“Cabinetry 101” Part Four: Door Construction

 At a glance, door construction may appear mostly aesthetic.  Solid panels, differing joints and applications of panels and overlays contribute to the sleek contemporary look, or the detailed traditional design of the door.  Door style is what most people think about first, as it tends to drive the overall look and feel of any kitchen.

Is Door Construction Mostly Aesthetic, or not?

But how might construction contribute to the longevity or “feel” of the door?  Most doors with reasonable care will survive normal wear and tear over time no matter their design.  But there are differences in cabinet doors worth pointing out, as differences in construction can explain why cost variations are prevalent when comparing cabinetry.

Most doors are either butt joined in the corners (cope & stick), or mitered, each creating a different look and design.


Unless it’s a solid slab door, 5 part door construction usually always consists of a 4 panel frame and a center panel.  The simplest of construction utilizes a staple at the frame joint.  Stapling, although economical, can allow for the eventual pulling apart of joints, especially miter joints as the door’s natural expansion and contraction occurs with normal exposure to varying humidity.  Biscuit joinery in combination with glue, can substantially limit the separation of miter joints over time, but takes more time and effort to construct.

Painted door styles are most commonly applied to butt joined door styles (like a Shaker door), and the appearance of a “joint line”, although not readily apparent on a new door, may appear over time.  This is to be expected, and not considered a defect of the door.  It is important to know however that painted doors can be sensitive to moisture, and care should be taken when using them in high water areas around sinks and in bathrooms (especially kids).

Center panels are either veneered or solid reverse panels.  You can sometimes tell how a center panel is constructed by looking at the back of the door.
Veneered wood-grain panels can age differently than the solid wood frames that they sit between, appearing a slightly different shade of color over time.  But the most important element of the center panel is in its “thunk-ability”.  All you have to door is let a door “slam” and listen to how it sounds.  A solid center panel will shut with a resounding “thud”, while a veneer panel tends to sound a bit “tinny”.

Now this may not seem very important initially, but I have found over years of teaching people about cabinetry that they tend to become quite sensitive to these phenomena once they begin to notice it.  I first noticed this on tall pantry doors as the larger the door, the more impact the solidity of the material seems to have.



Center panels should “float” between their frames, and are not usually glued in place.  If you ever notice a “line” appearing around the outside of the center panel, usually only on one side…it’s because the panel when contracting “shifted” inside the frame.  Reducing moisture in the room should allow the panel to be moved back into place, or the simple use of a touch up marker will make the light area disappear.  Be careful when steaming up your bathroom, it’s the place most suspect to damaging wood cabinetry, especially if it’s painted cabinetry.

One note about laminate doors; because all plastic finishes must meet the National Electrical Manufacturers Association standards, there is literally no difference between the laminate exteriors of basic lines or custom line cabinet doors.  What may be different however is the quality difference in the edge banding procedures, and of course cabinetry construction.

Good design is important when planning a new kitchen for your home.  However, working with an experienced designer to understand the many differences in cabinetry is critical to making the right choice for your new space.  Qualified designers should be familiar with all of these characteristics of cabinetry, and willing to discuss and educate you on any area you wish to understand more fully.

If you missed Part 1-3, visit our site under recent posts for:  “Cabinetry 101” (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).  With a full range of suitable cabinet options, we’ll be happy to help you narrow down the best cabinetry choices for your project.  Contact Artisan Cabinetry & Millwork today.