Selecting Cabinets and Hardware

Choosing your cabinets (including knobs and pulls) can be confusing. Here's what you need to know before you enter the showroom.


Framed cabinets

This type of construction exposes the edges of the frame -- a reveal -- around drawer fronts and doors, great for country and traditional looks.

Framed cabinets come in several styles. Doors and drawers can fit flush inside the frame, be partially inset, or completely overlay the frame.

Pros: Stability. The solid-wood frame is rigid, so cabinet tops, bottoms, sides, and backs can utilize thinner material.

Cons: Smaller openings. The width of frame members reduces the size of drawer and door openings as well as any roll-out accessory options.


Frameless cabinets

This style of cabinet shows a continuous expanse of drawer fronts and doors -- an uncluttered, contemporary look.

Pros: Accessibility and style. Besides their clean, virtually unbroken design, frameless cabinets open up to their full potential so everything's easy to access.

Cons: Tricky to lay out. Because the doors and drawers butt right up against each other, frameless units require door clearances that aren't needed with framed cabinets.

Look closely at cabinet construction when buying.

Solid wood: If used at all, real wood is reserved for doors, drawers fronts, and face frames -- and then usually only on custom cabinets. Cabinet components that show often are wood veneer or another type of veneer.

Manufactured wood products: Other cabinet components will be made of plywood, medium-density fiberboard, particleboard, and sometimes hardboard (for drawer bottoms).

  • Particleboard is made from wood particles mixed with resin and bonded under pressure. Ask about the grade and thickness of the particleboard used. Poor grades (under 45-pound commercial rating) may not hold screws as well; thin sheets may warp.
  • Medium-density fiberboard is a higher-quality substrate made from finer fibers than particleboard. Its surface is smoother, and its edges can be shaped and painted.
  • Plywood is made by laminating thin layers of wood plies to each other with the grain running at right angles in alternate plies for equal strength in all directions. Grade A plywood (for interior use) comes in thicknesses from 1/4 inch to 1-1/8 inches.
Choose the grain pattern that fits your kitchen style.

Wood. Different species in combination with stains can produce almost any combination of grain pattern and color. Wood cabinets must be finished on all sides to prevent warping.

Laminates. Choose high-pressure laminates for greatest durability. Laminates should be applied to both sides of cabinet doors to prevent warping.

Foils and vinyl films. These laminate look-alikes cost less than the real thing but aren't as durable.

Paint. Painted wood finishes are susceptible to chipping and cracking, but many are finished with a baked-on clear top coat that improves durability.

Stains and paint glazes. These finishes won't chip because they penetrate into the wood grain. Stains enhance wood tones; glazes add their own color to the wood. Both require a top coat such as lacquer or urethane for durability and easy maintenance.

Wood grain. The grain should match on the doors of quality cabinets.

Drawers. A pair of side-mounted metal slides is better than a nylon slide or roller installed underneath the drawer. Fully extended, the drawer shouldn't wobble side-to-side. Extended an inch or so, the drawer should close on its own. Drawers assembled with dovetail joints, screws, and dowels are better than those that use only glue and staples.

Cabinet frames. Gussets or blocks at stress points such as corners add strength and durability.

If cabinets are furniture you happen to hang on your kitchen walls, hardware is the jewelry, if you will, on a well-dressed unit. Of course, hardware is also hardworking, and function should be your first consideration.

Simple silver handles are used throughout this kitchen for a cohesive look.
  • Certain styles of knobs, hinges, and drawer pulls are associated with certain architectural styles or historic periods. You don't need to be locked into those choices, but you should be aware of how different styles look together. Put a sample of the hardware on a sample cabinet to make sure you know what the look will be.
  • Selection varies from one cabinetmaker to another. Pricier models usually offer the most sophisticated selections, including decorator style pulls and hinges made of solid brass or nickel. Despite its name, hardware also comes in porcelain, ceramic, glass, plastic, and wood.
  • In the last few years, the biggest change has been the increased use of iron and weathered bronze. Several manufacturers, including Top Knob, Hafele, Amerok, and Belwith, offer weathered-iron hardware. You may also find hand-made pieces on the market. These options are generally more expensive.
  • For a sleek, clean look, your cabinets can be fitted with invisible hardware. This type of hardware allows cabinet fronts to be free of any embellishments. Cabinet doors can simply be opened on the hinges or may be fitted with a spring-loaded hing that pops the door open with a gentle push on the corner.
  • Consider mixing different hardware choices for different areas of the kitchen. This is especially true for cabinet knobs and drawer pulls as the type of hinge may be dependent upon the cabinet style. If you like an expensive pull, for example, but cannot afford to use it throughout the kitchen, consider using it in the area you use most often so you can enjoy it. Then use a less expensive pull in other areas.


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