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“Cabinetry 101” Part 2: Choosing the Appropriate Finish Quality for your Cabinets

Finish quality impacts the ultimate longevity of any kitchen cabinet more than almost any other factor.

 Why Does Finish Quality Matter?

One of the first things that typically break down necessitating the desire to replace worn looking cabinetry is the finish.  Unlike other wood “furniture” which you don’t usually handle daily, acids from many years of repeated touching deteriorates lacquer surfaces over time.  Fading wood finishes as well as outdated colors and styles contribute as well to the longevity of any cabinet.  Food spills and splatters, and especially grease residue can leave wood surfaces gummy and sticky and are not easy to restore to their original luster.

It’s not always easy to detect differences in cabinet finishes just by looking at them, but if you look closely there are indicators in the least expensive cabinets of finish quality:

Uneven application of stain, evidenced by globs in crevices

Tiny particles of dirt or residue trapped under the finish

Murky stain areas, especially on edges; a result of toner stains used to blend the variations of different wood grains  (the higher quality the cabinet, the more likelihood that the manufacturer employs the practice of purchasing and matching wood “lots” and grains more carefully resulting in better wood grain and color consistency)

“Finish-on-site” by nature has the least ability to control the finish process, producing generally a low-quality finish as well.  Although they may initially look pretty, high gloss factory finish processes often attempt to mask imperfections and do not always indicate a high quality finish either.

So What Does a High Quality Finish Look Like?

High quality finishes are apparent when you inspect the following:

Even distribution of stain and glazes over panel surfaces, including ridges, crevices, and grooves of design

Ultra smooth surfaces that show little evidence of particles trapped in finish or top coat

The more sophisticated the finish process, the more velvety smooth and matte a finish will be (this is an indication of the sanding process as well as the staining/painting process, which all make up the “finish process”).

Often cost is an indicator of the sophistication of a finish process.  Typically as the finish quality improves; the cost of the cabinet goes up.  Highly customized cabinetry built in “smaller” (smaller is relative, many small cabinet manufacturers produce $10-$20 million per year in cabinetry) manufacturer’s facilities have a more people-intensive process; meaning the same person is hand applying finishes to every single surface of an entire cabinet order resulting in the most consistently uniform finished product, equivalent to what you would expect from a fine piece of furniture.

Production grade cabinetry, although highly customizable design-wise as well, is typically finished in a large factory facility. Finishing may be done by individuals in shifts, aided by computer operated assembly line type equipment.  The benefit is finish quality is typically very consistent, although not as much individual attention may be given to an individual order allowing more opportunity for finish imperfections to slip by undetected until after shipping.

Differing levels of attention may be given to the finish process depending on the manufacturer of choice.  Most use a multiple step process including sanding, sealing, hand staining, multiple levels of finish coating using catalyzed conversion varnishes, and baking.  Inquire with your designer about the specific finish process the manufacturer of your choice utilizes.

Determining how important the finished cabinetry is to you is an important step in choosing cabinetry.  Not only does it affect the look, but the longevity of the cabinet.  Balancing the finish quality of your cabinetry with your budget is a realistic part of making a cabinetry purchase decision, and an experienced designer can help you sort through the differences and settle on an option that makes the most sense for you.

Stay tuned for Part 3 in our Series.


Cabinetry 101”: Choosing the Right Cabinets for Your Project

Renovating your kitchen can be one of the most exciting, practical and rewarding home improvement projects you can undertake for the betterment and enjoyment of your home.   When purchasing cabinetry for your renovation project, it’s not unusual for cabinetry to comprise a major portion of your project cost.

Understanding what is available when shopping for cabinetry in the marketplace is a key first step in choosing the right cabinetry for your home, whether you’re planning a kitchen remodel or any other room in your house.

Differences in cabinetry may not be readily apparent to most homeowners who are not experienced with cabinetry shopping (it’s not something you do every day!).  When homeowners meet with our designers to talk about their kitchens, we always include a “Cabinetry 101 lesson” in their experience so that they are empowered to make the best choice for their project.

 Let’s Start With Box Construction: Framed vs. Frameless


There are 2 basic forms of cabinetry construction:

  •  Framed – a “box” with a solid cutout front over-laid on the face creating what’s referred to as a “framed cabinet”.
  • Frameless – a “box” with no front, thicker side panels typically 5/8”-3/4”, which eliminates the need for a structural front frame


This style has the doors and drawers lying completely on top of the frame. Door and drawer sizes are not based on cabinet openings, but rather on using “reveals” around all of the fronts.

Framed cabinets have reveals, or spaces between doors from 3/8” up to 1 ½” or more between doors and drawers.  They can enjoy fully “overlaid” doors that show reveals of less than 3/8”, which is a cleaner, more customized look, however the frame is still behind the doors.  The larger the door and drawer spacing, typically the “less sophisticated” the appearance of the finished product, and the least expensive generally.

Stemming from a desire for more streamlined and clean appearances, frameless cabinetry originated in Europe where original designers virtually eliminated the spacing between doors.  This look is not reserved just for contemporaries however; there are many practical benefits to frameless cabinetry enjoyed by modern design and traditional alike!


The frameless style has the doors and drawers lying almost completely over the edge of the cabinet.

Frameless “Advantages” include:

  • A “cleaner”, more sophisticated look due to tighter door tolerances
  • Literally more “space” in cabinets since there is no front frame infringement
  • Roll-out trays and drawers enjoy up to 1 ½” wider widths and increased drawer and space
  • No need for center supports on cabinets wider than 27”; a major benefit for wall cabinet access and implementation of wide roll out trays in base cabinets
  • No “lip” at the bottom ledge of cabinet making it easily cleanable and eliminating the need for shelf paper

Side panels on framed cabinetry typically range from 3/8”-1/2” thick and can either be made of composite material or plywood.  Frameless cabinets typically have a wider side panel for structural stability 3/8”-3/4” thick.  Depending on the joinery used and the mounting system, back panels typically aren’t structural and range from 1/8”-3/8” thick.

Frameless cabinets are more difficult to install because there is no room for error regarding the near perfection required for a “plumb” and “square” installation.  Rarely are walls and floors perfectly square and level in any home, necessitating alteration of the cabinet by a skilled carpenter for a proper fit and level surface for countertops.  Only highly skilled craftsman familiar with the installation of frameless cabinetry should be hired to install frameless cabinetry.

Stay tuned in our several Part Series “Cabinetry 101”:  Choosing the Right Cabinets.

Our designers are expert at explaining the differences in cabinetry features.  Schedule your one on one meeting today to learn all you need to know about the cabinetry you are choosing for your home.