Cabinet Basics
Part 5: Elements of a Lifetime Cabinet

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.

(A) Back Panel

Component DescriptionStarCraft Custom CabinetsFactory Cabinets
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). Our 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. 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.

(B) Bottom Panel

Component DescriptionStarCraft Custom CabinetsFactory Cabinets
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. 1/2" veneered hardwood plywood, finished on both sides, joined to end panels with dado joints, cabinet-maker’s resin glue and cabinet screws. 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.

(C) Corner Gussets

Component DescriptionStarCraft Custom CabinetsFactory Cabinets
Corner gussets add strength to the entire cabinet and are used to anchor the countertop to the cabinet. We use 3/4" veneered hardwood plywood or hardwood lumber gussets for maximum strength.
Up­grade­able to full front and back beam braces.
Particleboard gussets, usually 1/2" thick, are used on most factory cabinets.
Some lower-end cabinets use stapled-on moulded plastic gussets. These are not very effective.
(D) Drawer Glides
Component DescriptionStarCraft Custom CabinetsFactory Cabinets
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. 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.
Some high-end factories use full access glides, but the standard glide is a partial extension 75 lb. glide, usually with nylon rather than steel bearings.
Most manufacturers offer an upgrade to full access glides for an additional charge.
(E) End Panels (Sides)
Component DescriptionStarCraft Custom CabinetsFactory 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. 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.
(F) Shelves
Component DescriptionStarCraft Custom CabinetsFactory Cabinets
Our 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 nver sag. If they do we'll replace them without charge.

An alternative shelf support system for our heritage cabinets is the traditional "sawtooth" adjustable support used in kitchen cabinets until the mid 1940s.

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.

Upgradeable to 3/4" particleboard and to plywood in premium lines. We know of no factory cabinet that features a reinforced front edge or offers a lifetime no-sag guarantee..
(G) Face Frames
Component DescriptionStarCraft Custom CabinetsFactory Cabinets
3/4" or 7/8" hardwood dowelled, biscuit jointed or joined with pocket screws and cabinet-maker’s aliphatic resin glue for maximum strength. Upgradeable to 1" in heritage cabinets. 3/4" hardwood dowelled or biscuit jointed 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.
(H) Drawers
Component DescriptionStarCraft Custom CabinetsFactory Cabinets
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 fail, we repair or replace them free of charge.

If our drawers ever fail due to faulty craftsmanship, we repair or replace them free of charge.
Our 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. 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.

Drawer sides are either hard­wood (better looking) or cabinet-grade 7-ply hardwood plywood (stronger) unless otherwise specified.
The most common factory cabinet door has 1/2" thick particleboard sides lap joined with adhesive and stapled.

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.
(I) Drawer (False) Fronts
Component DescriptionStarCraft Custom CabinetsFactory Cabinets
The drawer “front” you see on a well-made cabinet is actually a false front that is attached to the drawer with screws.

This permits the part you see to be adjusted independently of the drawer itself so it aligns with the other elements of the cabinet.
We use 3/4" hardwood without exception on flush door fronts, and 3/4" hardwood framing on framed doors. We typically use 3/8" cabinet grade plywood inserts in flat panel doors, and hardwood panels in raised panel doors. Factories typically 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 typicaly veneered particleboard.
(J) Cabinet Doors
Component DescriptionStarCraft Custom CabinetsFactory Cabinets
We offer 100s of standard door styles and can custom make any wood door style you can imagine. See Cabinet Door Styles for just a few of our many door styles. Our 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. The typical factory door is 3/4" thick 48-pound density particleboard or medium density fiberboard (MDF) on flush and Thermofoil doors, hardwood frames and plywood insets on flat panel doors, hardwood insets on raised panel doors. Few factories offer as many as 50 door styles to choose from.
(K) Roll-Out Trays
Component DescriptionStarCraft Custom CabinetsFactory Cabinets
Hardwood (maple is standard) sides, back and front, plywood bottom. Full dovetail construction. Typical factory trays are 1/4” to 1/2" thick 48 to 50-pound particleboard lap joined to wood sides with adhesive and stapled. Usually upgradeable to plywood, but only top line cabinets offer full dovetail construction.
(L) Hinges
Component DescriptionStarCraft Custom CabinetsFactory Cabinets
Six-way adjustable 95° opening, self-closing concealed hinges upgradeable to 170° opening hinges. Both come with a lifetime factory warranty. Same
ComponentStarCraft Custom CabinetsFactory Cabinets

(M) Toe Kick Dust Panel

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. 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.

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!.

Need to know more about kitchen and bath cabinets? Try these articles:
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  • Cabinet Basics
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  • Cabinet Door Styles
    There are an almost infinite number of cabinet door styles available. Here is a chart of just a few dozen of the styles we build. We could not possibly show them all. There are too many. Since we are an entirely custom cabinet builder, we can make any door you can describe.

  • Distributed Cabinet Manufacturing: Today's Cabinet Making Revolution
    Local and regional cabinetmakers are catching up the the factory manufacturers in creative technologies to make custom cabinetry that rivals factory cabinets in price, but exceeds factory cabinets in creativity, construction and finish.

  • Fine Furniture and Built-Ins
    We craft fine furniture and built-ins to match any decor or preference. From traditional to avant-garde, from Chinese to French Provincial, there is no look we cannot reproduce.

  • Guide to Nebraska Hardwoods for Cabinetmakers and Woodworkers
    Most of the fine native American hardwoods commonly, and uncommonly, used in cabinetry grow and are milled into lumber in Nebraska. If you were not aware that hardwood is a Nebraska crop, read this detailed guide to Nebraska hardwoods.

  • Off the Wall Kitchens: Living Without Wall Cabinets
    Wall cabinets are unquestionably useful storage, but with drawbacks. A major disadvantage is that wall cabinets make a kitchen seem smaller by closing in the space at eye level — which is where we subconsciously judge how large the space around us is - and limit the number and size of windows in the kitchen. Can your new kitchen do away with wall cabinets? Probably. Find out how.

  • Solving Corner Cabinet Woes (Sidebar)
    Corner base cabinets are notorious as dark, difficult-to-reach storage space. Useful corner storage requires some pretty fancy hardware to make the space work. There are a variety of solutions, some better than others. But is is possible to make a corner cabinet effective storage with just a little prior planning.

  • Using Toe-Kick Space (Tips and Tricks)
    The toe-kick space under your cabinets can be effectively used for extra storage, to store kitchen and bathroom accessories and for truly dramatic lighting.