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Kitchen Cabinets Construction

When choosing kitchen cabinets, it is important to know a little bit about cabinet construction so that you can choose a style and quality that best fits your taste and budget. There are several parts to a cabinet, carcass or body, door, hinges, shelves and drawers. While browsing through cabinet catalogs, ask yourself what kind of materials you want for your cabinets and how you want them to look.

Choosing the Right Cabinet Materials

A good quality


will have the doors and frame made of solid wood and the cabinet box made of plywood. All parts are finished alike. These are the strongest and best materials for cabinets. Wood adapts well to humidity, is very durable and does not split, warp or swell like the other types of cabinet construction (particle boards, MDF or melamine). If you are buying ready to assemble (RTA) cabinets, it would be best to buy ones that have grooves so that the wood has freedom to expand without splitting.
Particle board is a high-density wood made of pieces of wood mixed and glued together. It is an inexpensive alternative to solid wood, but can warp, sag, or split over time. Because of the changing temperatures and moisture in a kitchen, particle board cabinets will eventually need to be replaced or repaired.
MDF, or medium-density fiberboard, is similar to particle board since it is also an engineered wood. It is made of compressed and glued wood chips and sawdust. It is heavier than plywood and is susceptible to the same damage as particle board. MDF also contains formaldehyde, which may cause lung irritation when cut or split. Kitchen cabinets made from MDF will also need to be replaced or repaired after a few years of use.
Melamine is a plastic substance made from white crystalline solids and formaldehyde. The problem with melamine is that once it is scratched or cracked, it cannot be repaired like solid wood and plywood.

If you can afford it, solid wood and plywood are the best materials available. However, if you are on a budget, you can consider the cheaper alternatives.

Kitchen Cabinet Doors

There are three types of

kitchen cabinet

door materials that are available, thermo foil, recessed panel with veneer centerpiece and 100 percent solid wood.
Thermo foil is a mixture of wood and plastic used to lower production costs. It is not as durable as solid wood and is easily affected by humidity and high temperatures. Thermo foil doors are almost impossible to repair with stain or putty if damaged.
Recessed panels have a solid wood frame with a veneer centerpiece that is thinner and less durable than solid wood. This type of construction is also used to lower production costs.
Doors made of 100 percent solid wood are the strongest style. They most often have a raised centerpiece. One hundred percent solid doors are the best option, if you can afford to purchase them. However, if you are on a budget, you can consider the other options.

Full- or Partial Overlay?

A full-overlay cabinet door covers the majority of the face frame, leaving ¼ inch or less reveal. These cabinets are also known as European style.
Partial overlay doors leave ¼ inch or more reveal. As far as door construction or materials, these two styles offer the same amount of support. The only difference is the look; therefore, choosing between full-overlay and partial can be based on style preference alone. Partial overlay is affiliated mainly with older kitchen styles.

Hinges: Concealed and Exposed

The two types of hinges are concealed and exposed. This is merely a stylistic decision. Concealed hinges are attached on the inside of the cabinet so that they are not visible when the door is closed. Generally, if you prefer full-overlay cabinets, then concealed hinges are the only choice because of the small reveal. Exposed hinges are more old-fashioned. They attach to the face frame of the cabinet and are visible when the door is closed.

Drawers and Joints

Good quality drawers generally allow people to access all available storage space when the drawers are open. The three big drawer decisions to make are hardware, joinery and height.
Drawer hardware can be full- or partial access. Full-access drawer hardware allows the back of the drawer to pass the cabinet face frame. This allows people to reach the back of the drawer easily. Partial access drawers do not pass the face frame. About two inches of the back of the drawer is partially covered.

Next is joinery. There are two types of woodworking joints to consider: butt joint and dovetailed joints. Dovetailed joints consist of a series of cuts that look like dove tails that interlock to create a strong joint that is difficult to separate. With dovetailed joints, there is no exposed connecting hardware, such as staples or screws. Butt joints do not interlock and require a visible connecting hardware such as staples, nails or screws to re-enforce the joint. A butt joint is two pieces of wood butted together at a 90 degree angle.

After choosing the hardware and the joint, next is the depth. Deep and shallow drawers always refer to the top drawer in a base cabinet. Even though deep drawers can hold more volume, the drawer face is usually the same as shallow drawers, meaning that the outside remains the same. Choosing between deep and shallow drawers depends on the volume of the items you wish to store. For larger items, deep drawers are the best option. But shallow drawers work best for smaller storage items such as silverware and cutlery. Naturally, cabinets with deeper drawers will cost more than shallow ones.


There are two types of shelves for both base and wall cabinets, fixed and adjustable. Adjustable shelves are the more flexible choice, because you can maximize space by changing the height of each shelf to fit the height of the stored items. Once fixed shelves are attached, they cannot be changed. These shelves are more commonly used in basements and closets.

Base cabinets have the additional option of half or full shelves. Since base cabinets are always 24 inches deep, a half shelf is usually twelve inches deep. In order to maximize storage space full shelves are better, however some people choose half shelves in order to have better access to the bottom shelf, or the floor of the cabinet. A pullout shelf on the bottom of a base cabinet along with a full depth shelf will maximize the storage space and keep all areas easy to reach.

Kitchen Design

Choosing a

kitchen design

may also help you decide what types of cabinets and styles you need and want. Modern kitchens tend to have full-overlay cabinetry with concealed hinges while traditionally styled kitchen cabinets have more reveal. However, many people choose to mix and match design styles with cabinetry. The options are endless. The main goal is to choose cabinets that will best suit your family’s needs and budget.


Here is a wish list to help you decide on what type of materials to choose for your cabinets. Keep the options quality, functionality, design and price in mind. If you must sacrifice one, the first to go is the joinery. Of course, it is better to have dovetailed joints, but not necessary. Butt joints are just as strong, the only difference is the visible connecting hardware on the inside. The outside face of the drawer will not show a difference. Partial access drawers also do not change the exterior look and can therefore be chosen as a budgeted option. You do not want to hold back on the cabinet construction. Cabinets made of particle board, MDF or melamine may end up costing you more in the long run and will not do much to increase the value of your home.


Construction Materials MDF Particle board Melamine Plywood
Doors Thermo foil Recessed Panel Solid  
Overlay Partial Full    
Hinges Exposed Concealed    
Drawers Access Partial Access Full-Access    
Drawers Joinery Stapled Dovetailed    
Drawers Depth Shallow Deep    
Shelves Height Fixed Adjustable    
Shelves Depth Partial Full    
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