Cabinet Basics Part 5: Details of Quality Cabinets

Some cabinets are made better than others. While price is some indication of the quality of a cabinet, high price is not always a guarantee of high quality. Nor is a low price a sign of poor quality. The only way to tell if a cabinet is made well is to study the materials and the construction techniques used to build the cabinet.

Cabinet manufacturers have spent years balancing cost and quality. Wherever possible they reduce cost, without doing much harm to quality. But over the years some bad practices have crept in.

Here is a comparison of how we build cabinets compared to a typical large-scale cabinet manufacturer. Keep in mind, however, that not all manufactured cabinets are the same. Some are worse than average and some much better. The best rival custom cabinetry.

Cabinet parts illustration

Ⓐ Back Panel

Description:
Only the inside of the back panel is ever seen but it is structurally important because it gives the cabinet rigidity and resistance to racking (twisting out of square).

StarCraft Cabinets:
StarCraft cabinets feature 1/2" or 3/4" cabinet grade hardwood plywood backs, finished on both sides. May be finished in Melamine on the inside for easy cleaning. This rigid structure helps prevent racking and other cabinet deformation.

Factory Cabinets:
Thin, 1/4" particleboard veneered with printed vinyl to simulate wood grain, or with Melamine low-density laminate. Essentially a dust shield. Particleboard is not very rigid and the thin particleboard back can easily bend and deform using only manual pressure. The back provides little structural support.

Ⓑ Bottom Panel

Description:
This is the floor of the cabinet. In base cabinets with drawers or slide-outs it is never seen but it is very important to the structural integrity of the cabinet. A weak bottom panel allows the cabinet to twist out of square during handling and installation.

StarCraft Cabinets:
1/2" veneered hardwood plywood, finished on both sides, joined to end panels with dado joints, cabinetmaker's resin glue and cabinet screws.

Factory Cabinets:
1/2" thick 48 to 50-pound density particleboard, veneered with printed vinyl to simulate wood grain, or with Melamine low-density laminate, joined to end panels with dado joints and hot-melt adhesive. Screws (which do not hold well in particleboard) are rarely used.

Ⓒ Corner Gussets

Description:
Corner gussets add strength to the entire cabinet, help keep the cabinet from twisting out of square during transportation and handling, and are used to anchor the countertop to the cabinet.

StarCraft Cabinets:
Wood Gusset StarCraft uses 3/4" veneered hardwood plywood or hardwood lumber gussets for maximum strength.

Factory Cabinets:
Particleboard gussets, usually 1/2" thick, are used on most factory cabinets. Plastic Gusset Lower-end cabinets often use stapled-on molded plastic gussets. These are not very effective.

Ⓓ Drawer Glides

Description:
In a modern cabinet, the drawers are suspended on glides. Also called "guides" or "slides", these are metallic roller bars that allow the door to open and close smoothly. They come in several grades. The least expensive are 3/4 glides. These allow the drawer to open about 3/4s of the way. Full access glides allow the drawer to open all the way so everything at the back is visible. These are considered premium slides by most cabinet manufacturers.

StarCraft Cabinets:
Drawer Glide Full access soft-closing guides with up to a 150 lb rating. These catch the drawer when it is about 2" from closing and bring it to a soft close. This prevents the breakage possible if a drawer is slammed. This drawer cannot be slammed. Automatic opening drawers are available.

Factory Cabinets:
Some high-end factories use full access glides but the standard glide is still a partial extension 75 lb. glide, usually with nylon rather than steel bearings. Drawer Glide Most manufacturers offer an upgrade to full access glides for an additional charge.

Ⓔ End Panels (Sides)

Description:
End Panel

StarCraft Cabinets:
3/4" veneered hardwood plywood, finished on both sides, joined to front frames with carpenters resin glue and pocket screws for a tight, strong joint. If the end is exposed, then it is made of plywood veneered in the same hardwood as the doors. Optionally, it can be made with an integrated panel that resembles the cabinet's doors.

Factory Cabinets:
3/8" — 1/2" 48-pound density particleboard upgradeable to 1/2" plywood with laminate interior and veneered exterior, joined to the face frame with hot-melt glue and staples. If the end is exposed, some manufacturers glue on door blanks to dress up the end. These look like something that was glued on and is a "tell" that immediately identifies a cabinet as a factory rather than a custom cabinet.

Ⓕ Shelves

Description:
End Panel

StarCraft Cabinets:
Shelf StarCraft shelves are 3/4" hardwood plywood on steel shelf pins. The front edge is reinforced with a 1" or 1-1/2" strip of hardwood. These shelves will never sag. If they do we'll replace them without charge, no questions asked.
 Photo: Sawtooth Shelf Systems
An alternative shelf support system for heritage cabinets is the traditional "sawtooth" adjustable support used in kitchen cabinets until the mid-1940s when factory made pins and clips began to replace shop-made supports.

Factory Cabinets:
The standard factory cabinet shelf is 1/2" to 3/4" thick particleboard veneered with printed vinyl to simulate wood grain, or with Melamine low-density laminate, often supported on plastic shelf pins. Drawer Glide

Ⓖ Face Frames

Description:
Face Frame

StarCraft Cabinets:
Select cabinet wood, 3/4" or 7/8" actual thickness, dowelled, biscuit joined or joined with pocket screws and cabinetmaker's aliphatic resin glue for maximum strength. Upgradeable to 1" actual thickness in heritage cabinets.

