Primer on Kitchen Cabinets, Part 2

In Primer on Kitchen Cabinets – Part 1, we outlined some of the current trends in cabinet design. In this Part 2, we’re going to get specific about the various elements of cabinets, typical dimensions and measurement rules-of-thumb, and a buying guide – what you can expect to pay at differing levels of construction design and complexity.

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With the exception of drawers and a toe-kick, an upper and lower cabinet share the same basic elements.

Cabinet elementsCarcass. Cabinet box; supports weight of countertop and items on its shelves. Corner Braces. Keep carcass square during transport and installation. Door. Four types: flat panel (shown), raised panel, slab, and glass front. Drawer. Moves on metal glides fitted to the sides or bottom. Face Frame. Stiles and rails that stiffen the carcass and provide a mount for hinges. (Not present with full overlay doors.) Hinge. Can be visible or hidden, depending on door type. Toe-kick. Closes gap at cabinet base and provides a recess for feet.


What do They Cost? Stock cabinets start at $35 per linear foot, the length of the horizontal run that they cover. Semi-custom cabinets start at $90; custom ones start about $150 and go way up from there. Can You Install Them Yourself? A skilled DIYer with a helper or two can put in stock or semi-custom cabinets. Custom ones should always be left to the pros, in part to protect the warranty. How Long Will They Last? Properly installed and cared for, cabinets can last until you’re tired of them. Warranties on craftsmanship and materials (not finishes) range from two years to “as long as you own them.” How Much Care? Wipe drips promptly with a damp cloth. Never use abrasive sponges or scrubs, and avoid cleaners containing bleach or ammonia. Tighten or adjust loose hinges as needed.

Cabinetry Rules of Thumb

While cabinets can be configured in myriad ways, they’re typically built and installed using well-established dimensions. Follow these guidelines during the planning stages to imagine how your kitchen will look and function. Standard Measurements

1. Distance between countertop and upper cabinets: 18 inches 2. Upper cabinet depth: 12 inches 3. Lower cabinet depth: 24 inches 4. Countertop overhang: ¾ to 1 inch 5. Countertop height: 36 inches 6. Kickspace: 4 inches high, 3 inches deep

Buying Guide: Stock

Good for:  Tight budgets and fast turnarounds; some require assembly. Limited selection of styles, configurations, and finishes. Sizes:  Widths for uppers and lowers change in 3-inch increments. Heights vary in 6-inch increments on uppers; lowers are fixed. Materials, hardware:  Carcasses are typically ½-inch MDF (medium-density fiberboard) or particleboard sheathed in melamine; doors are usually MDF covered in thermofoil or wood veneer. Drawer glides tend to be lightweight metal and don’t allow the drawer to fully extend. Buy them from:  Home centers and home outfitters, such as IKEA. Allow one to five weeks for delivery. Cost:  Starts at $35 per linear foot.

Buying Guide: Semi-custom

Good for:  More discriminating tastes and deeper pockets. Get any style, configuration, or finish, as long as it’s in the manufacturer’s catalog. Sizes:  Widths for uppers and lowers usually change in 1-inch increments. Heights vary in 6-inch increments on uppers; lowers are fixed. Materials, hardware:  Carcasses are typically ½-inch MDF but can often be upgraded to plywood. Doors can be solid wood or MDF with thermofoil or wood veneer. Full-extension drawer glides are side-mounted. Buy them from:  Home centers or kitchen showrooms. Allow five to six weeks for delivery. Cost:  Starts at about $90 per linear foot.

Buying Guide: Custom

Good for:  Kitchens where a precise fit, more configuration options, and fine detailing matter more than the price tag. Sizes:  Built to any width or height you want and with any finish, hardware, or wood species that catches your fancy. Materials, hardware:  Typically ¾-inch furniture-grade plywood for the carcasses; door and drawer fronts are usually solid wood. Full-extension glides can be under-mounted and have a soft-close feature. Buy them from:  Kitchen showrooms or local cabinetmakers. Allow eight to 10 weeks for domestic cabinet delivery, 14 to 16 weeks for imports, and eight weeks to six months for a cabinetmaker. Cost:  Starts at about $150 per linear foot.

Buying Guide: Used

If you’re patient (or lucky) and willing to compromise on the fit, finish, or style, you can score a set of custom or semi-custom cabinets for less than the price of stock. Watch Craigslist, or visit stores that specialize in reclaimed home goods such as Habitat for Humanity’s national ReStore network. Give them a thorough inspection and keep your cash if you discover any of these problems: out-of-square carcasses, delaminating veneers, cracked door panels, and, unless you’re willing to paint everything, major flaws in the finish. Missing or damaged hinges and drawer hardware are fairly easy to replace. Continue reading, Part 3 – Door Styles and Hardware Go back to Part 1 – Cabinet Primer Introduction

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