Cabinets are basically designed in two categories: Budget-priced and Custom. There is a middle category called semi-custom but it doesn’t have anything to do with the construction of the cabinet, it has to do with the available sizes and stain colors.
Your budget cabinetry is made out of as much particle board as possible to keep the price down. Particle board is not a good product for the box, or the shelves, or the tops, or the bottoms of a cabinet. The goal would be to have the least amount of particle board as possible. A good quality cabinet has no particle board in it at all. It has plywood veneers, MDF veneers, or other types of veneers or solid woods. That is how you tell the difference: look and see, with the top removed, how much of it is particle board. Every cabinet manufacturer has a specification sheet with an exploded view of the cabinet and how it’s made, every part is identified. I’m pretty sure it’s like a Cabinet Manufacturer Associations Pledge to Honesty. No one would lie about the way their cabinet is made. It’s just a matter of what you are looking for: Quality or Price?
Next are the Doors themselves. Everybody makes a face frame that is of solid wood, and most offer a door that is solid wood, but with some companies, the door itself is MDF (which is not bad) or a combination of real wood and veneers, where the center portion is veneer and the outer portion is real wood. Those are going to be lower quality and less durable. A lot of companies that are making furniture that you see in furniture stores are made that way. Where the appearance is very nice (the shine and the color), but the quality is very low and they don’t last.
The real question is: how long are the cabinets going to last? Again, like countertops, moisture is the enemy of a cabinet. And the more particle board you have in the manufacturing of the product, the more it is going to fall apart when it’s exposed to moisture. A quick example would be the sink cabinet. As you know, everybody’s sink once in a while drips water underneath, you don’t notice it, and it eventually rots out the bottom of the cabinet. If that cabinet was made out of plywood, it would last a lot longer than if it were made out of particle board. As a matter of fact, a lot of companies are now selling a vinyl covering for their particle board sink cabinets to try and stop the water from penetrating when it drips. So that is something you could look for.
The next thing about cabinetry quality would be the drawers. Drawers can be made out of particle board, MDF, plywood, or solid wood. It doesn’t matter to me what it’s made out of, because they all are rated to hold approximately 75 or more pounds. The rating of the drawer is based on the drawer guide, not the drawer itself. A lot of companies are showing and pushing 5/8” thick, full dovetail, solid birch, pine or maple drawer boxes. They are pretty to look at, but they’re just holding your silverware. If you had a particle board drawer, it still holds silverware. What makes the difference is the drawer glide system. If you have a weak glide system, eventually the drawer is going to fall off. If you drop a drawer and it’s made out of particle board, it will break. If it’s made out of dovetail solid wood, it will bounce. You can put it right back in and it won’t be a problem. But most people don’t drop the drawers so it’s really not an issue. If you have broken your drawer, then the manufacturer is going to get you a new one. Or any reface company can make you a new one relatively inexpensively and put it in. I’m not necessarily condoning particle board as a drawer box, I’m just saying it doesn’t matter that much.
How do you know if you have a good drawer glide system?
Well, you can look at them. The ones that are bigger are better. The ones that are real thin are not going to work for the long run. Visually inspect it: you can tell a good one, a more expensive one, from a cheaper one. As a general rule, the ones that are mounted on the sides are cheaper, and the ones mounted underneath are better. Some of them are very sophisticated where they close by themselves, soft-close they’re called – when you give them a little nudge, they finish closing on their own. Those are the high-tech ones. If the drawer opens all the way out, full-extension, they are more expensive than if the drawer opens ¾ of the way out.
Your standard, side-mount drawer guide is real flimsy, the drawer shakes if you wiggle it, and it only extends ¾ of the way. Your stronger ones are full-extension, they don’t wobble as much, and then your soft-close are the best.
I recommend a nice looking drawer that is durable. And usually if you are buying an all-plywood cabinet it’s going to come with a plywood or solid wood drawer box. If you’re buying an all particle board cabinet, it’s going to have a particle board drawer box. And they will have upgrades available just to upgrade the drawer box.
A lot of cabinet companies, Kraftmaid for example, will give you a particle board box, but then they offer you a plywood side on all exposed sides. Between the cabinets where it doesn’t matter it is particle board, but everywhere you can see is plywood with a veneer. So that is an interesting option that they offer. The problem is that by the time you take a particle board box, and add your plywood sides as an upgrade (they make a lot of money on their option upgrades), you could have just as easily bought a plywood cabinet to begin with. So there is really no reason to take a particle board cabinet and try to upgrade it. Just buy a better cabinet to begin with. Obviously different cabinet shops are going to give you different advice, there are 1,000 different brands of cabinets out there.
What I advise is to look at the box of the cabinet without a countertop on it (so you can see how it’s made), or an exploded view from their pamphlet, ask about plywood vs. particle board, and look at the shelves and see how thick they are (they should be a minimum of 5/8”, I wouldn’t recommend any ½” shelves because they warp).
Feel free to stop by our showroom for a hands-on look at all the different cabinet styles that Dave has discussed, from particle board to soft-close systems, we have the right cabinet for every style and budget. Located at 29325 Harper Ave. in St. Clair Shores, Kopke Remodeling & Design is known for happy customers, good quality products, and fair prices. 586-777-6633
+Dave Kopke, President and C.E.O., Kopke Remodeling & Design, Kitchen and Bath Remodeling and Window and Door Replacements in Greater Detroit