One of the most important rooms in the house, in terms of appeal and value, is the kitchen. The kitchen is often the center of entertainment, family dinners and an absolutely critical room to everyday life. You may look in a kitchen and see the shining counters, slick appliances and other features and think you’ve seen the most important parts of the room. However, one of the most valuable yet under-appreciated aspects of a great kitchen is a set of well-made cabinets. But, what does a well-made cabinet even mean? For the most part, they all look the same.
Not all cabinets are created equal. The problem is that if you don’t know what makes a great cabinet, you might be fooled. Good cabinets are made to look like good furniture, but we often don’t know how to judge accurately. Here are some things to look for that will help you separate a bad cabinet from a good one.
On the surface, the appearance of a cabinet may be a valuable tool for determining quality. The face of the cabinet (any part visible when the piece is closed) should be clear of all defects like color differences, sanding scars, etc. Other details to look for include the stiles and rails of the face frame should be joined with long tenons and deep mortises. This makes it so that the line where the separate pieces of wood meet almost disappears. At the same time, you should also check that the drawer fronts and flat door panels are cut from a single and solid piece of wood. Make sure that all doors are straight and not warped.
Another area to check is the end panel or the side of the cabinet exposed to view where the cabinet ends. Here, you want to check that solid wood has been used and was picked to be a similar color and have a similar grain to the rest of the cabinet. Also, you want to be sure that the end piece is attached to the frame of the cabinet with screws attached from the inside out so they are not visible.
The drawer section of a cabinet is also important. There are a couple of things to check for here. All sides of the drawer should be a minimum of 5/8″ thick and routed with a groove that supports the base. Also, at all corners the joints need to be dovetailed.
The carcass of a cabinet is the plywood box that makes up the inside of the piece. Wood thickness is something to check here as well: you want the side and floor panels to be at least ½” thick and the shelves of plywood should be at least ¾” thick. Lastly, the floor and back should fit into a routed side panel.
This is a good outline for checking for a well-made cabinet. However, the difference of a good cabinet and a great cabinet lies in the details. The problem with the details in the cabinet is that they are not readily visible. If you know what to look for, however, you can make sure you get the right cabinets. The hinges should be your first point to check. Hinges on a well-made cabinet should be tunable so that the cabinet doors align with the surrounding face-frame.
Floating panels should be the next thing you ask about. These are the panels on the doors and anything exposed to the eye. They should have deep grooves with the panels not glued into the grooves in the frame which allows them to expand or contract with conditions.
Drawers must be supported by two mounted slides instead of just one that runs underneath. This allows the drawers to be far stronger, carrying a load up to 75 pounds and fully open. If you have the option, the drawer slides should run on nylon bearings because they are quietest.
Good craftsmanship can be seen in the frame to carcass joints. Good frame to carcass joints should have the following aspects. The stile at the bottom corner of the face frame should have a wide groove which locks onto the side panel of the carcass. Similarly, the narrow groove of the rail will line up with a matching groove in the cabinet floor. Biscuits in these grooves attach the rail to the floor.
The last detail to check is the shelf locks. You should be able to adjust all shelves and they should be supported by metal brackets as opposed to plastic ones. A locking device should keep everything in place after adjustment.
With an eye for the signs of good craftsmanship, you will be sure to get a well-made kitchen cabinet.
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