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Cabinet construction, materials and finishes: A quick overview of the basics

Updated: Mar 15, 2022

Kitchen cabinet installation

I am going to break down the basics of cabinet construction and what you need to know before you start shopping for cabinets. We will take a look at how they are made and some door styles and finishes.


Cabinet Box Construction: Framed and Frameless

Cabinet Construction Materials

Cabinet Door Styles

Cabinet Finishes


Cabinet Construction

There are two types of Cabinet construction: Framed and Frameless.

  • Framed Cabinet construction is the traditional method of cabinet construction. A frame is constructed of rails (horizontal pieces) and stiles (vertical pieces) that are attached to the front of the cabinet box. In this type of construction the doors are attached to the frame.

  • Frameless Cabinet construction has quickly become the construction method of choice. This European method offers much more accessibility to the interior of the cabinet since the frame is not in the way, this is usually called "full access". The Cabinet box is usually constructed with thicker materials to offer the same stability as its Framed counterpart. In this type of construction the doors are full overlay and the hinges are attached to the side of the cabinet box.


Cabinet Construction Materials

  • Interior/cabinet box construction materials

Particle Board (also known as Furniture Board) and Plywood are the two most common materials used when constructing cabinets. Particle Board is made by taking fibers from hardwoods and softwoods and combing them with resins. Then high temperature and pressure is applied to form panels. It is generally denser than Plywood. Plywood is made by binding thin layers or "plies" of wood veneer together with adjacent layers alternating in grain direction. There are benefits to alternating the grain, also called cross-graining. Because of cross-graining there is less of a chance of splitting when nailed at the edges, the strength of the panel is consistent across all directions, and there is less of a chance of shrinkage and expansion.

  • Doors and Drawer fronts construction materials

Solid Wood - A beautiful and durable option with a seemingly endless options of tone and grain patterns. Solid wood doors are also used in some painted applications. Water and moisture can damage wood as well as temperature and humidity. This damage results in cracks and bends in the wood.

MDF Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) is made by combining resin and wood fibers. You are a lot less likely to get cracking or warping with MDF from humidity or temperature changes. This is an ideal surface for painting because there isn't a wood grain. You will get a nice smooth finish with MDF. It is also less expensive than solid wood. One downside of MDF to solid wood is the that you cannot repair scratches or dings.


Now for the fun part!

sample door finishes

These next two categories are where the magic happens. These choices help form the character of your space. The style and finish you pick for your cabinets will lead the way for the rest of the design.


Cabinet Door styles

Above are some examples of door styles. Starting from the left to the right: Shaker, Slab, Glass panel and Raised panel. Shaker and slab doors are the most popular choices.

  • Shaker doors are a good choice for a traditional timeless look. Shaker door frames are typically 2" wide but custom smaller frames can give a contemporary twist to a traditional style.

  • Slab doors do not have any framing, beadboard or raised portions. They are ideal if you are looking for a clean, straight line, modern look.

  • Glass panel doors can be divided so you have multiple small glass panes in one door or you can have one big glass pane centered in the door. This door style is usually mixed with another door style and is often just used on upper cabinets. They are great if you have dishes you want to display or if you want a more open look.

  • Raised Panel doors are made of 5 pieces and the middle panel is raised with an edge profile. This is a much more traditional look that is not done as much today.


Cabinet Finishes

  • Paint If you decide to paint your cabinets you have an unlimited number of colors to choose from. If you are looking to see grain and texture then paint is not for you. Paint is more costly option.

  • Wood (Stained or Veneer) is available in a large range of colors, textures and grain patterns. Wood lends itself to any style. Stained cabinets are easier to touch up and cost less than painted cabinets. Wood veneer (thin slices of natural wood) cabinets cost less than solid wood but give you the same look!

  • Laminate cabinet doors are made by pressing thin layers of plastic resin and paper which are then printed in different colors and patterns. They are very easy to wipe down and clean but if the laminate becomes chipped it can be difficult to repair. Laminate is a great option for someone on a budget.

I hope this quick break down of basic cabinet construction and finishes helps gives you the tools to make you remodeling decisions!

Take a look at some of the options available from Smartbox or schedule a free 30 minute zoom meeting with a designer to get your project started

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