It’s completely understandable.
An updated kitchen allows you to enjoy entertaining, spend time with your family around the table, and eat healthy, home-cooked food.
That’s a whole lot better than hoping guests don’t ask to see your kitchen or heating up another TV meal!
Of course, updating your kitchen can end up being a waste of time and money if you don’t like the finished result. That’s why understanding kitchen cabinets and knowing which style you want in your kitchen renovation is so important!
At Misty Creek Woodworking, we understand how much you want to ensure that your investment is one you will be happy with for decades.
In this article, we will explore kitchen cabinets from top to bottom – so you can find the perfect fit for you.
Let’s get started!
Table Of Contents
Materials Used For Cabinet Construction
There are many options when it comes to cabinet design and style – especially if you are working with a custom cabinet shop.
However, nothing is more important than the materials the cabinets are built with. After all, no amount of gorgeous stain or stunning panel design can make up for cabinets that fall apart!
So, let’s take a look at materials that are commonly used in cabinet construction and then decide which materials are the best.
Hardwood and Softwood
Though there is a difference between hardwood and softwood, we use the terms simply to mean real, true-to-the-core wood.
For example: pine, cherry, willow, or oak.
Real wood is top of the line when it comes to cabinets, and as a result, is also more expensive.
Because it is more expensive, real wood is rarely used in constructing cabinet boxes. However, any high-quality cabinets will use real wood for the portions of the cabinet that are visible, like the face frame and door.
MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard)
MDF or medium density fibreboard is a product that is made from wood fibers.
In short, real wood is broken down into very tiny fibers that are then combined with wax and a resin binder to form panels of MDF.
There are some advantages to MDF. For example, MDF has:
- There are no knots or rings, which makes it consistent in strength and size.
- MDF has a hard, flat surface that makes it ideal for veneering. As a result, MDF can be made to look similar to real wood.
- MDF is less expensive than real wood.
In general, though, MDF is not a top-of-the-line product.
Here are a few reasons you may want to avoid MDF:
- It is dense – which means it is heavy.
- MDF is prone to swelling and breaking if exposed to water.
- It may warp in humid environments if it isn’t sealed.
- MDF is not as durable as real wood or plywood.
It may be acceptable to use MDF as a building material for cabinet boxes, but if you notice MDF on the face frames or doors of a cabinet, you should look elsewhere.
Particle board, also known as chipboard, is very similar to MDF. It is also a fiberboard (a board made from wood fibers), but it is lower grade than MDF.
It is less dense than MDF and therefore has less structural integrity. In fact, particle board is the weakest type of fiberboard, except for insulation board.
The main reason particle board is used is to cut costs.
Unless you are on a strict budget, we would highly discourage the use of particle board in the construction of any kind of custom cabinets.
Plywood is not real, solid wood – but it is produced differently than fibreboards. Rather than gluing wood fibers together, several sheets of wood veneer are glued together.
Here’s how it works:
- A long knife peels off a thin layer of wood in a continuous veneer sheet. Once dried, a thin veneer sheet like this is very strong in one direction (along the grain) and very weak in the other (across the grain).
- Several layers of veneer (generally five or seven) are layered together with the grain direction alternating between the different layers. Glue is used between the layers.
- The stack is heated and pressed to form a rigid panel.
Because the grain direction of the veneer layers alternate, the panel is extremely strong in all directions.
That’s why plywood is generally considered the second-best material (after real wood) when constructing cabinets.
And since real wood is more expensive than plywood, plywood ends up being the most commonly used material in constructing the boxes of quality cabinets.
Which Materials Are Best For Making Cabinets?
As you can see, there are various materials that can be used in the construction of kitchen or bathroom cabinets.
So what is the best cabinet material for you?
Here’s our recommendation:
Best material for cabinet boxes: plywood
Best material for face frames, drawers, and doors: real wood
These are the two materials that you will find on almost all high-end, custom cabinets. If you have the budget, cabinets made from these two materials will last the longest and look the best.
