Every smart shopper can tell you, a good deal is not always a good deal. When it comes to bargain kitchen cabinets, not all of them are the same. Cabinets vary in design, construction techniques and materials. A savvy buyer does not need to be as knowledgeable as a professional carpenter, but knowing a little bit about what goes into a good cabinet helps.
Style is always a matter of personal preference. What style suits you best should help determine what you buy, no matter the price tag. Cabinets tend to come in two basic types, regardless of the type of trim and carving. There are either framed cabinets or frameless. Framed cabinets have a front piece attached to the front of the cabinet. This piece has holes for the cabinet interior and any drawers. Frameless cabinets do without the front piece entirely and tend to give larger drawer size and better access to the inside of cabinets. Framed cabinets are a little stronger in the long run, because they have a fourth side which gives the cabinet more structure.
Many cabinets are made of chip or particle board with fronts of medium density fiber board (MDF) instead of solid wood. These materials use pieces or fibers from wood mixed with adhesives and formed into boards under pressure. Plywood is usually offered as an upgrade. Each of these materials have their advantages and they do hold up well over time. MDF carves as well as solid wood, but will not take stain since it lacks wood grain. If you are looking for a painted, thermofoil, or veneered look, MDF is a good choice to go with for doors and drawer fronts. Be aware that cabinets that are advertised as all wood are usually plywood, while solid wood cabinets should really be solid wood.
The most structurally important feature to check on new cabinets is the construction technique. The least sturdy method of construction involves butting two pieces of wood together and fastening with nails, staples, screws or glue. Avoid this style joinery where possible. Sturdier joins usually involve interlocking on piece of wood into another. Look for dovetails and ask about less visible mortise and tenon or dowel joinery. Check drawers for tell-tale notches from rabbet or dado construction.
Before committing to an amazing cabinet deal, make sure the cabinet meets your expectations. Avoid any surprises down the road by making sure that the construction, design, and materials meet your needs. If not, there will always be another cabinet deal.