Factory Cabinets:
Cabinet grade hard- or softwood, veneered particleboard or MDF, 3/4" actual thickness, dowelled or biscuit joined together with hot-melt adhesive. Some are stapled and glued and some are joined with special metal fasteners (used in Ready-To-Assemble cabinets) that are only as strong as the frame material itself, which, if particleboard or MDF, is not very strong.

Ⓗ Drawer Boxes

Description:
Drawer boxes undergo a lot of abuse and need, therefore, the strength that results from quality construction. Ours are designed to never fail. The construction we use is traditional with strong joints and reinforced stress points. If our drawer ever fails, we repair or replace it free of charge. Drawer

StarCraft Cabinets:
StarCraft drawers are built with 5/8" to 3/4" sides (depending on the size of the drawer) joined with full English dovetails to the front and back, and 3/8" or 1/2" bottoms fully rabbited into sides, front and back for maximum strength. Drawer If the style of the cabinets is not appropriate for dovetails, we use an equally strong machined overlap drawer joint developed in the early 20th century by pioneering Arts & Crafts Architects Greene & Greene for the cabinetry in their "Ultimate Bungalow" California houses. Either construction is guaranteed for life.

Factory Cabinets:
Drawers in better factory cabinets are dovetailed or made with a strong machine-made overlap locking joint and a thick plywood bottom. Particle Board Drawer The more common factory cabinet door has 1/2" thick particleboard sides lap joined with adhesive and stapled. Damaged Drawer  Damaged particleboard drawer. The bottom is typically 1/4" particleboard veneered with melamine. Usually upgradeable to plywood drawers. Some better-manufactured cabinets feature drawers with full English dovetail joinery.

Ⓘ Drawer (False) Fronts

Description:
The drawer "front" you see on a well-made cabinet is actually a false front that is attached to the drawer with screws. Drawer This permits the part you see to be adjusted independently of the drawer itself so it aligns with the other elements of the cabinet.

StarCraft Cabinets:
Unless the customer has selected a softwood as his or her primary cabinet material, StarCraft uses 3/4" hardwood on flush drawer fronts and 3/4" wood framing on framed drawer fronts. We typically use 3/8" cabinet grade plywood inserts in flat panel fronts and hardwood panels in raised panel fronts.

Factory Cabinets:
Better factory made drawer fronts are made the same way but low-grade factory drawer fronts may use 3/4" thick 48- to 50-pound particleboard veneered with printed vinyl to simulate wood grain, or with Melamine low-density laminate. Raised panel doors are usually hardwood but may be veneered MDF. Flat panel doors are typically veneered particleboard.

Ⓙ Cabinet Doors

Description:
Door

StarCraft Cabinets:
StarCraft offers 100s of standard door styles and can custom make any wood door style you can imagine. See Cabinet Basics Part 3: A Visual Catalog of Cabinet Door Styles for just a few of the many door styles available. StarCraft doors include 3/4" hardwood flat panel doors, hardwood frames and plywood inserts (solid wood available) on flat panel doors and hardwood inserts on raised panel doors. Thermofoil and other specialty doors are available including lattice, perforated metal, glass, art glass, and louvered.

Factory Cabinets:
Most factory doors are hardwood or MDF. Particleboard has fallen out of favor as a door material on all but the cheapest factory cabinets. MDF forms the core of most flush and Thermofoil doors, however. Hardwood frames and plywood inserts are the usual materials in flat panel doors, hardwood inserts on raised panel doors. Few factories offer as many as 50 door styles to choose from.

Ⓚ Pull-Out Trays

Description:
Door

StarCraft Cabinets:
Hardwood (maple is standard) sides, back, and front; plywood bottom. Full dovetail construction.

Factory Cabinets:
Low-end factory trays are 1/4" to 1/2" thick 48 to 50-pound particleboard lap joined to wood sides with adhesive and staples. Better trays are plywood in a hardwood frame but only top line cabinets offer full dovetail construction.

Ⓛ Hinges

Description:
Hinge

StarCraft Cabinets:
Six-way adjustable 95° opening, self-closing concealed hinges upgradeable to 170° opening hinges. Both come with a lifetime factory warranty.

For heritage cabinets where a visible hinge is expected, any traditional surface-mounted hinge that can be purchased commercially is available, and custom hinges made by a local metal artisan to match hinges that are no longer being made are obtainable.

Factory Cabinets:
Six-way adjustable 95° opening, self-closing concealed hinges upgradeable to 170° opening hinges. Both come with a lifetime factory warranty.

We know of no factory that will provide traditional or custom hinges.

Ⓜ Toe-Kick Dust Panel

Description:
Reach up under your existing cabinets' toe kick and you will feel a large gap. It leads directly to the empty space under your cabinets. This gap permits the infiltration of dust and grime and provides a secure hiding place for roaches and other pests. The gap serves no purpose. Its merely a by-product of the way cabinets are made.

StarCraft Cabinets:
Six-way adjustable 95° opening, self-closing concealed hinges upgradeable to 170° opening hinges. Both come with a lifetime factory warranty.

For heritage cabinets where a visible hinge is expected, any traditional surface-mounted hinge that can be purchased commercially is available, and custom hinges made by a local metal artisan to match hinges that are no longer being made are obtainable.

Factory Cabinets:
We don't like to include roach highways in our cabinets, so we block this gap with a thin panel to keep the bugs, dust, and dirt out. As far as we know, we are the only cabinet maker to routinely provide this feature. Hinge We use 1/8" plywood panel securely attached to the bottom of the toe kick with staples and adhesive so that all gaps are closed. All joints are sealed during cabinet installation with elastomeric caulk. Bye-bye bug highway!.

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Rev. 00/00/18