How To Know Which Materials Your Cabinet Is Made Of
Now you know that quality cabinets are usually constructed from real wood or a combination of plywood and real wood.
But how can you tell what your cabinets are constructed from?
There are few tips that can help you discern:
First, see if the wood has any kind of veneer on it. A wood veneer is a paper-thin cut of wood applied to the surface of an object to stabilize it and make it look like real wood.
To see if your cabinets have a veneer, look at the cut end or a cross-section of a piece of wood. If you see a thin layer on top of a solid core, you know a veneer is on that wood.
If your cabinets have a veneer on them, you are likely dealing with MDF or particle board.
The second thing to do is look at the end grain of the material you are working with.
- Real wood will have rings in the end grain
- MDF will look like very tightly packed wood fibers glued together
- Particle board resembles MDF, but the wood fibers are larger and less dense
- Plywood will have several visible layers of wood
And remember – if you are working with a cabinet builder, ask them lots of questions. If you aren’t sure what kind of material a particular cabinet is made out of, feel free to ask!
3 Common Cabinet Styles
There are 3 types of cabinets that can be found in most kitchen cabin layouts or even in bathroom cabinets.
- Base Cabinets
- Wall Cabinets
- Pantry Cabinets
Let’s take a look at each!
As you might guess, base cabinets rest on the floor and support other items like countertops, cooktops, and sinks.
The main difference between base cabinets and other cabinets is the indented space they have at the bottom of the cabinet. This space is called a “toekick” and allows you to stand at the cabinet without kicking them or stubbing your toe!
Since base cabinets are the most accessible in any room, they often act as the main storage areas and are more customizable than wall cabinets.
For example, a base cabinet can be equipped with a lazy susan or pull-out drawer, while upper cabinets often don’t have these capabilities.
When it comes to the dimensions of base cabinets, the height and depth are consistent, while the width is variable:
- Height: 34.5 inches
- Depth: 24 inches
- Width: multiples of threes between 9 and 42 inches
A helper for some kitchen functions, wall cabinets are located above the base cabinets and mainly provide storage space.
Wall cabinets can be open (no doors) or built with solid or glass doors.
Often, wall cabinets mirror the arrangement of the base cabinets, but not always. However, you’ll rarely find wall cabinets installed alone, without any type of base cabinets below.
While base cabinets are often used for storing large items like pots, pans, cookie sheets, and muffin tins, wall cabinets are commonly used for storing food items like spices, condiments, and canned goods.
Wall cabinet dimensions are similar to base cabinets because the height and depth are consistent while the width can change:
- Common heights: 30, 36, or 42 inches
- Depth: 12 or 24 inches
- Width: multiples of threes between 12 and 36 inches
A pantry is a designated area to store food – and while some people have large walk-in pantries, others opt to have an accessible pantry right in their kitchen.
That’s where pantry cabinets come in.
Cabinets that are described as pantries are taller than normal base cabinets. They likely include a varying number of shelves and additional gadgetry like lazy susans or internal drawers.
Pantry cabinets are often only available from custom cabinet builders, and as a result, their dimensions vary. However, here are some common dimensions of pantry cabinets.
- Common heights: 84, 90, or 96 inches
- Depth: 24 inches
- Width: Variable
The important thing when choosing different cabinet styles is to consider the layout of your kitchen and the footprint of your cabinets.
You should consider how much space you have and what you need to store. Also, remember to factor in appliances and decorations you might want in your countertop or kitchen walls.
With all these things in mind, you can find the right combination of base cabinets, wall cabinets, and pantry cabinets.
Cabinet Box Construction Types
Once you’ve decided what kind of cabinets you want in your kitchen or bathroom, you have to decide how you want the boxes or main structure of your cabinets constructed.
There are two major distinctions in the ways cabinet boxes can be built:
- Face frame construction
- Frameless construction
Face Frame Construction
Boiled down to the bare bones, every cabinet is simply a box. Some, of course, are quite fancy with doors, drawers, knobs, and fancy molding, but all cabinets still begin as a simple box.
