An Introduction to Cabinet Box Construction and Materials

Not long ago looking for "dovetail joinery" was a simple test for determining a high-end cabinet. Dovetail joinery within the drawers and added functionality like pull-out waste bins and silverware dividers indicated quality. Today, premium features are used to compensate for poorly built cabinet boxes. It is now more important than ever to trust your kitchen designer to guide you through the process of buying cabinets. Design professionals have done the research that can save you time and money. It is important to visit a reputable cabinetry firm, discuss what you're looking for, and view what they have on display so that they can show you the difference between quality cabinets from those that are poorly constructed.

Stock, Semi-Custom or Custom Cabinets

Stock Cabinets - There are three cabinet types: stock, semi-custom, or custom/premium. Stock cabinets are usually limited in colors, styles, and sizes. Be aware that not all stock cabinets are built to last, and many have to size limitations that result in a poor kitchen layout. At Toulmin, we only use high-quality manufacturers who provide options like filler strips and panels that enable a semi-custom look. 

Semi-custom Cabinets - Semi-custom cabinets allow a precise fit for your kitchen and often have added features that may not be available in a stock cabinet. Where a stock cabinet may only be available in three-inch size increments, (18", 21", or 24") semi-custom cabinets come in incremental sizes. So if you need a counter depth that is 22 1/2 inches, it is available.

Custom cabinets - Custom cabinets can be expensive but if you are seeking a kitchen that is completely unique to your kitchen design and has added features, exotic wood species, and exact specifications, a custom cabinet may be for you.

Framed and Frameless Construction

How a cabinet is built varies among manufacturers, but they all conform to two basic construction techniques. These design types are known as framed and frameless. 

Frameless Cabinets
Frameless cabinets, or European-style cabinets, do not have face-frame, and the doors and drawers attach directly to the cabinet box. We find the look of a frameless cabinet to be more contemporary and-and accessibility to the inside of the cabinet is easier. If done inexpensively with inferior materials, constructing a cabinet box without a face frame can compromise the structural integrity of your cabinet. We only sell frameless cabinets that have a thicker box. If you want the seamless contemporary look and feel but also want a framed cabinet, a full-overlay door is a good option.

Framed Construction
Framed, also called face-frame, are made of a box and face frame. Framed cabinets incorporate planks of wood 'frame' around the front outer edge of the cabinet box to which the doors and drawers attach. This type of cabinet is a basic wooden box, with several pieces of wood that are fastened to the front of the box, creating what looks like an attached flat picture frame. The edges of the "picture frame" are flush with the outside edges of the box. The inside of the frame extends into the box providing a place to attach the cabinet doors. The face frame provides reinforcement to the cabinet box ensuring it remains sturdy for years to come.

A cabinet box is comprised of toe kick, floor, shelves, sides, back, and top rail. Inexpensive (cheap) cabinet boxes are built using particle board. We do not recommend using cabinet boxes made from wood particles and glue. It weighs a lot, and will not warp and swell in moist environments. 

A quality plywood cabinet box will use plywood in all areas of the box with the occasional exception of the back and side panels.  These areas may be medium-density fiberboard (MDF) or solid wood depending on the cabinet manufacturer. Plywood used in cabinet boxes is comprised of seven to nine layers of glued hardwood. Its thickness is usually about 3/4 inches. Plywood is an excellent cabinet box material that rarely suffers from warping or swelling. This is especially important high humidity locations like Alabama. If your kitchen is an air conditioned environment and you have a quality range hood, then fluctuations in humidity may not be a problem. 


About Toulmin Kitchen & Bath Design - We're West Alabama's award-winning, premier kitchen and bath showroom. We're experts who are known for a design-build process that makes the construction process stress-free. Contact us to schedule an appointment for a design consultation.