Need help with some cabinet lingo? When talking with a cabinet maker or cabinet designer, they may mention some terms you are not familiar with. If “MDF” sounds like a government agency to you, maybe this glossary can help. The terms below are typical words used in the cabinet world. Understanding these terms will help with the process of your design meeting as well.
Base cabinet – the cabinet box that sits on the floor. These units usually support the countertops.
Concealed hinge – a hinge that is not visible on the front of a cabinet door. Concealed hinges are attached to the inside surface of the door.
Custom cabinets – custom cabinets are cabinets made to a designer’s or customer’s specifications, with no limitations on sizing, materials and options. They are made-to-order.
Dado – a groove that is cut into a piece of material so that another piece may slide into it. The inside surface of cabinet drawers may be ‘dadoed’ with a groove to accept the drawer bottom panel. This helps make for a stronger joint between the drawer side and bottom panels.
Dovetail – a method of wood joinery used to connect two pieces that join each other, typically at right angles. The edge of each piece is cut with a number of V-shaped notches that interlock with the adjoining piece forming a very strong joint.
Drawer front – The panel that is attached to the front of a drawer box. It is the visible front part of the drawer that the handle is attached to. On some cabinet drawers the drawer face is the front part of the drawer box.
Engineered wood – A wood product that is manufactured to enhance the overall qualities of the wood material itself. Or to salvage byproducts of wood processing into useful material. Plywood and MDF are two examples of engineered wood products.
Exposed hinge – a hinge type that is visible on the outside edge of the cabinet door when the door is closed.
Face frame – the wood frame that is attached to the front edges of the top, bottom and sides of the cabinet box. This frame helps provide rigidity to the box. Cabinet designs that incorporate this feature are called “framed” or “face-frame” cabinets.
Finish – the surface coating that is applied to a wood cabinet surface. The finish is typically made up of several layers of different materials such as a stain, sealer and clear coat. The finish is a key element in maintaining and protecting the beauty and durability of the wood surface.
Flakeboard – another word used to describe a form of particle board. You may also see the term “furniture board” used which means the same thing.
Framed – a cabinet design that uses a ‘face-frame’. This is typically a wood frame attached to the front edges of the cabinet box.
Frameless – a cabinet design that does not use a frame on the front outside edges of the cabinet box. The front of the cabinet box is formed by the edges of the top, bottom and side panels of the cabinet box. The cabinet door typically covers these edges when closed.
Full-inset – a cabinet design whereby the doors fit inside of the face frame when closed (rather than overlapping and sitting on top of the face frame).
Full overlay – A cabinet design whereby the cabinet door or drawer front covers all of the face frame so that only the cabinet door is seen with no part of the face frame visible. (Also see “overlay”).
Glaze – a coating applied over the cabinet stain that enhances or changes the color of the base coat.
Laminate – a veneer material that can be used to build cabinets and is used often in European style cabinets.
Medium density fiberboard (MDF) – a wood-based product that’s produced by the combination of very small wood fibers and a glue, resin or similar bonding agent. MDF can be more easily shaped than products like particle board due to the consistency of the material formed by the small fibers. MDF can be used for shelves, doors (typically painted or covered with melamine) and other cabinet parts.
Melamine – a plastic-based, sheet material similar to laminate that is applied to the exterior of cabinets. The substrate or material underneath the melamine is usually medium density fiberboard, particle board or plywood.
Mortise and Tenon – a means of wood joinery that involves part of one piece being inserted into a notch or hole in the mating piece. A typical mortise and tenon joint has a square protrusion coming off the end of one piece that fits tightly into a square ‘hole’ or notch in the piece it’s joined to. The pieces that make up the outer frame of a cabinet door might be joined using this technique.
Overlay – Overlay refers to the amount of face frame that is covered by the cabinet door or drawer front.
Partial overlay -A cabinet design whereby the cabinet door or drawer front partially overlaps the face frame. When the drawers/doors are closed part of the face frame remains visible. (Also see “overlay”).
Particle board – a wood product made up of very small wood pieces and fragments that are fused together with a glue or resin under mechanical pressure. Particle board is used for cabinet boxes, shelves and drawers.
Plywood – a wood product made up of several layers of wood with the grain direction running at different angles with respect to each other. This orientation gives plywood greater strength and stability in comparison to solid wood.
Rail – the horizontal pieces or members of a face frame or door frame (in contrast to a “stile” which is the vertical member of the frame).
Semi-custom cabinets – cabinets manufactured within a range of specific sizes and styles but with a greater number of options and customization available as compared to straight stock cabinets.
Stile – the vertical pieces of a face frame or door frame (in contrast to the “rails” which are the horizontal members of the frame).
Stock cabinets – cabinets that are manufactured in standard sizes with a fixed range of options such as available wood types, etc. Stock cabinets are pre-manufactured and “off the shelf” products.
Thermofoil – A thin vinyl sheet that is formed over a wood or wood-product substrate and bonded to the substrate. Thermofoil provides a surface that’s easy to clean due to the low-maintenance requirements of the vinyl material.
Toe kick – the bottom piece of a base cabinet that is recessed several inches from the front surface of the cabinet to allow room for a person’s feet when standing in front of the cabinet.
Varnish – A typically clear paint-like material applied as a coating to provide a protective finish.
Veneer – a thin layer of material (typical reference is to wood) that’s applied and bonded to another material. Wood veneers are thin layers of real wood that are literally peeled off the log using special cutting techniques. In cabinetry, wood veneers are used to cover plywood or particle board on external surfaces. This will provide the outward aesthetics of solid wood without the cost or other drawbacks associated with using solid wood.
Vinyl laminate – a composite material made up of paper and resin that have been fused together to form a relatively hard durable surfacing material. Vinyl laminate is used on cabinet surfaces by bonding the laminate to the substrate.
Wall cabinet – cabinet boxes that are mounted to the wall.