Face frame cabinets or American style cabinets have a frame, usually made out of hardwood, attached to the front of the cabinet box.
This frame obscures the edges of the cabinet box and provides a fixing point for doors and other hardware.
The result is a traditional look – nicely finished cabinets with a small reveal between most doors and drawers.
Frameless cabinet construction is a European way of manufacturing cabinets that has become popular among American homeowners seeking simple, more contemporary cabinet designs.
In frameless construction, cabinets do not have a face frame attached to the front of the cabinet box.
After they have been installed, all you will see are the flat door and drawer fronts, providing a sleek, simple aesthetic.
Other benefits of frameless cabinets are more storage space and a lower cost (because less material is required).
However, neither face frame nor frameless cabinets are necessarily better than the other. You can get quality cabinets of either type – it mainly depends on your preference as to how the cabinets look.
Cabinet Drawer And Door Reveal Styles
Once you’ve decided which style of cabinet box you want, you can move on to choosing a door and drawer reveal style.
A cabinet reveal is how much of the face frame shows between each door and drawer and around the edge of the cabinet box.
You can choose a large reveal, no reveal at all, or anywhere in between.
Each type of reveal has a specific name – we’ll explore them so you can decide which one you like best!
A cabinet overlay refers to how much the cabinet drawers and doors overlay the face frame of the cabinet.
You might guess then that a partial overlay means that the doors and drawers only cover a portion of the face frame. This means there is a reveal between all the drawers and doors on the cabinet, allowing you to see the face frame.
Full overlay cabinets have drawers and doors that completely cover the face frame of the cabinet box.
Logically, a frameless cabinet box must be built in the full overlay style since there is no face frame to cover anyway!
Inset Doors And Drawers
Cabinets that have inset doors and drawers are on the same plane.
They have a face frame, but the doors and drawers do not overlay the frame at all. Rather, they are inset to be completely flush with the face frame.
Inset doors and drawers have a unique look but are difficult to manufacture and build. They are difficult to build because they have no overlay, which means everything is exposed, and the doors and drawers have to fit perfectly in the opening made in the face frame.
Cabinet Drawer And Door Profiles
It’s finally time to explore the design of the actual doors and drawers of your cabinets!
The way your drawers and doors are built is called a cabinet door profile.
If you are working with a custom cabinet builder, there are literally hundreds of profiles you can choose from. We can’t cover all the details that differentiate those styles, but we will discuss the major profile styles, so you have a good place to start.
Flat panel doors
The center panel of the flat panel door is flat rather than raised or contoured. These doors fit the traditional, transitional, and contemporary styles.
Raised Panel Doors
The center panel of the raised panel door is raised with a profile or contour. They work well in traditional or transitional design schemes.
Recessed Panel Doors
This door style is a cabinet door with a center panel that is slightly depressed.
This door style is a solid door with no frame or panel. You’ll find this style mostly in transitional, contemporary, or modern designs.
There isn’t one door profile that is higher quality than the others. Rather, your choice of cabinet door profile depends only on your own aesthetic preferences.
Congratulations! You’ve come a long way. You now know which materials are best for building cabinets, what kind of cabinet box you want, your preference for cabinet reveals, and which kind of cabinet panel design fits your taste.
If you’re ready to remodel your kitchen, you can confidently choose a cabinet you will love for years on end.
If you need a custom cabinet builder for your project, consider Misty Creek Woodworking. We build custom bathroom cabinets as well as any custom kitchen design. Our decades of custom Amish woodworking experience is available for you to use!
Just take a look at our many cabinet style and design options and see what you fall in love with!
When you’re ready to get started, the whole process is straightforward.
- Schedule an estimate. We’ll learn about the goals for your project and get measurements.
- Customize your project. We’ll work together to create a layout that works best for you.
- We’ll install. Our team of skilled Amish woodworkers will handcraft and install your cabinets.
Schedule an estimate or give us a call today. We look forward to hearing from you!