Characteristics of a High Quality Kitchen Cabinet

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Beautiful cabinets are the background of every great kitchen. But with cabinets, beauty should go more than veneer-deep. High-quality kitchen cabinets need strength, durability and, above all, usability much more than they need to be beautiful. It is difficult, but not at all impossible, for anyone to identify a good quality kitchen cabinet without depending on what the salesperson tells you.

KCMA Certification

  • Look first for KCMA certification in your kitchen cabinet. The Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association certifies only cabinets that meet their standards of quality. KCMA certification is not a guarantee that cabinets will meet your needs, however, and the lack of KCMA certification does not mean that a given set of cabinets is poor quality. You need to look beyond the certification.

Solid Construction

  • The most important quality of great kitchen cabinets is the material they are made from. You want plywood or solid wood construction, not particle board or MDF. Cabinets come with wood thicknesses that generally range from 3/8 to 3/4 inch; thicker wood means better construction, but a 1/2 inch plywood will be better than a 3/4 inch particle board.

Quality Reinforcing Corner Gussets

  • Corner gussets are those pieces of wood you find in stress-bearing corners. Most often, they are equilateral right triangle-shaped pieces of wood, with the peak of the triangle in the corner. Large corner gussets give strength but take up a bit more room. Gussets that are shaped like trapezoids (a five-sided shape resembling a triangle with the peak nipped off) are generally better than triangles because the longest side is longer. Good-quality gussets are made of solid wood or pressboard and are at least 2 inches wide from peak to long side (or an inch wide, in the case of the trapezoid gusset). Gussets should fit snugly in corners even before cabinets are put in place, with no wiggling or gaps.

    Look also for corner braces, square lengths of wood on the bottoms of cabinets used to strengthen those bottom shelves or other fixed-position shelves. Corner braces should be of the same quality as corner gussets.

Thick Panels and Shelves

  • Side, bottom and back panels should be about 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide.Thin panels are lighter but do not provide as much rigidity and are more likely to break. Though some cabinets come with thin back panels, don't skimp there; the weight of your cabinet and all its contents will be supported on the strength of this back panel.

    Shelves should be similarly thick (somewhat thinner is okay, but try to keep it no thinner than 3/8 inch) and be held up with adjustable metal brackets, not wood or plastic. Longer, wider brackets should hold up larger shelves or shelves you know will carry a heavy load. Anchor holes for brackets should be bored deep into the cabinet sides, and brackets should fit firmly in the holes. Sturdier, but less attractive, are shelf standards. These metal strips run from top to bottom of each side in your cabinets, punctuated with holes to hang supports from. Cabinets with well-concealed shelf standards are likely to be top of the line.

Dovetail Joints in Drawers

  • If you don't know what dovetail is, interlace your fingers to make a single fist. See how the fingers hold together? Dovetail joints will look similar to this at the side corners of well-made drawers. This sort of joint uses friction, not just fasteners, to hold its shape, and is often stronger than the wood used to make the drawer.

    Try to get solid wood construction in your drawers as well; failing that, at least make certain your drawer construction material matches or exceeds that of your cabinets. Drawer bottoms should be of strong material as well, a quarter to a half inch thick, and they should be dadoed (fit in grooves along the drawer sides) rather than stapled or nailed to the bottom of the drawer.

Drawer Slides

  • Take a good look at your drawer slides. Metal ball-bearing based slides are always better than nylon or plastic slides (even if they're louder), and top-mounted slides will allow wider drawers in the same space. Be really rough with drawers; bang them around, lean on them when you pull out the display drawer, and treat them in all the ways you would not treat your own. The drawer should remain stable and steady through it all and still slide out smoothly. If the display drawer is broken, don't listen to any story the salesperson tells you---try a different model.

    Look at how far out the drawers come as well. You want to be able to overextend the drawer, especially lower-level drawers; the further out they come, the easier it will be for you to bend over and access items in the back. With each drawer, pretend you're fishing small items out of the very back when you open them so you can determine for yourself how far they need to come out.

    Finally, look at load rating. Average drawers are rated at 75 to 100 pounds of weight; higher ratings are better, and in fact should be required for extra-wide drawers and high-capacity drawers like those built to hold trash compactors.

Cabinet Finish

  • Finally, go for a great cabinet finish. A good veneer or stain is important, but most important is your cabinet coating. Look for a lacquer or varnish that is catalyzed, has high solids content, and contains a UV protectant. These finishes will best protect your cabinets' appearance from the sometimes harsh conditions in your kitchen.

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  • Photo Credit kitchen image by Rich Johnson from Fotolia.com
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