What to Look for in Kitchen Cabinets

kitchen cabinets

Table of Contents

Most people focus on the color and style when choosing new kitchen cabinets. That alone can be overwhelming, since kitchen cabinets are available in a wide range of designs. However, you want your kitchen cabinets to last for a long time because they can represent a significant amount of change. For this, you want to purchase them from the more established brands carried by a reputable supplier. Even then, you should know what to look for in quality kitchen cabinets.

Box and framing

cabinet box diagram
A kitchen cabinet is essentially a box that opens on one side. The difference between a good cabinet that will last for years and a bad one that will deteriorate within a short space of time is the solidness of the box and the framing. You can usually check the material and construction of these in the sample cabinets in Cabinets City showroom before you purchase, and again when you get them before installation.


Most kitchen cabinet boxes today are made of some type of engineered wood rather than solid wood. This is because solid wood is more expensive than engineered wood, and they tend to warp more easily. The box could be medium density fiberboard or MDF, particleboard, or plywood encased in a laminate, wood veneer, or other type of cover. If you choose a framed cabinet, the frame itself may be of solid wood.
Occasionally, you will find cabinet boxes made of stainless steel. This is a viable option if you have a modern or industrial-style kitchen as stainless steel cabinets do not have a problem with water damage or temperature fluctuations that wood cabinets do. However, stainless steel cabinets look odd in more traditional kitchen styles. They also pick up fingerprints more easily than wood cabinets do, so you will have a problem with keeping it looking pristine.


The essential thing about the construction of the box and framing is in the reinforcement method. This is keeps the box in a stable shape. This issue only applies to cabinets that are not made of stainless steel, which get their shape during manufacture.
For wood-based cabinets, you might see one of various reinforcement methods. A common one is using triangle brackets positioned at the corners of the box. The brackets may be of engineered wood or plastic.

Another reinforcement method is placing a beam brace inserted into a trench cut into the side or back panels of the box, also called a dado slot. These slots run the length of the panel, whether the sides or the back, to hold the box firmly in place.
Either one of these methods is a good construction method. The brackets or the dado slots allow the wood to expand and contract when the temperature changes without damaging the wood. A bad method of reinforcement is using an adhesive to keep the panels in position, because this does not allow the wood any type of movement, and may result in the wood cracking at the point of adhesion.


different cabinet doors
Aside from the box, the cabinet door is the other essential part of the kitchen cabinet. That differentiates it from open shelving. Below are some features of cabinet doors you should know when picking out new ones.


In most cases, wood cabinets would have solid wood doors. Some lines do offer engineered wood with a veneer for doors, and these work just as well if you want a bit more flexibility. If you choose solid wood doors, you want to highlight the grain, so you would only choose to stain or varnish them.

If you want something painted, the most popular door material is MDF, because you can do anything you want with it as you would solid wood without chipping or fraying. This is not the case for particleboard. However, you cannot stain MDF, as it has no grain associated with solid wood doors. You can choose one with a wood veneer that approximates the type of wood grain you want, or you can paint it.


Wood cabinet doors come as either slab or framed styles. A slab door is usually a solid piece of-based material cut precisely to fit over the cabinet box for frame-less cabinets or the frame for framed cabinets. Some slab doors may actually comprise of several wood lengths pieced together with adhesive to present a solid piece, and may or may not have some type of veneer or laminate to hide the seams.
A framed cabinet door typically has five panels. Four of them are narrow pieces of wood material that forms a frame, and the fifth panel forms the center. The panels have slots and grooves that fit to form the door, and good construction allows for a bit of expansion and contraction when assembled. The term cabinetmakers use for these types of framed doors is floating panels. A good example of a framed cabinet door style is Shaker cabinets.


cabinet shelf parts diagram
While kitchen cabinets do not have to have shelves to qualify as a cabinet, they do serve an important function. Shelves not only maximize the space inside the cabinet by dividing it strategically, they also provide additional support for the structure. Shelves also help to distribute the weight of the contents of the cabinets. Here are some things you need to know about cabinet shelves.


Engineered wood is a common material used for shelves, usually covered in a veneer or laminate to make maintenance easier. The thickness of the shelves is typically between ½ and ¾ inches, but you want thicker ones if you choose extra-wide cabinets to keep the box from sagging.


Reinforcement is an important aspect of shelves you should check out. You want one that has a rail or strip running the length under the shelves to keep them in place. Many mass-produced cabinets will not have this added feature. If you find them in the stock or RTA cabinets you are considering, this is a good sign. If you are looking at semi-custom or custom cabinets, make sure you insist on having this extra reinforcement put in.


drawer dovetail joints
An efficient way to plan your storage is to specify drawers for some base cabinets. Drawers have moving parts, so you want to inspect it carefully to make sure they are durable and functional.


Most drawer boxed are engineered wood, although you might want to spring for solid wood ones. It may be worth it, as drawers take a lot of opening and closing. You could offset the cost a bit by choosing engineered wood for drawer fronts. Some cabinetmakers also offer stainless steel drawers disguised with an epoxy coat to lend wood base cabinets, so that is one super durable option you can consider.


Construction of the drawer is more important than the material when it comes to durability. Wood-based drawers typically have five separate parts: the front, back, bottom, and sides. Cabinet manufactures use one of several ways to put these parts together.
The recommended method for assembling the drawer parts is with dovetail joinery, which connects the corners of the drawer tightly. Another common method is using dowels reinforced with adhesive, which is not as strong, but requires much less precision than dovetail joints. Look for trenches or dado slots cut on the bottom panel, design to fit the side panels. This is a much better way than using adhesive or nailing them on.


Choosing good quality kitchen cabinets requires just a bit of common sense and practical knowledge, and these tips should help with the latter. It is also a good idea to deal only with reputable cabinet suppliers, so you have some peace of mind. Cabinets City can ensure you make the right decision. We can advise you on the best cabinets for your kitchen.

We are a reliable cabinet supplier servicing the Chicago, Schaumburg, Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Hoffman Estate, Elk Grove Village, and surrounding areas. Always  we deliver on time, so you will not have to worry about keeping your schedule to stay in budget.
We carry some of the best brands in the country, from RTA to custom cabinets, and at the best prices compared to Cabinets To Go and Advance Cabinets. These include Schrock, Fabuwood, J and K, Forevermark, and Wolf Cabinets, each of which come with manufacturer warranties.

Give us a call for a free consultation and quote, or visit our showroom in Mt. Prospect, Illinois. We can give you what you need faster and better than big box stores.

Bayram Gulsen

Bayram Gulsen is the owner of Cabinets City. He always had this passion to redefine cabinetry to be at its best along with his dedicated team and the author of Cabinets City blog: You can find Bayram on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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