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Your Kitchen Cabinet Questions Answered
Shopping for kitchen cabinetry can be exhausting and overwhelming. You can go to one kitchen showroom to the next and get completely different information. That's why I created this guide to help you narrow down what you want in different levels of quality, the pro's and con's of each finish, and how to evaluate if you're really getting what you paid for, even if it's not an American Modern Kitchen.
This one goes first because this one makes the biggest impact on your budget. Like any big purchase such as buying a home or buying a car, kitchen cabinetry and design can have theirs as well. This outline will help you be the smartest buyer you can be.
Most of your budget is shipping
If you are importing your kitchen from somewhere overseas, a big portion of your budget is getting eaten up just on shipping. Your kitchen will get loaded onto a shipping container and travel by sea. That is not cheap. However, you will not see the oversea shipping cost on your invoice, it's typically built into the price of the kitchen cabinetry. What you will see and pay for later is local shipping from the USA docks to your home. Basically paying shipping twice. So if you're buying an expensive kitchen and a big chuck of the cost is hidden shipping, you may want to take a closer look under the hood so to speak. Your expensive kitchen may actually have plastic parts and pieces, cheap methods of joinery such as glue and dowels, or poor quality MDF carcasses.
****Beauty panels and fillers.
Is MDF Bad
The age old question
MDF has many uses and many quality levels depending on how dense it is. So back to the question, is MDF bad? It really just depends on where and how you use it. When it comes to kitchen cabinetry MDF does have it's place and I'll outline those for you.
The place MDF does not belong is the carcass, or box some call it, of the cabinet. The carcass is the cabinet. It holds up the countertop, sink, or appliance. It supports the weight of the heavy hinges and doors. It holds the weight of everything inside the cabinet and it also holds the weight of us shorter people that climb up on top of the counter to reach things at the very top.
MDF is made of F in MDF which stands for fiber. Big chucks of fibers from wood are pressed together pressure and resins or glues. It may look solid, but it's not. We all experienced what a poor quality MDF can do. It breaks down.
Con: Not the best product to use for the carcass. Plywood carcasses have proved to be the best materials for this application.
Pro: It's very cost effective
The Cabinet Door
Some finishes are better with MDF doors because it can be completely smooth. Applied finishes such as veneers, laminates, thermafoils, and lacquers perform better with MDF doors. The seams of the finish and the adhesive are what to watch out for. Make sure the seams are tight and close to prevent any moisture from coming between the finish and the cabinet door.
So no, MDF is not bad in your kitchen. If you're shopping for cabinets and the the doors are made out of MDF, don't worry. However, if you have two similar quotes within your budget and one has a plywood carcass and one has an MDF carcass, go with the plywood. In addition, if you're having your cabinets shipped to you from overseas or across the country, remember that MDF is much heavier than plywood and can drive up the shipping costs significantly if charged by weight. That's also one of those hidden charges I was talking about.
Painted kitchen cabinets are a great option. You can have any color you can choose from.
Pro: Easy touch ups. Color matching is common these days so even if you have to replace an entire door, you can rely on the finish.
Con: Is not as protective as other finishes may be.
Pretty much like paint, stains come in multiple varieties of colors and hues
Pro: Brings out the natural grain of the wood. Easy to replace with confidence.
Con: Wood specie and grain cut are very important. Because of this, the cost of staining may get pricey.
Laminate have a bad rep. A quality laminate is a fantastic choice. I recommend seeking out an HPL or High Pressure Laminate to protect your investment.
Pro: You can have any color or design. With textured templates you can have any texture as well such as wood. Laminates are typically gouge resistant. Scratches are easy to repair. Because laminates are so easy to produce, they are extremely cost effective.
Con: If the seams of the laminate are not done well, moisture can lift the finish off of the door, especially near a dishwasher.
Lacquer is a painting process that is labor intensive. It's a mix of multiple liquid chemicals that harden when oxidized. It's a finish that can have the highest gloss you have ever seen or have a matte finish as well.
Pro: Because it's a liquid process, lacquer can be any color you can dream of. Most cabinet producers will give you a lacquer touch up kit. It's a very durable finish.
Con: Lacquer has to be done in layers and most times sanded by hand in between layers of paint and primer. This leads lacquer to usually have the longest lead time to manufacture your kitchen but makes this finish extremely expensive. If a door gets a gouge in it, the lacquer can crack and the entire door would have to be replace.
Wood veneers are cardstock thick sheets of real wood. They are applied similar to a laminate so watch the seams. Most veneers will have some kind of protective finish on top to make it more durable and moisture resistant.
Pro: You can have really expensive wood species and cuts at a fraction of the price of solid wood. (It's still typically pricey).
Con: Wood veneers are not easy to repair. They are made in batches so it may also be difficult to replace a door that matches if one gets damaged a few year out.
How is the kitchen cabinet assembled? This matters. A personal typically remodels their kitchen every 7-10 years. So you want to make sure it's going to last that long, right? After all, your kitchen is a major investment. Knowing how your kitchen cabinet is assembled is very important.
Cam Nut and Dowel
If you ever assembled a dresser or bookcase from a certain Swedish furniture store, then you are very familiar with the cam nut and dowel system. Some manufacturers use this assembly method because it's inexpensive and easy for the average Joe to assemble if assembly is required. In addition to the cam nut and dowel, a wooden dowel and wood glue is typically required as well for a bit more support.
Pro: If the kitchen cabinets you purchased do not come assembled, it's very easy to use a cam nut system. This system conceals the hardware which is very nice.
Con: The cam nut sits in a bored hole in the cabinet typically made of MDF. If the hole becomes loose the cam nut becomes loose. This can cause the cabinet to become unstable.
Some kitchen manufactures will assemble or ask you to assemble a cabinet by directly screwing in.
Pro: If there are pilot holes, pre-drilled to size holes where the screw goes in, it's fairly simple to do.
Con: The hardware is exposed which may require beauty panels or decorative panels. And although direct screws usually make a cabinet less expensive, if you're adding on panels to cover up joinery, then it's not really that less expensive. Another one of those hidden costs.
Pocket holes describe exactly what is performed. A pocket hole is made at an angle and a screw goes through typically at an angle.
Pro: The hardware is concealed for a cleaner look and it just looks nice. Since the screw goes in at angle, the joint is strong and tight.
Con: This takes skilled labor making it an upgrade. However, if you're looking to have your kitchen cabinets last 7-10 years or more and be very durable, it's not really an upgrade but a necessity.
The dovetail joint is the Cadillac of joinery. It requires no added hardware and is the strongest joint you can get. It gets it's name from the shape it makes to get the joint.
Pro: Strong of joints you can get. Anything assembled with a dovetail joint is considered heirloom quality and is expected to last generations.
Con: It takes real craftsmen skills to make it right, therefore it typically costs a bit more than other types of joint systems. However, if you want the peace of mind that your cabinets are well put together and will last, then upgrade to the dovetail joint.
There are many more types of joints you'll find that make up the assembly of our future kitchen cabinets. So be sure to ask exactly what type of joints a potential manufacturer uses and where before you commit to any kitchen cabinet investment.