An Inside Look at
Kitchen Cabinets


Manufactured kitchens run the gamut on price, materials and craftsmanship

Taken from an article in Fine Homebuilding by Scott Gibson

...At the giant KraftMaid cabinet factory just outside Cleveland, workers stand by with glue guns and pneumatic nailers as parts for a complete set of kitchen cabinets approach on a conveyor. Drawers, face frames, prefinished panels, shelves and moldings arrive from all corners of the million-square-foot plant. Although the customer who ordered this kitchen may have taken months to plan its every detail, KraftMaid assemblers will put it together in 15 minutes and ship it a week later.

Did you think your new kitchen cabinets would be hand-built by fussy atisans? Guess again. Cabinets are a $6 billion dollar industry, and they pour off assembly lines like hubcaps or lawn chairs. If that prospect unsettles you, consider a a smaller company, one like Rutt Custom Cabinetry of Goodville, Pennsylvania. Here, door panels are matched for color and figure one door at a time. A specialist is standing by to custom-blend a paint color. The catch? Rutt charges more than twice as much, and you can count on waiting 40 or 50 days to get your order.

Manufactured kitchens fall into three general categories

...The industry has traditionally divided cabinets into three grades: stock, semicustom, and custom. The labels don't mean as much as they once did, but they are still a good starting point.

Stock cabinets are at the low end of the market. Available in fewer styles and finishes and with fewer options, stock cabinets are built in standard sizes in increments of 3 in. in width. They are manufactured and then stockpiled, without regard to who will buy them.

Semicustom cabinets are built to order, also on a 3 in. grid, and offer more choices when it comes to styles, accessories, and finishes. Materials may be of higher quality.

Custom cabinets, such as those from Rutt, are built to fit the available floor space exactly with just about any option the customer is willing to pay for. They are the most expensive of all.

And then there are the small shops, the local cabinetmakers found in virtually every corner of the country. Working on one job at a time, these shops turn out cabinets designed for just one client. Detailing, construction and wood selection may range from ordinary to exquisite.

Assessing quality is not always easy. Many manufacturers submit their cabinets to the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association for voluntary testing and certification. Although the process is wide-ranging and rigorous (roughly half of those seeking certification for the first time will flunk), it's not useful for comparing individual components such as drawers, doors and cabinet boxes. And makers of high-end cabinetry may skip the test altogether.

Prices vary as widely as quality. Bottom-of-the-line stock cabinets are available for less than $2500 (not including countertops and installation). KraftMaid's better-quality kitchen might range from just over $5,000 to $12,000, and a custom-manufactured kitchen can approach $20,000.

The following pages look in detail at four manufactured cabinets that are typical of what's on the market. More expensive often means more quality and a longer life. But getting the best value also should include a careful look at the many differences in construction, hardware, finish, and materials.

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