particleboard, plastic, metal or plywood sides. The sides of the less-expensive box will meet at butt or rabbet (notched) joints secured with staples. Drawer-box material and joint construction is an important consideration, since the joints and drawer bottoms are among the first things to fail in low-end kitchen cabinetry.
Drawer Glides (Runners)
As a rule, if you can see the drawer glides, they are not high quality. Drawer glides should be steel, ball-bearing, under-mounted (concealed) with a buffer (self) closing system. The glides should support at least 90 pounds while opening and closing smoothly. The drawer glides should also provide full access, meaning the interior of the drawer extends beyond the face frame of the cabinet completely exposing the contents.
Drawer glide systems that use epoxy-coated metal with nylon rollers, center-mount glides or side-mount glides rarely provide full access. Instead, about 25 percent of the drawer remains inside the cabinet, making it difficult to reach the contents of the back of the drawer. Side-mounted glides also reduce the width of the drawer, thus reducing storage space. Side-mount glides are never soft close.
Interior Finish Material
Kitchen cabinet interior and shelf surfaces should be non-porous, wipe-clean, and tough enough to last the life of the cabinets without staining, bubbling or showing wear. Except for glass-front cabinets, where the interior is matched to the exterior for style, a light-colored interior is preferred, as it makes it easier to see the contents of the cabinet. Standard interior surface materials include melamine and melamine laminates. Melamine is a smooth, tough polymer that can be applied to plywood, particleboard and wood veneers.
Be wary of wood veneer interiors for storing dishes. Wood veneer is naturally porous and rough, and the finish will be subject to wear. A wood veneer interior or shelf surface will absorb moisture, stain easily and trap soil in the grain of the wood. The finish will not tolerate strong cleaning solutions. Wood veneer will become damaged by residual moisture from dishwashers, excessive humidity, greasy cooking fumes and dirt or food particles that collect in the porous surface of the wood.
Common materials for cabinet shelves are plywood and particleboard. Since cabinet shelves bear weight over long periods of time, strength is a primary consideration. Plywood is stronger and lighter than particleboard. Base cabinets will have either full-depth or half-depth shelving. Half-depth shelving, the less expensive option, provides less storage space. The minimum shelf thickness is ½” but ¾” (18 mm) is preferred.
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