2. Wood species. Today cabinet makers offer plenty of choices regarding the wood used in your cabinets. Couple the wood choice with the number of stains and finishes, and the combinations are almost mind-boggling.
Oak – A long-time favorite that has recently slipped in popularity. This wood offers a large and prominent grain that makes Oak so distinctive. Medium hued stained are typically used.
Cherry – Very popular recently although more expensive than most other species. It has small even grain. If you see a section of very light wood, replace the piece as this is the sap wood. Cherry can be stained naturally (clear), but traditionally it has been stained dark with deep red tones to play up the natural red color of the wood. Cherry is also unique as it will darken as it ages.
Maple – With an even grain, Maple is known for its light color, one of the lightest of all wood species. As a result, most people use Maple with a natural stain or a very light stain.
Birch – Given its light color and even grain, many people mistake Birch for Maple. It too is usually stained natural or light.
Ash – Often used for painted trim due to its color variations, people are now using Ash to turn its varied color into interesting cabinets with natural to medium stains.
Painted – More expensive and custom painted cabinets will use a high quality hard enamel paint. Mass produced and even semi-custom cabinets frequently use a thermofoil laminate over the wood substrate, especially for white and almond cabinets. This finish can range from very high gloss to a very small “pebbly” look. With custom painted cabinets, you can also have two color tones or rub offs where a second color shows through (almost like highlights) in areas that have literally had the top coat of paint rubbed off.
3. Doors. Cabinet doors should always be solid wood for the best quality. (Thermofoil painted doors can be applied to a particle board or MDF – synthetic wood – substrates.) Styles abound with different profiles, accents, plain, and fluted. Cathedral style doors (with an arch at the top) are usually onky used on upper cabinets. When you are looking at cabinets, make sure that no gaps exist between the joints or mitered (45 degree angle) cuts. Check that the doors are plumb (lay flat) and square (90 degree angled corners). Also look for any cracks in the wood. Any defects like these should be sent back and replaced.
4. Drawers. Many lesser quality cabinets can look great once they are hung as most doors are usually pretty good and solid. But open the drawer to get a true idea of the cabinet’s quality and craftsmanship. The best cabinet drawers have dove-tail joints. These are like teeth that fit together and give added strength to the corners. They also should be glued and even nailed with wire brads (small nails with practically no head). Cheaper cabinets will just put two perpendicular pieces together and nail them. Over a few years the opening and shutting (or banging, if you have kids) of the drawers will loosen the nails, and the joint will begin to open, and the drawer begin to fail.
In addition, the best cabinets use metal drawer guides. These can be on the sides or bottom of the drawer. Metal withstands greater pressure and bear to break or bend unlike plastic will becomes brittle with age and wear.
With custom cabinets, you can also choose drawers that slide all the way out unlike standard drawers which stop about 3/4 to 7/8 of the way.
5. Frames. Very few makers use sold wood frames. Why? It’s extra money for parts that aren’t seen. Particle board, MDF, or plywood is typically used in all except the front frame which should be solid wood to match your door. Sometimes the front of the frame will be veneer (a think slice of finish wood laminated to a plywood substrate). If an end is butting up to another cabinet, it is frequently left unfinished – like the back – except in out of the box cases. Sides are usually finished with a veneer. However, I have also seen cabinet sides finished with a wood-look vinyl laminate on really cheap cabinets. For a truly finished look in custom or semi-custom cabinets, order a wood panel like a door front that will be added to an exposed side.
6. Refrigerator or dishwasher panels. With custom cabinets, you can also order fronts for your appliances. Be sure to check that your make and model allows for cabinetry and provide the model and specifications to your cabinet maker.
Choosing cabinets involves many decisions. It helps to be prepared and knowledgeable before you start the purchasing process. However, your cabinets are truly one of the most elements of your kitchen design and look so take care to make the best decision.