New kitchen cabinets can add value and beauty to your home. But are custom-made cabinets worth the difference in price, when compared to prefabricated production cabinets from a home improvement chain store? You decide.
- Plywood Versus Particle Board
Custom cabinets are made from three-quarter-inch-thick real wood plywood. Production cabinets may be made from three-quarter-inch material, but it is most often particleboard, a mixture of glue and sawdust. You can’t always tell by looking; mass-produced cabinets have a thin veneer of real wood or other laminate applied to the exposed edges.
The quality difference becomes apparent when a door is flexed a little too hard. Door hinges attached to solid plywood will stay in place. Those in particleboard will tear out, usually making an indentation that cannot be repaired.
Particleboard expands and warps when wet-a bad feature around kitchens and bathrooms. Shelves made from particleboard will also sag in a few years from the weight of items stored on them. Plywood shelves with a good edge “nosing” can withstand the structural pressure without sagging indefinitely.
Most production cabinets use plastic fasteners in the corners, with screws that have little capacity to stay put under stress. A good custom cabinetmaker not only uses better fasteners such as 1-1/4″ staples, but also glues every joint. He can also take the time to use screws to attach the back, or stiffen partitions, etc. where needed. Production cabinets are engineered to minimal strength standards.
- The Finish
Here the word “finish” refers to the material coating the wood surface, whether clear or an opaque color. When cabinets are finished in a mass production setting, the actual amount of material on the surface is usually only two to four mils (a mil is one ten-thousandth of an inch), no matter how many coats may have been applied. By comparison, custom cabinets, when done properly, have a total finish thickness of eight to ten mils.
Custom cabinets do look better when first installed because of the difference in finish, but the practical part of this equation becomes apparent a few years down the road. When the homeowner decides to sell his house, say in five, ten, or even twenty years, custom cabinets will still look like new.
Production cabinets often do not come with “nailers”, the strip inside the cabinet used to attach the cabinet to the wall. If they do, the material used is once again particleboard. Custom-made cabinets generally come with two nailers, one top and bottom, made of sturdier plywood.
In addition, most cabinetmakers install their own work, ensuring that it’s done properly. While there are many tasks around the home that the enterprising homeowner can handle on his own, cabinets require a little more experience than the average homeowner has in this area. When a corner is slightly out-of-square, or a wall is not perfectly straight, or holes need to be cut for plumbing and wiring, the experienced cabinetmaker knows what to do. Even the trim will look better when installed by a professional cabinetmaker.
If a problem or question arises, you can “ask the expert” when a cabinetmaker is installing his own work. One of the vexations of modern mass merchandising, even in the better home improvement stores, is finding a real person who genuinely knows the answer to your question, from first-hand experience.
Most quality new-home builders prefer to use custom cabinets for a reason-the house will sell better and at a higher price, compared with prefabricated production cabinets.
In fact, should you choose custom cabinets over boxed, you will be pleasantly surprised the next time your home is appraised. Instead of the dreaded word “average” in the column listing the appraiser’s valuation of your kitchen cabinets, you’ll see the word “custom”, with a higher overall value placed on the home.
Go ahead and shop the home improvement store first. Then talk to your local established cabinetmaker about your needs. He may not have the “lights, bells, and whistles” you get in a larger store, but you’ll probably still get a free estimate, a working relationship with a person experienced in his field, and a chance to look at his work in homes that he has completed.
Custom cabinets are more expensive than prefabricated ones, but when it comes to beauty, utility, and value in your home, there’s no comparison.