How Cabinets Are Made

How are kitchen and bath cabinets made? Until you started shopping around for cabinets you probably didn’t realize that there are different ways that cabinets can be built and several options for materials. Most people come to us with a picture and say “this is what I like”. While this is perfectly fine, we still like to offer some education about the different ways that cabinets are made as well as the materials that we use.

As a consumer, it’s always a good idea to know how cabinets are made. Research the construction techniques and know the quality of well designed cabinetry before you purchase.

There are distinct choices you need to make. Here, we take them on one by one to help you pick the right cabinets for your home.

Learn a few basic terms about cabinetry, a few important things to know include;

  • Materials used
  • Construction techniques
  • Build methods

These are the 3 main factors that will ultimately determine the look and the quality of your cabinets.

Even if you’re not the type of person who’s inclined to ponder- how things are put together – it’s still helpful to understand the basic parts and how cabinetry is constructed. This will help you have a better feel for the different levels of cabinet quality and what you do or don’t get for the various levels of cost you’ll encounter.

Materials – What are your cabinets made of?


Material – Solid Wood – Wormy Maple

There are several material options when cabinets are specified. You should know the difference between solid wood, MDF, Plywood and particleboard.  Let’s start by having a basic understanding of these materials.

Solid wood – As the term implies, it’s solid homogeneous wood, all the way through. The only variation might be boards or panels that are several pieces of solid wood joined together.

Plywood – is an engineered wood product, but one that’s probably most familiar to people. It’s made up of thin wood “plies” or layers of wood that are glued together in a sandwich form. Usually the plies are oriented with their grain direction at varying angles with respect to each other to give the board or panel more rigidity and stability.

Medium density fiberboard (MDF) – another engineered wood product that’s made up of wood fibers. The fibers are combined with an adhesive under pressure and formed into boards and panels. MDF has a finer texture than particle board and is denser and heavier than particle board.

Particleboard – Is an engineered wood product that’s made from wood chips and particles that are combined with an adhesive and fused together into boards and panels.

Melamine – Is 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.

Another important point to remember about wood, is where it originates. If it’s important to you that your products are made in the USA, you should ask your designer if your products are domestic or imported. Other countries don’t have the same regulations as the US in how they engineer their wood products.  

Construction Techniques – How are cabinets made?


Construction Techniques

There are different ways that cabinet boxes, frames and drawers are made when joined together. While there is no wrong way to build cabinets, there are different ways in which they are constructed. The process that is used, will determine the integrity of the product and the time and labor involved. Here are the most popular methods used today.

Mortise and tenon – another form of joinery, this method uses a square “post” protruding from one end of a piece of wood that fits into a square hole or cutout in the mating piece. This type of joinery might be used to fasten the pieces of a cabinet’s face frame together.

Doweled joint – this joinery technique uses round wood dowels (pegs) that are pressed and/or glued half way into holes drilled into one piece of wood. The protruding part of the dowel is then fit into holes drilled into the mating piece of wood. This method is another way to join the sides of drawers or cabinet boxes together

Dado – this is a groove that’s cut into a board or panel that the edge of another board/panel can fit into. A good example is the sides and back of a cabinet drawer that are dadoed to accept the edges of the drawer bottom. It’s a stronger way to ‘capture’ the drawer bottom than just gluing or nailing the drawer bottom edges to the side panels.

Putting together the Materials and Construction

Cabinets Assembled

Cabinets Assembled – ready to package for delivery

The materials and construction details that your cabinets are made from are not always as visible as the doors and drawers, but they contribute greatly to their durability and cost. The overall quality of kitchen cabinets is closely linked to their construction, meaning how they’re put together and the materials they’re made from. Let’s put the two together when considering the different components of the cabinets.

Cabinet boxes can be made from high quality material, such as ¾” maple plywood to a low quality material such as particle board and many options in between. This is one of the main factors that will affect the overall price of your cabinetry.  

Cabinet Frames, the very front of what you see are usually made with solid wood.

Drawer boxes-   The quality of material used as well as the way the boxes are joined together will affect the sturdiness of the drawer. For example, a dovetailed drawer will be stronger than a drawer using butt joints and screws. You will also have choices of different slides, from standard, to full extension, and full extension with soft close features.

Build Methods – What determines the overall look and style of your cabinets?

The construction style of your cabinetry determines how your doors and drawers fit and the overall look of the cabinet face. Regardless of the style you choose, you can rest assure that you will get the same superior quality of construction that we provide time after time. Cabinetry is divided into three major categories when considering methods.

  • Inset
  • Overlay
  • Frameless

Inset – The Inset Difference


Example of Inset Cabinets

The inset door gets its name because it is set inside of the cabinet frame. The door is designed and constructed with extremely precise measurements so that it nests inside the frame and opens and closes properly.

Overlay –  The Most Common


Example of Overlay – Full Overlay Cabinets

The standard overlay cabinet is typically the most popular. The face frame of a standard cabinet door overlays from 1/2″ up to 1 ½” with varying gaps between doors and drawers.

Frameless –  The advantage of Frameless Cabinets

frameless cabinets

Example of Frameless Cabinets

A frameless cabinet is a style of cabinet that has been popular in Europe for decades, but that wasn’t introduced here in the states until rather recently.  Doors typically cover the entire cavity and box, which is called full-overlay.  Because they don’t require a frame, frameless cabinets feature full access, allowing maximum use of space.  Cabinets and drawers are slightly larger than those constructed with face frames.  Frameless cabinets have a more modern look.  If you are purchasing new cabinetry for your home, you owe it to yourself to look into the benefits of frameless cabinetry.

Other things to consider

There are several style options to consider for kitchen cabinets. The door style and finishes are going to define the style more than anything. So which style of cabinets is right for your home? It depends greatly on the overall architectural style of your house and your tastes.

Other decisions that will need to be considered include:

Look for these topics to be covered in future blogs. For more information about how Walker Woodworking builds our custom cabinets – visit our Product Education page.

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