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Kitchen Cabinetry 101

Cabinets are the key ingredient in any kitchen. They will influence the look and feel of the heart of your home more than anything else because it's not only the most visible part of the kitchen, but the "Meeting Place" of every home. Picking the right cabinetry is essential in creating your kitchen's personality. Here's a little Cabinetry 101 to help you get started choosing the right products for your cabinet design.

KraftMaid Natural Wonder Kitchen

This Natural Wonder kitchen from KraftMaid® featuring Evergreen and Barley finishes offers rich earthy tones and a clean modern look.

Stock, Semi-Custom and Custom Cabinets

When you think stock, semi-custom and custom, don't think of these choices in terms of the level of quality, because fine cabinetry is available with all three - as is poor quality. These terms simply designate the type of production method used to make the cabinet. Simply put, stock cabinets are mass-produced, semi-custom are stock cabinets that can be slightly altered and custom cabinets are built to order to meet individual needs and specifications. All three varieties are available in framed (a box with a frame surrounding the front edge) and frameless (a box with no face frame) construction. The cost of having your kitchen cabinets can start around $7,000 to $9,000 for stock and $14,000 to $18,000 for custom. With the amount of styles, materials, brand names, accessories and hardware out there, the price can quickly escalate.

Stock Cabinets
These are the plentiful cabinets, because they're produced in large quantities on a mass production scale. Cabinet manufacturers, dealers and home improvement centers stock pile large quantities of cabinet parts so cabinets can be assembled quickly. Not wanting to miss out on a piece of the pie, stock cabinet manufacturers have greatly improved and expanded its product line to include a nice bounty of sizes, shapes, styles, wood species and finishes. The drawback to using stock cabinets is that you can't make any modifications, so what you see is what you get. You may also find you come up a little short in width and height (filler strips are used to fill the gaps). Stock cabinets still remain the most popular choice because they're affordable and readily available.

Semi-Custom Cabinets
Semi-custom cabinets are a stock line of cabinets where simple modifications will be made at the time of production. Semi-custom also offers you more choices when it comes to style, construction materials and colors. You can be a little more creative when going semi-custom by choosing some unique built-ins like pullout bins, lazy susans, matching interiors and inverted frames. Be sure to ask the manufacturer if this option is available. Be thorough with semi-custom because changes can be very expensive and increase delivery time (which is already a month or more) and they may not be returnable if they don't fit.

Custom Cabinets
Don't be fooled by the word custom or think that you will be able to draw a design and have it made to your specifications, because that is hard to find (and very, very costly). In the real world of manufactured cabinetry, custom can mean anything from slight modifications to elaborate add-ons. Most manufacturers start out with a basic product line offering cabinets in standard sizes and customize from there. The big difference between a semi-custom and a custom manufacturer is the number of changes they are willing to make to their product lines. Most manufacturers offer a large selection of finish options, trims and storage configurations and accessories. Be patient if you go custom because it can take 12 weeks or longer before your cabinets are delivered and in many cases payment in full is required when the order is placed.

Cabinet Doors

You should enter the cabinet selection process through the doors. Their style, color, and décoration will contribute most to your cabinets' overall look. Be sure that your countertops, flooring, and other design elements complement the cabinets you choose. The first thing you need to decide is the material you want to use and how you want to finish it off.

Wood doors remain the preferred entree, not just because they're so plentiful but because they're durable, beautiful and versatile. The top woods are oak, maple, cherry, hickory and pine. If you're having a hard time deciding what natural wood you prefer, ask yourself what kind of grain you like. If you prefer a hardwood with a tight grain and a strong pattern that darkens when exposed to light, you'll want to go with cherry. Maple is a light hardwood with a tight grain and less noticeable pattern, while oak is a light hardwood with an open grain and striped pattern. For a more open grain with a strong pattern and random knots you can go for pine - just remember it's a soft wood and shows dents and scratches easily. The odd wood out is hickory because it has very dramatic grain patterns and color variations.

Shaping The Door - Slab, Raised and Recessed Panels
When it comes to deciding the shape of your cabinet doors you can choose to go flat, raised or recessed in a pattern that can be plain and simple or intricately carved. Slab is a flat door style that gives the appearance of a solid piece of wood with no raised or recessed profile. They're usually made out of several pieces of solid stock lumber and joined with an adhesive. If you opt for laminate slab you'll get a door made of substrate material and then covered with laminate. The best way to understand the look of a recessed panel is to think of a picture frame with a flat panel. The frame can be attached to the panel by using a mitered joint, tenon and mortise joint (similar to tongue and groove) or cope and pattern joint. These panels are easy to decorate and popular when made with a groove. A raised panel is constructed in the same manner as a recessed panel except it's given an edge by cutting it dimensionally and then routing or shaping the desired edge profile, like square, Cathedral or arched.

Finishing it off
Thanks to hi-tech finishing techniques used by cabinet manufacturers, cleaning your cabinets is no longer a major household chore.

By using polyurethane finishes, particularly those that are heat catalyzed, your cabinets should only require a good dusting or wiping. Think longevity, when you choose your finish, because a clear finish will show the natural changes in wood over time, while staining the wood in its natural color will lock that shade in forever.

Behind The Doors

Know All Your Panels - Side, Back, Top and Bottom
Now that you've satisfied your taste - aesthetically speaking - it's time to get practical and learn about what's behind the doors. After all, a cabinet is just a box...and the quality of the cabinet lies in the construction of the box, not the door. As a rule, when it comes to cabinetry - you get what you pay for. High-end cabinets are usually always high quality and low cost cabinets are just that - poor quality. The majority of cabinet manufacturers offer several different levels of prices based on quality. Don't forget why you need cabinets in the first place - storage.

Your storage area is usually combined of a series of individual boxes, joined together side-by-side. Boxes that sit on the floor (base cabinets) are covered with a countertop, and may have all drawers, doors, shelves, pull-outs or a combination of these. Sink bases almost always have doors, but no shelves or drawers, leaving the interior space open for the sink and plumbing.

Boxes that hang on the wall, are called wall cabinets, and offer storage above countertops and appliances using shelves.

The panels (sides) that make up the box need to have enough strength and structural integrity to keep the box from falling apart. In the base cabinet, the side panels support the full weight of the cabinet on the floor in framed cabinets.

It may surprise you to learn that solid wood is rarely used for cabinet panels. This is because solid wood tends to warp over time when exposed to moisture. Engineered wood, particle board, furniture-grade flakeboard, medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and plywood are more stable than solid wood, and are used in the majority of cabinets. To help make the panels more water-resistant and durable they're usually treated with special chemicals. All of these material have an excellent reputation for durability and screw-holding power, especially plywood. So before you make you're final decision, be sure to look at the quality of its panels - all of them.

It may not sound like a big deal now, but when you start washing dishes or preparing a meal you'll want to know that your toekick board was installed properly. The toekick is a recessed area at the front of the cabinet near the floor that allows you to stand close to the counter. It also adds support to the cabinet floor and keeps unwanted critters out of your cabinets.

Your drawers will likely be made of solid wood or MDF, have framed or flat slab fronts and be held together by dovetail, mortise-and tenon or butt joints. Thing big, when you think about your drawers, because that's usually the first place where storage space is never enough. A top drawer should be able to support at least 75 pounds.


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